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Archive for August 11th, 2006

Friday, August 11th, 2006

THE PENTAGON’S CULT OF THE POWERPOINT

Kingdaddy at Arms and Influence had an excellent post “Death by Powerpoint” that castigated the use and abuse of powerpoint presentations in war planning ( Hat Tip to J. at Armchair Generalist). Here is the main point:

“You can’t blame the problems of the occupation of Iraq on some unnamed functionary who couldn’t use PowerPoint effectively. The problem was using PowerPoint at all. Anyone experienced with this tool could explain the obvious deficiencies, when used as a replacement for planning documents:

*PowerPoint slides are talking points, not the conversation itself. PowerPoint slides are supposed to help organize and illustrate what the speaker is saying. They are not, however, the complete communication. Therefore…

*PowerPoint slides are not self-evident. Since slides provide the mere skeleton of an argument, not its actual content, people who have read the slides but not heard the presentation normally cannot figure out what the speaker is trying to say.

*PowerPoint slides always change. Anyone who has had to present the same information multiple times usually varies the content. William Jennings Bryan constantly revised his famous Cross of Gold speech, refining it with every iteration. Every speaker gets tired of using the same words and intonation, so for sheer novelty value, the content will change.

*PowerPoint compels the most superficial reconsideration of your own position. While PowerPoint forces you to organize your thoughts to some degree, it does not ignite a reconsideration of your own argument the way a written document does. PowerPoint provides a thumbnail sketch of what you might say; written documents make you actually say it. Not surprisingly, authors of written documents find themselves altering their opinions as they write. For example, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, in writing the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, found his position changing as he wrote his opinion. “

(Brownie points to Kingdaddy for referencing The Cross of Gold speech in a post on DoD practices in 2006)

I have to say, I’m startled at the idea that operational planning for the invasion of Iraq, as opposed to briefing civilian officials about the operational plan, was done via powerpoint slides. I can’t really see D-Day commencing with Eisenhower and Bradley arguing over to whom they should delegate the awesome responsibility of using the laser pointer.

Myself, I frequently use powerpoint when I lecture, though I hasten to point out that, while on occasion, I might be lecturing about a battle, I am not conducting one. About 6-8 slides I find is appropriate for an hour’s worth of talk, including a dramatic “cover” or “conclusion” slide. The visual is there to reinforce the concepts and expand upon them from another direction, not to echo them verbatim.

Though I am partial to Dr. Barnett’s brief and the wild, open-source, experience of tdaxp , some of the best ppt slides -in terms of being economical and clear – can be found at DNI, posted by Dr. Chet Richards.

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ON THOUGHT, PRESENTATION AND CONNECTION


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