PowerPoint: the Enemy of the US Military?
The New York Times ran an excellent article Tuesday on the problem of how PowerPoint is being used in US military briefings. Citing how overly complex slides such as this are creating barriers to understanding and good thinking.
â€œPowerPoint makes us stupid,â€ Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.
â€œItâ€™s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,â€ General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. â€œSome problems in the world are not bullet-izable.â€
...Commanders say that the slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold, and that they relieve the briefer of the need to polish writing to convey an analytic, persuasive point. Imagine lawyers presenting arguments before the Supreme Court in slides instead of legal briefs.
Visual Information Design Guru Edward Tufte explores this same problem in detail in his The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within. Tufte examines how NASA's poor and inappropriate uses of PowerPoint slides instead of white papers to communicate complex issues of rocket science were in part responsible for both the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters.
Are there times and places where PowerPoint can be helpful, yes I think so. Slides when used in particular was to visually support a presenter can be effective. However, in many cases a document or a white paper is much more effective at presenting the detail and nuance required for complex ideas and situations.