March 16, 2013

Powerpoint Is The Downfall of The West

If you've ever worked in an office environment, you've more than likely been exposed to someone's Powerpoint presentation.  Whether it be on marketing objectives, sales forecasts, corporate culture, or the new network infrastructure, you've sat through a Powerpoint discussion, presentation or maybe even a lecture. Powerpoint, part of Microsoft's Office suite is a great tool for organizing thoughts and presenting ideas for discussion or explanation.  The problem with Powerpoint is not the tool itself but rather the behaviors it enables.  That behavior will lead to the downfall of the West.

Would Powerpoint have helped put Neil Armstrong on the moon?  No.  It might in fact even have slowed the moon mission down.  I've been in a number of companies and every Powerpoint presentation I've ever seen has two things in common; (1) It makes, or tries to make, a point and (2) it draws a number of people with a combined hourly salary that would shock you, into a room to discuss that point.  What Powerpoint does not do,  is demand an outcome from that discussion.  Too often Powerpoint presentations are static versions of television shows. The result of that meeting or discussion too often does nothing to advance a corporate agenda, it simply ends up being a time waster.  It takes productive people and mis-allocates their time.

People do not use Powerpoint effectively, that is to say, they don't meet with an objective or a desired outcome.  People also spend too much time perfecting a presentation and not enough time engaged in real productivity.  That's not all Powerpoint's fault.  People have long been disorganized and without clear objectives long before Microsoft came along.  But Powerpoint enables a corporate culture that encourages misguided energies.

Powerpoint was created no doubt, with the objective of simplifying and and improving communication.  Communication is one of the fundamental building blocks of any organization, private or public. Other fundamental building blocks may vary from organization to organization but could include things like innovation, efficiency, flexibility, creativity or productivity.  But communication has been over-emphasized in relation to these other fundamentals. Too many businesses have skewed their efforts to the point that too many people are presenting too many things too each other and not enough people are engaged in productive real work.  Crops do not grow via Powerpoint.  Assembly lines do not use Powerpoint.  Planes do not need Powerpoint to fly.

It's obviously not true for every company but it is all too common.  There is some point at which it becomes too common and too repetitive in its application.  Powerpoint doesn't actually suck.  Powerpoint is a tool, and it is an innovative one at that.   It can be used effectively, and there are times it can be very useful.  What it does not need to do is turn everyone into storytellers instead of workers, and that depends on those who use it, not the tool itself.  If we get stuck in the mindset that the pinnacle of our work is the Powerpoint presentation about the actual work, our downfall is assured.

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