PowerPoint blamed for lack of military productivity

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If the war on terror can be won, it almost certainly won’t be helped by Microsoft PowerPoint.

A fascinating article in the New York Times describes how the presentation software, part of Microsoft’s Office suite, is so pervasive in U.S. military culture that it’s actually hurting productivity. Commanders say they’re shown so many PowerPoint slides throughout the day that their effectiveness has worn off. Officials use the term “death by PowerPoint” to describe how they feel when presented with another 30-slide presentation.

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The story is filled with juicy quotes and colorful anecdotes of that nature. “PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said. Another general likened PowerPoint to an internal threat and banned the software during an important military operation. One lieutenant said he spends most of his time making presentations. General David Petraeus, who leads the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, called some PowerPoint slideshows “just agony.” The image below, taken from a presentation on military strategy in Afghanistan, has circulated the Internet as a prime example of PowerPoint gone wrong:

PowerPoint blamed for lack of military productivity

As Business Insider notes, the Times’ story should ring true to people far beyond the military’s reach. If you’ve ever been to a conference, or work at a company large or small, or even took some college classes, you probably know how dull and wasteful PowerPoint can be. The software is useful for illustrating several charts and graphs — military leaders acknowledge this — but it also deceives by breaking down problems too simply into bullet points. My experience has been that people use PowerPoint as a crutch, simply reading what they’ve already arranged into slides instead of engaging their audience with a compelling argument or discussion.

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I don’t blame Microsoft for any lack of productivity that results from excessive PowerPoint use. That people rely on it so heavily is a testament to how well the software works. It’s just a matter of using the right tools at the right time, and too often people treat PowerPoint as the entire toolkit.

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