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PowerPoint of Afghan War Strategy 233

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the powerpoint-makes-you-dumber dept.
eldavojohn writes "Disillusioned by PowerPoint at work? Some members of the US Military view it as 'an internal threat.' Marine Corps General James N. Mattis says, 'PowerPoint makes us stupid,' reaching the same conclusion NASA came to back in 2003. But nothing speaks to this more than the spaghetti-bowl PowerPoint slide of the US Military's strategy in the ongoing war in Afghanistan. The slide causes anyone's eyes to glaze over with confusion so much that General McChrystal jokingly stated when he saw it, 'When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war.' At my job, I know that feeling all too well."
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PowerPoint of Afghan War Strategy

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  • by ls671 (1122017) * on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:16AM (#31999898) Homepage

    "PowerPoint makes us stupid"

    Does it really take a General to tell us that ? ;-))

    • by rliden (1473185) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:43AM (#32000306)

      Does removing PowerPoint make the presenter any smarter or the presentation they've done any clearer? Somehow I doubt having it drawn out on paper will make it any easier for the good general to understand. :p

      From TFA:

      It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

      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.

      When I was serving in the US Navy I don't remember over-head presentations from photocopies of "well written briefs" being any more entertaining or any easier to understand. Sometimes the situation or mission is complicated. There isn't anything you can't write on paper that can't be put in a presentation or it's accompanying printed notes. This sounds a lot more like finger pointing due to failure or incompetence in the field than it does a software limitation. I find it ludicrous that the blame is shifted from incapable leadership and poor communication to a software tool (take special note of the third to the last paragraph). I also find it boggling that the US military can't figure out how to use both presentation and word processing tools at the same time. Is there a reason a five page report can't be written to accompany the presentation? And they wonder why upper level logistics are a mess.

      • by eln (21727) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @12:04PM (#32000646) Homepage

        Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.

        Damn, talk about a lesson this country badly needs to learn. Oh wait, he was talking about Power Point bullets...never mind.

      • by ls671 (1122017) *

        > When I was serving in the US Navy I don't remember,,,

        Ok but; were you a General when in the Navy ?

        Although not clearly, you are apparently responding "Yes" to the question I asked in the GP. ;-))

      • by Anonymous Coward
        "Sometimes the situation or mission is complicated."

        Killing Afghanis for employment and profit, while hiding the true nature of what is being done is very complicated. The slide shows that perfectly.

        This is the real underlying issue: If Afghanistan can be made safe, an oil company can become very rich by building an oil pipeline from the interior of Russia to Pakistan. A side issue is that weapons sales and war contracting are easy money. (It is the employees of the war contractors who are killed.)
    • by goombah99 (560566) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:46AM (#32000356)

      "PowerPoint makes us stupid"

      Does it really take a General to tell us that ? ;-))

      It might take a general to say the emperor has no clothes.

      Here's a pro tip: increase your font size to almost the headline size. Does your message not fit anymore? then delete it. Use words and figures instead.

      The problem with information packed slides is that the audience is momentarily given lots of information but having too little time to parse it won't recall it later. And they won't be able to concentrate on your words either. instead put details in slide notes and include those on a printed out version.

      There is one exception to this rule: the military quad chart. But quad charts are intentionally dense because you are supposed to linger on them for a long long time.

      One more thing: Always label the axes on a plot dammit. and then always tell people in words what the axes are BEFORE you tell them what the plot says.

      • by vxice (1690200)
        They actually teach this in the intro engineering classes. Ironically enough with a powerpoint presentation about the subject of make pp presentations. Unfortunately very few of the professors are required to learn this skill, often with the poor practices that you mention or worse.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by UziBeatle (695886)

        qoombah99 blurted: "One more thing: Always label the axes on a plot dammit. and then always tell people in words what the axes are BEFORE you tell them what the plot says."

        Is this the US military your advising? Do they still use a lot of axes?
        Sounds like good advice though. I'd hate for some grunt to confuse
        F Wood Axe for chopping wood.

        F Tosser Axe for wood shaving

        F Fire Axe (For hitting fire with)

        F Hurlbat (just to con

      • by Hizonner (38491) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @01:19PM (#32001818)

        Um, no.

        "Clean" slides are at least as dangerous as cluttered ones.

        If your message does not fit on a slide, then don't use a fucking slide.

        Some things are too complex to be reduced to bullets. The answer to that is not to bury the complexity in supplemental material that nobody will ever read. All that does is to create the illusion of comprehension... more dangerous than knowing that you don't have a clue. If you know you don't know, you'll either find out, or you'll let somebody else deal with the problem. If you think the problem is simple, but it's not, you'll make stupid decisions.

        Don't put up a bunch of "keywords" on a screen to hypnotize the audience. SPEAK to the audience. Flash keywords if you must, but don't leave a slide up there for people to read while they miss the thread of what you're saying, or forget to think about anything that doesn't happen to have fit into the five available lines. And leave yourself some flexibility to respond when they're not getting it, instead of blindly continuing down the track your slides set for you.

        Don't waste a lot of time making pretty slides, either. They're basically distracting and misleading. In fact, maybe you should write those keywords on a blackboard.

        Is all your information in your slides? Can you say, with a straight face, "read my slides and you'll understand"? Then that's not a presentation. That's what we used to call a "document". Use a document preparation tool for that, not a presentation tool.

        Is it too complicated to say in a presentation? Then a document is indeed right for you. Write one. Let people read it. MAKE them read it; don't give them a simplified spoon-fed version that produces false understanding. That's right, people need to actually read and write real text. Can't read and write? Sorry, you don't belong here.

        Sure, use charts and graphs. That's what PowerPoint is actually good for. Make sure your analysis and data presentation are respectable, though... you can easily create a graph that gives a thoroughly wrong impression of what's important.

        And that Afghanistan slide actually makes a great point. It says "This is complicated, you idiots. Don't knee-jerk". That's a slide I might actually use.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hey! (33014)

          My presentation philosophy: the presentation is NOT the powerpoint document. It's me talking in a way that makes a point.

          The powerpoint is there to give them something more interesting to look at than me, to help them keep track of what point we're on, and sometimes to provide an illustration or diagram.

          If I have to alter what I'm going to say so it can fit powerpoint slides, I'll just hand out a stack of bumperstickers.

    • in my office, I gotta say that this story inspired both fear and awe. The shear amount of dynamic connectors and double backing process ovals should cause our enemies to immediately shit their pants.
    • by characterZer0 (138196) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @12:02PM (#32000602)

      No, PowerPoint does not make us stupid.

      PowerPoint exposes how stupid we already are. It shows that we have a swirling mess of semi-interconnected ideas and when we try to convey them, all we can produce is a swirling mess of semi-interconnected slides.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        And at the same time the ease of making a basic Powerpoint presentation (together with "oh, shiny!" factor) makes stupid people confident enough to disseminate their ideas.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        The, perhaps more accurate; but equally troubling, fact is that Powerpoint allows us to continue being stupid.

        When you go to write something, an essay or a brief or something of that sort, you generally start stupid. You have a dubiously coherent mass of questionably formed notions. It's ghastly. However, because of the way the essay format works, you will have a very hard time getting away with that. If you don't clean your ideas up, think things through, force them into some semblance of coherent order
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by snarkh (118018)

          You have a dubiously coherent mass of questionably formed notions. It's ghastly. However, because of the way the essay format works, you will have a very hard time getting away with that.

          Hard for you, perhaps, but I manage just fine.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by sco08y (615665)

          My experience is mostly company level / lower enlisted stuff, especially the "death by powerpoint" training slides.

          TRADOC (training and doctrine command) consistently assumes that people have no interest in learning how things work and tries to break everything into endless lists of steps.

          For example, in Airborne school, they explained preparing to land like so:

          If you are moving forward, pull the rear set of risers to your chest. If you are moving to the left, pull the right set of risers to your chest. If you are moving to the right, pull the left set of risers to your chest. If you are moving backwards, pull the front set of risers to your chest.

          What's going on is you pull the risers in the direction you want to go, and your goal is to slow down so you don't get dragged all over the DZ, but

      • by Sockatume (732728)

        On the contrary, PowerPoint allows us to conceal our stupidity by making half-baked semi-interconnected diagrams that other people can't understand. When people find they can't understand a presentation, my experience is that they conclude presentation is above their intelligence level, meaning that the presenter must be very smart indeed. Too few people realise that actually, if you can't understand the presentation, there's a good chance the presenter doesn't understand it either.

      • PowerPoint exposes how stupid we already are.

        Basically, it isn't "PowerPoint makes us stupid", it is "Stupid people make us use PowerPoint". But that's true in some ways about the entire suite of MS Office products:

        * You haven't worked in an enterprise environment until you've been forced to use MS Excel worksheets as database tables, by managers of the kind who use a $2 calculator to work out the solution before typing that solution into the cell. As these "tables" become unwieldy they are augmented by elabourate macros crafted by the boss' secreta

    • by StikyPad (445176)

      Yes and no. Just like in the civilian world, input isn't necessarily either accepted or valued going up the chain. You have idealistic and apathetic middle management. What neither really understands is that the end result in either case is very much the same -- the idealists don't believe they're wasting time, and the apathetic bunch don't care if they are.

      That, and most of the PowerPoint presentations are more to show you "did something," than to actually perform a useful function. Very little real tr

    • by e4g4 (533831)
      My favorite quote from the article was:

      General McMaster said [...] “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

      Taken out of context, that seems to be quite an insightful thing for a general to say...

  • by gyrogeerloose (849181) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:19AM (#31999942) Journal

    but it sure would be great if this were the beginning of the end of unnecessary PowerPoint presentations. I can't think of many times when I saw one that was actually helpful.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ... unnecessary PowerPoint ...

      Good sir, you repeat yourself.

    • by nomadic (141991)
      In the legal field powerpoint slides can be incredibly useful when presenting to juries, when you want to simplify/clarify (or alternately, confuse).
    • There are necessary Powerpoint presentations? When did MS do that complete rewrite? ;)

  • by Eunuchswear (210685) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:20AM (#31999952) Journal

    1. bomb Taliban positions with solar powered laptops running Windows7 with powerpoint installed
    2. Victory
    3. ...
    4. Experience horrible unplanned of blow-back.

  • by SendBot (29932) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:21AM (#31999968) Homepage Journal

    That spaghetti slide [msn.com] has a copyright notice at the bottom, "PA Knowledge Limited 2009"

    There must be a joke about oxymorons and military intelligence in here somewhere.

    • It looks to me as if the spaghetti diagram would be pretty useful to work from if it were printed in poster format. As a slide, not so much.

      • Someone needs to teach PA Consulting Services the real value and potential of a dynamic mind mapping tool, so this manually-edited madness can stop chewing up dollars and obfuscating the ideas these cigar-chewing Generals paid someone dearly to extract.

        Making an overly complex digram larger is akin to jacking up the amplification on an unintelligible, and potentially flawed statement.

        "Parlay vew frawn sace? "I SAID! PARLAY! VEW! FRAWN! SACE!"

        Somewhere in the swirl of undersized fonts and chaotic connec

    • Quick google search brings up a consulting firm. I wonder how many bobs they have, and if people get fired in the army arbitrarily on their recommendations.

      And why is the military spending money on consultants?

      • by Thanshin (1188877)

        Quick google search brings up a consulting firm. I wonder how many bobs they have

        You care about the number?

        For me it's more about size and shape.

    • Uuum, that slide would be very easy to understand. If someone there would know what a graph is, and how to handle it.
      First that thing lacks any edge descriptions. (I’m guessing they are “next step” actions.)
      Because if you’d have those, you could simply do the following:
      1. “Grab” a starting node related to the question you are asking.
      2. Let the rest of the nodes “hang down” from it by the property (=edge type) that you are interested in. (Or if the edge type ha

    • Re:Knowledge Limited (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @01:14PM (#32001764)

      Am I the only one to realize that the 'Spaghetti slide' is supposed to be unintelligible? The presentation in question was about how complex a modern, asymmetrical war can be. Each bubble is a single aspect, and each edge is a relationship between two aspects. It's meant to show the overwhelming complexity of the war in Afghanistan, and it does a damn good job of doing that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:22AM (#31999976)

    Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters.

  • by blakelarson (1486631) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:22AM (#31999986)
    A long essay on the evils of PowerPoint by the man, Ed Tufte, regarding the shuttle explosions: http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0001yB&topic_id=1 [edwardtufte.com]
    • by vlm (69642)

      Its on his posters page, but "The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within" is 32 pages of joy.

      http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/posters [edwardtufte.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fermion (181285)
      Like any technology, the problem is not the technology but that the technology allows unskilled persons to do work previously done by skilled persons. It is not surprising that the results tend to be of low quality. For instance, as much as we like WYSIG editing, it unleashed a whole bunch of crap on the world. OTOH, it allowed a lot of creativity to be unfurled that otherwise would have been hidden by the cost of entry.

      For those who do not know, Ed Tufte writes books about how to display information s

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        When I see a slide like the ones being discussed, I see simply too much information

        That isn't really the problem. Tufte oftens bemoans low density of data and that Powerpoint tends to guide presentors into that trap with its large fonts, bullet points, and cartoonish graphics.

        The spaghetti slide in the NYT article has around 200 word groups with 13 of them in larger typeface than the others. These are grouped together in 7 colors. And there are many many lines that appear to illustrate one way relationships binding them all together. If you leave aside the lines that isn't exactly a whole

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @12:51PM (#32001410) Homepage

      Ed Tufte's real issue in the article is failing to recognize that the purpose of that presentation was not to inform the audience but to protect the presenter. That sort of thing is common in any organization whenever the topic is "how we screwed up".

  • by myrrdyn (562078) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:22AM (#31999998)
    From the article:

    General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

    Oh, man... the irony

    • by TheKidWho (705796) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:30AM (#32000114)

      Yeah, some require rockets.

    • Re:Not bullet-izable (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TubeSteak (669689) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:47AM (#32000370) Journal

      ... Thomas X. Hammes, a retired Marine colonel, whose title, "Dumb-Dumb Bullets," underscored criticism of fuzzy bullet points; "accelerate the introduction of new weapons," for instance, does not actually say who should do so.

      That's not a weakness of powerpoint, it's a weakness of the presenter.
      I've given powerpoint presentations, but they were just the front end of a much deeper paper.
      The way I learned to use powerpoint was that it should provide enough information for people to know whether or not they want to read your full paper.

      Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, who led the allied ground forces in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, grew frustrated when he could not get Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the commander at the time of American forces in the Persian Gulf region, to issue orders that stated explicitly how he wanted the invasion conducted, and why. Instead, General Franks just passed on to General McKiernan the vague PowerPoint slides that he had already shown to Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defense secretary at the time.

      Holy. Farking. Shit.
      I imagine this is what the presentation looked like:

      • Shock and Awe
      • ???
      • Oil Revenue
      • The problem is that Powerpoint encourages a decision making process based entirely on the content of the slides, rather then an examination of the information. Going to a PowerPoint presentation leaves you with enough knowledge to be dangerous.
    • But I got a flowchart that could rock his world.
  • by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:26AM (#32000046) Homepage Journal
    I don't think it is fair to blame this directly on Microsoft. There are, after all, other programs available today that allow you to make terrible presentations. If the talk had been done instead in Apple Keynote, OpenOffice, or any other program, it still would have been possible to make massive, mind-numbing, information-lacking, slides.

    For that matter, I'm pretty sure the same was possible before we started doing this with software - it was certainly possible with film slides as well.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Nadaka (224565)

      And don't forget those poster sized flip books that were all the rage in the 80's and 90's before digital projectors became commonplace.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SendBot (29932)

      I think you're missing the point. The concern is with the military having institutionalized an ineffective means of intercommunication, using specifically powerpoint as their tool of choice.

      Even if they didn't use PP, it would still be referred to by that name as people used to call all photocopies "xerox" and all inline skates "rollerblades".

      The process of "quickly" creating slides in the presentations made conducive by the software creates a false sense of understanding, and that is the issue.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by miggyb (1537903)
        Microsoft should absoultely take none of the blame for this. PowerPoint is a tool that does have it's useful purposes sometimes. For example, it's absolutely great for printing shipping labels or making last-minute valentine's day cards.
      • by Sockatume (732728)

        In fewer words, PowerPoint is being used as a purely genericised term here.

    • by vxice (1690200) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:47AM (#32000366)
      And of course there is no way that something as simple as occupying a multi-ethnic country can so so complex as to not be understood by a 3rd grader. If something seems simple you most likely clearly don't understand it. I mean the space shuttle is just a shuttle that goes in space right? What is so complex that NASA needs billions to build one. I could buy a used school bus strap a rocket to it and be good to go.
    • by sznupi (719324)

      One has to remember that Powerpoint (or, as you point out, similar tools...it's just that PP is by far the most popular one) is not really used, not really meant to help in passing knowledge or information.

      No, is is used by incompetent speakers to hide behind their slides. Any moron feels he can make a nice presentation, when using Powerpoint. But this tool didn't really change that presentations require not only somebody bright, but also with a talent and/or training of a public speaker.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dotancohen (1015143)

      For that matter, I'm pretty sure the same was possible before we started doing this with software - it was certainly possible with film slides as well.

      To err is human. But to really fuck things up you need a computer.

    • by foobsr (693224)
      If the talk had been done instead in Apple Keynote, OpenOffice, or any other program, it still would have been possible to make massive, mind-numbing, information-lacking, slides.

      Wikipedia, history of "PowerPoint": "The original version of this program was created by Dennis Austin and Thomas Rudkin. Originally designed for the Macintosh computer, the initial release was called "Presenter". In 1987, it was renamed to "PowerPoint" due to problems with trademarks, the idea for the name coming from Robert Ga
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pz (113803)

      I don't think it is fair to blame this directly on Microsoft. There are, after all, other programs available today that allow you to make terrible presentations. If the talk had been done instead in Apple Keynote, OpenOffice, or any other program, it still would have been possible to make massive, mind-numbing, information-lacking, slides.

      For that matter, I'm pretty sure the same was possible before we started doing this with software - it was certainly possible with film slides as well.

      The huge difference was that with film slides -- at least the ones you had to expose with a 35mm camera, or the ones you drew up by hand -- was that the author's actual or perceived difficulty or cost was a damping factor. It make the authors think before making a presentation (anyone other than me remember how expensive a box of overhead sheets were?), and carefully consider what to say and how to say it.

      With everything computerized, it's too easy to run off at the mouth, as it were, because the increment

    • It's not fault of Microsoft, and PowerPoint could be (and sometimes is) used to create good presentations. We have a deeper problem than just a piece of software, PowerPoint is the most obvious simptom.

      Altough, before computers become mainstream, people didn't do useless presentations nearly as often as they do now. By that time it was hard work to create one. That doesn't mean that we didn't have the problem of people disgussing as smart by communicating informationless streams*, they just preferred other

  • by Jeian (409916) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:26AM (#32000048)

    When I was in USAF officer training, all the trainees were required to give several briefings throughout the program. We were told that we could use any visual aids we wanted (to include whiteboard, PowerPoint or... who knows.)

    All 144 of us used PowerPoint, simply because it was the easiest way to complement what you were talking about.

    • But was it the best way?

      • by Jahava (946858) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @12:17PM (#32000846)

        But was it the best way?

        It really depends. PowerPoint (and presentation applications in general) offer a very flexible and powerful method for imparting information. You can collect disparate pieces of information together, present it in numerous forms (text, pictures, animations, etc.), and emphasize and accent, among other things. These are all very useful things to do for a variety of situations. The issue with PowerPoint (and office software in general) is the misconceived perception that it should be used by everybody. Some people know how to present, and others do not. Those who do not will make a mess out of anything, including presentation software.

        With great power comes great responsibility -- Spider Man

        Presentation applications, like any other flexible development environment, carry with them a responsibility that it be used intelligently and purposefully. The ability to display all sorts of information also increases the overall potential complexity of the information. The same generic set of guidelines applies, just like it always has, be it with books, technical papers, charts, graphics, code comments, or any other medium:

        • Know your audience - One single presentation cannot effectively address an audience with a wide variety of purposes and backgrounds. The presentation cannot be broken down into chunks that are interesting to only one group at a time. It's a performance, and it should be performed to a captivated audience. It's very easy to cram too much stuff into a single presentation, when multiple targeted presentations would have been effective and clear.
        • Use the tool appropriately - A presentation isn't a book club. Anybody can read text, and chances are most of then can read it faster than you can speak it. The presentation software should complement an overall presentation, providing supplemental points, overviews, summaries, accents, and emphasis. If you are going to read the slides verbatim, write a document. Furthermore, slides are not meant to be lingered on. Your audience cannot be expected to stare at a projection for 30 minutes to absorb things, nor should you ask that of them. If such deep supplemental material is needed for your presentation, distribute it beforehand or offer printouts so the audience can take it at their own pace.
        • Be purposeful - Every element of a presentation should have a purpose. Additional effects are (minimally) distracting and (potentially) disruptive to your overall mission of imparting information. If a slide transition doesn't increase the clarity of your message, it should not be there.
        • etc...

        ... I could go on, but you get the point. When used correctly, presentation software can be very powerful and useful. There is no inherent aspect of it that dumbs down presentations or people. The compulsion to "mutilate data" is something that only stems from a lack of understanding of how to present that data in the first place. Give an stupid person a tool, and he'll use it stupidly.

    • by spauldo (118058)

      I wondered why every time an officer wanted to make an announcement he'd send a powerpoint presentation via email.

      I started to ignore them eventually. Do you really need a powerpoint presentation embedded in email to say "Our football team is playing against 18MSS today at 5, come support our team"?

      Powerpoint has a purpose and is useful, but for some reason USAF officers go overboard with it.

    • All 144 of us used PowerPoint, simply because it was the easiest way to complement what you were talking about.

      I've never heard PowerPoint being described as "the easiest way" to do anything other than give yourself a brain aneurysm. If you honestly felt it was the easiest way to complement your presentations, than I shudder to think what the other options were...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jeian (409916)

        Well, put it this way.

        If I stand in front of a room full of people and talk for 7 minutes, with no outline or visual aids, people's attention is going to drift. (It may do that anyway, but I'm not going to help it along. :P) In my experience, as a listener, there's no organization to a stream of words coming at you - you have to break down and organize the message on your own, which provides additional strain on the listener, and many people would rather just think about something else. By providing a visua

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by sznupi (719324)

          And that is exactly the problem with powerpoints - they hook up listeners to fragmented visual flow. If you can't keep their attention without that aid, then your presentation most likely sucks anyway and you shouldn't be giving it, you shouldn't be hiding behind it to mask how poor of a speaker you are.

          ("it helps keep you on-track as a speaker" tells everything about who really benefits from powerpoint)

  • by wigaloo (897600) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:28AM (#32000080)

    ...if PowerPoint makes you stupid, but I sure feel dumber having read that article.

  • by Old Sparky (675061) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:30AM (#32000118)

    "Powerpoint absorbs huge amounts of time that management, marketeers, and other suits might otherwise
      spend doing real harm."

  • by mschaffer (97223) *

    Powerpoint isn't the problem, it's large organization management and people who don't want to (or don't have the time) to get into the details..

    This is the nature of "summing-up" and presenting to people that do not understand what is being spoon-fed to them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Mab_Mass (903149)

      It's worse than that. Putting together a powerpoint can give you the illusion that you've summarized and presented some issue clearly, when in fact, there is no content.

      At work, we hired a contractor to do some initial investigation into a scientific problem for us. After spending some time gathering data, they gave us a summary powerpoint as the final report. We pushed back hard, saying instead that we wanted a written summary.

      When it came back, the results had changed. By forcing them to actually

  • i left the army 10 year ago, but i remember powerpoint even then. officers would spend hours making slides for command and staff and other briefings. they would draw maps and all kinds of pictures from scratch. it was amazing to watch, and i'm glad i never had to do any of it

  • I know that slide... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Morphine007 (207082) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:35AM (#32000182)

    ... and it has nothing to do with the complexity of the STRATEGY.... it's meant to give commanders an indication of the insanely-complex interrelations between various factors/actions. It's actually designed to represent the SITUATION in Afghanistan and to illustrate that simple notions of cause and effect aren't quite as simple as you'd like to believe. The slide is nothing more than a model of a very complex situation.... and it's actually a damned good one too.

    Check out the larger version of the picture [msn.com] and take a look at some of the headings.

    Look at the top right of the dark blue portion, where it says "targeted strikes", if you start following some of the arrows, you see (as you should expect) that targeted strikes will have an effect on "Insurgent Damages and Casualties" and that such an effect will also have an effect on "Fear of ANSF/Coalition Repercussions", which will also have an effect on "Insurgent recruiting/manpower".

    There's no description of strategy there, and if you sat down and tried to think about the repercussions of specific actions taken in an area filled with insurgents and a populace that is sometimes sympathetic and sometimes not sympathetic to both the coalition and insurgents, a lot of the interrelations would seem pretty obvious - ie. if you spend too much effort killing insurgents, you run the risk of increasing their ability to recruit, because the population will begin to fear and resent you.

    Don't look at the slide as a whole... just look for an entry on the slide that represents an action, and follow the arrows which show what the effects of that action are.

    • The arrows don't come with information showing what the effect is, or how it is produced. As a result it is an incomprehensible mess. By color-coding and adding titles over regions of the infographic, important stuff is obscured.
    • by 10scjed (695280)

      Don't look at the slide as a whole... just look for an entry on the slide that represents an action, and follow the arrows which show what the effects of that action are.

      Okay, now I've looked at the slide, and all I can think is that 'the only winning move is not to play'

    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @12:41PM (#32001260) Homepage

      Don't look at the slide as a whole... just look for an entry on the slide that represents an action, and follow the arrows which show what the effects of that action are.

      No, don't do that, because each line in and of itself is simplified, and doesn't tell you anything you shouldn't have already known if you weren't being overly simplistic yourself. As you say, it's obvious. So what's the point of looking at the obvious and simplistic as represented in such a tangled mess?

      Look at the slide as a whole. What's the message? "The situation in Afghanistan is a network of interrelated feedback loops vastly too complicated to be conveyed in a single slide". That's the only real information this slide conveys.

      I could actually see this slide being highly useful if displayed to the right people. People who are involved in policy but have too simple an idea of the war. "Oh good, I'm going to have the war explained in a powerpoint slide," they say, thinking of typical PP presentations they've seen. The bam, up pops that tangled mess. "Whoa, this is way more complicated than I thought!" And there you go. Message imparted.

  • What a chart! (Score:3, Informative)

    by LanMan04 (790429) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:38AM (#32000216)

    Wow, someone needs to learn how to use GraphViz:

    http://www.graphviz.org/ [graphviz.org]

    *avoid edge crossings and reduce edge length

  • Crutch (Score:4, Insightful)

    by COMON$ (806135) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:39AM (#32000234) Journal
    Its not that Powerpoint makes us stupid so much as it is a Friggin crutch. Powerpoint presentations CAN be done well. The problem is, mostly idiots make the presentations, read directly from the slides, and use whiz bang animations to make up for content...

    I would make note of several other crutches that should be great but are created by idiots.

    Most site index engines, for an example try to find something useful on Symantec's website using their built in KB search.

    Photoshop, you got to love all the "professional photographers" who simply apply the latest filter from their torrented CS.

    WYSIWYG, pick any, you know what I am talking about here folks, if you don't...well you probably are part of the problem.

    Social Media sites, the abuse never ends...I'm looking at you farmtown girl and political right/leftwing nutjob friends.

    Any of these items should work and be great tools but there are just too many idiots in the world who dont want to put effort into anything. These people will exist whether the crutches are there or not, but they sure as heck will waste a lot less time.

  • When the web was new and I had to make presentations like this, I would do HTML pages (with bullets) instead of powerpoint slides. The big difference was that I would also provide lots of links to additional information and details on each point. It took longer to write (both because of the additional information, but mostly because we didn't have great tools to assist), but was more engaging with the audience and did provide the additional details that a bullet-list-slide didn't.

    Nowadays, I might thin

  • Powerpoint is trying to solve a problem - that of communicating a lot of complex information efficiently. Which, let's be honest, is a very common problem.

    The issue that comes out of it is that a lot of people are absolutely lousy at effectively communicating complex information. Powerpoint allows them to pretend that they are communicating - when in actual fact they're not. They're just droning.

    I think a part of the solution here may be education - but I don't mean "educate people at college or when the

  • "When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war."

    Seeing that BOTH sides have already lost, we'll never understand the slide.

  • When I worked on a defense contract, all material was expected to be in PowerPoint slides. I even had a customer reject a JPEG image because he "couldn't open it" and had me put it in a PowerPoint container. The effect was to spend time excessively distilling information into a slide format that was meaningless without context. A good presentation requires speaking to go with it and does not stand on its own. Unfortunately, people have forgotten the value of a good report with a nice abstract to start for t

  • by oldhack (1037484)

    My bad - I RTFA and this is the gem in the piece:

    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.

  • Looks familiar (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lyinhart (1352173) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @11:51AM (#32000428)
    Reminds me of this flowchart that's supposedly about how to fire an inept NYC school teacher [commongood.org].
  • I recall once hearing a US Army General say during the Iraqi war that "If the copier had been invented prior to WWII, we'd all be speaking German."

  • This seems like a good summary of what the Commander-in-Chief needs to understand.

    It may look like indecipherable spaghetti but we'll have something like a 3D browser representation with a page for each concept in our minds. Do we look at the internet and say "OMG that's too complicated"? 7+/-2 [yorku.ca], remember?

    So the problem is primarily trying to put too much information on to one page.

    It also reminds me of Ender's Game where a certain victory was achieved by denying the player the big picture... so
  • Is it the problem of PowerPoint or the one creating the presentation? It seems to me a case of blaiming the technology instead of the user. PowerPoint doesn't create a strategic genius by magic. But i am 100% sure Clausewitz could have created a great PowerPoint presentation "about war".
  • PowerPoint? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LarryRiedel (141315) <Larry@Riedel.org> on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @12:00PM (#32000574)

    But nothing speaks to this more than the spaghetti-bowl PowerPoint slide of the US Military's strategy in the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

    Projecting a diagram onto a screen does not make the diagram a PowerPoint slide. The complexity of that diagram has nothing to do with PowerPoint.

  • Though I don't think "Powerpoint" or "open office impress" is the issue, I can see the point. We have become too reliant on a screen full of information. Of course, this is nothing compared to the chalkboards of yesteryear!
  • What's a PowerPoint?

  • by MarkLR (236125) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @12:11PM (#32000768)

    I think the point of that slide is to show that the war is complex and judging by the laughing it worked. It's basically like Primer in this XKCD [xkcd.com] comic, the point is not is understand the picture but to see that its very complex.

  • Of course it's crap. They should be using Microsoft Project instead! Right tool for the right job & all that.

  • The problem with PowerPoint is not that it makes us stupid...we're good at that already. It just allows people to build bad meeting presentations that look good on the surface. People have a need to feel like they put together a good presentation, so they spend all sorts of time twiddling around making things just perfect. The problem is that you get something that looks totally polished but is useless.

    In IT, I've seen that "spaghetti bowl" diagram over and over, except the end nodes are routers, servers, P

  • Perhaps US military leaders in Afghanistan are at a point where they have to play the game where they try to present their jobs as so complex that no one could do it except for them, so that they would become irreplaceable?

    Or perhaps they become so corrupted by their power that nobody can correct them when they do something wrong or stupid.

  • by adavies42 (746183) on Tuesday April 27, 2010 @01:27PM (#32001974)

The Force is what holds everything together. It has its dark side, and it has its light side. It's sort of like cosmic duct tape.

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