The Empire Strikes Back

I have written about the extent to which PowerPoint has permeated the military in the United States, and how many people, including high-ranking officers, believe that it has gotten out of hand. Well, it appears that PowerPoint has friends in high places and we see what happens when the Empire Strikes Back. reported about Lawrence Sellin, a United States Army Reserve Colonel who was on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. Fed up with the constant onslaught of inane, numbing PowerPoint presentations that he had to endure, Sellin wrote an unauthorized editorial in which he made no secret about how he felt. Consider the following excerpts:

For headquarters staff, war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information. Even one tiny flaw in a slide can halt a general’s thought processes as abruptly as a computer system’s blue screen of death.

The [Commander’s Update Assessment] consists of a series of PowerPoint slides describing the events of the previous 12 hours. Briefers explain each slide by reading from a written statement in a tone not unlike that of a congressman caught in a tryst with an escort. The CUA slides only change when a new commander arrives or the war ends.

One important task of the IJC is to share information to the ISAF commander, his staff and to all the regional commands. This information is delivered as PowerPoint slides in e-mail at the flow rate of a fire hose. Standard operating procedure is to send everything that you have. Volume is considered the equivalent of quality.

Senior officials didn’t find his comments helpful or amusing. Sellin has been kicked out of Afghanistan for his unauthorized pennings.

Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in the Empire Strikes Back

“The Force is strong within you, young Skywalker, but the Death Star has PowerPoint. That means an endless supply of bullets. You cannot stop them all. Come over to the Dark Side. Resistance is futile.”

Admittedly, it was the fact that Sellin wrote a critical article about US military operations without proper authorization that was his undoing. Indeed, Sellin himself clearly knew the risk he was running as can be seen in the opening words of his article: “Throughout my career I have been known to walk that fine line between good taste and unemployment. I see no reason to change that now.”

Score one for the defenders of innumerable bullet points, convoluted flow charts, reams of text and other horrors. A classic case of The Empire Strikes Back.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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