We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint

WASHINGTON — Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was shown a PowerPoint slide in Kabul last summer that was meant to portray the complexity of American military strategy, but looked more like a bowl of spaghetti.

“When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” General McChrystal dryly remarked, one of his advisers recalled, as the room erupted in laughter.

The slide has since bounced around the Internet as an example of a military tool that has spun out of control. Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Perhaps the best point made in the article: “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.”

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3 Responses to We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint

  1. dan says:

    When I read the article I noticed that most of the commanders who disapproved of it also said that they occasionally used it. I realize it has drawbacks but it is difficult to give a speech of any length, particularly if statistics or geography are an important element, without using PowerPoint because listeners need to see what you're talking about. It also allows the listener to move his eyes back and forth from speaker to examples, illustrations, etc and thus helps them from zoning out.

    I also felt that whenever I used PowerPoint I did not need to rely on notes because everything I needed to talk about was in front of me on the slide. I didn't use that many slides; they just helped keep track of where I was and to stay organized.

  2. Pingback: An Alien Mind: Some problems are not bulletizable?

  3. Quiddity says:

    I'm with dan. I think this PowerPoint bashing has gone too far. Sure, there are absurd cases where it's ineffectually used, but if the creator / presenter does a decent job, it can be quite effective. My main gripe is that PowerPoint often contains too much information for the viewer to absorb. Leave that for the hand-out notes and use the slides for the Big Picture.

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