Military says bullets kill

complex-diagram.jpg

The misuse of PowerPoint is bad. I've been saying it for years, but now the US Army says it too. Check out this recent article from the New York Times. Link

The US Army reports the misuse of PowerPoint has become a major problem. As the article describes it, PowerPoint is seen as a military tool that has spun out of control.

The spaghetti-like diagram above was taken from an actual military PowerPoint slide. It's designed to show the complexity of American strategy in Afghanistan. (Definitely doesn't follow the Apollo Ideas mantra of clear simple expression.) As General McChrystal, head of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, describes it, "When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war."

According to McChrystal, complex diagrams aren't even the biggest problem — bullet points are. And they're the same problem with your company's presentations.

Bullet points are just rigid lists of facts. They do not convey meaning. They only barely convey information. What's worse, they are proven to lead to bad decision-making, poor judgement, and reduced creativity.

This isn't the first time the government has recognized the PowerPoint problem. Several years back NASA identified the misuse of PowerPoint as a contributing factor to the Columbia shuttle disaster. You can read more about that on Edward Tufte's blog here. It's fascinating and tragic.

PowerPoint is a bad reporting tool. When it's used properly, it can take a presentation from good to great, but bullet points and slick templates won't do it.

It's truly amazing how much bad PowerPoint costs organizations in lost opportunity and time. Can you think of another business tool that even comes close?

Thanks to the many friends and readers who sent in this article!