PowerPoint kills businesses – discuss.

If Romans had PowerPoint, would they have used it?

If Romans had PowerPoint, would they have used it?

This is a story about the evils of PowerPoint. It was first told by Edward Tufte, who some people consider as the most brilliant mind alive on information design. Tufte wrote the book on graphics theory, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information — and in one of his most intriguing  diversions has lambasted PowerPoint for being “a boil on human communication”.

Tufte explained how one horrible PowerPoint slide led to the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia explosion — or more accurately, the horrible bullet structure PowerPoint gives us (and too many people use) caused the disaster. The problem is PowerPoint encourages writers to use clipped jargon that is hard to understand — and if the point fails, bad decisions get made. This is compounded by the fact that people often write grammatically incomplete sentences so that the meaning is actually impossible to determine . . . . all because someone wants it to fit on a bullet point line in a really big font.

As you likely recall, Columbia blew up on re-entry, after a large piece of foam broke off during launch and damaged the edge of a wing. Before the Columbia accident, foam had become detached during many other shuttle launches, so an internal report was crucial in determining how much risk the foam presented. Would a lot of foam detach? And could it hit the shuttle elsewhere with a lot of force?

In our businesses, this is what seems to happen:
1) People do a thorough analysis and write good reports.
2) The good report is then summarised into PowerPoint slides as that is “what senior management demand”
3) People find out that no-one actually reads their thorough reports and so stop doing them . . . perhaps also, even weakening their analyses.
4) Instead, they jump straight to creating a PowerPoint deck “summarising” something that doesn’t exist. (No one will find out anyway!)

Did you know that you can put far more good quality detail in a traditional two page “MS Word” report than on a 10 page set of PowerPoint slides? So why do we insist on using these as the primary way of communicating and as a foundation for decisions? Why don’t we simply use PowerPoint where it actually adds some value, rather than detract from it?

What’s your view?

  1. Do you LOVE PowerPoint and insist it is used?
  2. Is your organisation fixated on PowerPoint?
  3. Do you hate it but comply with our organisation’s flow?
  4. Do you have other ideas?

One theory I have is that strategy consultants traditionally use landscape style, slide decks for their “reports” and their clients follow suit, after all people like Bain  and McKinsey can’t be wrong, can they?

References:
You can look at a whole range of articles on the shuttle disaster here.

Or if you just have time to look at one, then read this one.