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US Army needs to declare war on Powerpoint

by on21 July 2009


Stuffing up decision making

Microsoft's Powerpoint is stuffing up the US army's ability to make sensible military decisions, according to a report in the Army Force's Journal. (As if they ever had the ability to make sensible decisions.sub.ed.)

The article claims that the military use of Powerpoint was far too extensive and was stuffing up the ability for officers to think. The article, penned by T.X. Hammes said that PowerPoint was not a neutral tool and was hostile to thoughtful decision-making. Unfortunately, he says, the Pentagon has virtually made a cult of the PowerPoint presentation. Powerpoint has fundamentally changed US culture by altering the expectations of who makes decisions, what decisions they make and how they make them.

In the days before Microsoft took over the world with Powerpoint, the US military used to use two- or three-page summaries of key issues. A decision-maker would read a paper, have time to think it over and then convene a meeting with either the full staff or just the experts involved to discuss the key points of the paper. However with a Powerpoint demonstration a decision-maker sits through a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation followed by five minutes of discussion and then is expected to make a decision.

Time is wasted on which pictures to put on the slides, how to build complex illustrations and what bullets should be included. Bullets are not the same as complete sentences, which require developing coherent thoughts. Instead of forcing officers to learn the art of summarising complex issues into coherent arguments, the report argues. The briefer does not have to think about his or her position clearly and the people he is briefing do not get a full picture. Often the briefer reads the slides aloud while his or her audience is trying to do the same thing.

The report argues that people need time to think about, even perhaps reread, material about complex issues. Instead, they are under pressure to finish reading the slides before the boss apparently does. As a result the quality of information that US Generals get when they are making military decisions that could cost lives, has shrunk. It also limits decision making to the highest level because the US generals think they can make more decisions using Powerpoint because it is more efficient. In fact many decisions that might have been made at a lower level, because of time constraints, are now being dumped on higher level commanders because they believe that Powerpoint gives them the time to make more decisions. The report points out it would be better if some of those decisions would be better made by people lower down the food chain.

Ironically the US military excuse given for using PowerPoint so much is that senior leaders don’t have time to be pre-briefed on all the decisions they make. However Hammes points out that is because they are taking briefings that in the old days they would not have touched. It is starting to look as if Microsoft's powerpoint mentality could be harming the US's defence capaiblity.

More here.
Last modified on 21 July 2009
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