Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Nuke Power Point

If you ever listed the most undesirable inventions in the world, Power Point should feature somewhere at the top of the list. This blogger’s visceral antagonism to Power Point may be well known to long time readers – there’s a series of posts on this here.

It was therefore with unbelieving incredulity that I read of Power Point’s infiltration into the US army in the New York Times’ report here. I had to rub my eyes a couple of times to believe what I was reading. But then on logical reflection, I should not have been surprised. Is there any organisation that the cursed Power Point has not infiltrated. Why should the military be impervious to its seductive powers. Human idiocy has not escaped any particular body of men.

Al Qaeda’s true magic bullet to winning the war in Afghanistan is not the suicide bomber. Its not the Taliban. Its not the weapons smuggled in through Pakistan. Its not the opium that’s grown to finance the war. Its not the Tora Bora caves. Its actually nothing that they have had to do. Their greatest weapon is actually what they don’t have and what they would probably never aspire to have. It’s the virus that has now conclusively spread in the US military. The glorious weapon called Power Point.

The consequences are mind boggling. Before you engage the enemy, you have to Power Point your plans to be approved at a meeting the previous night. When you catch a culprit you have to Power Point his Miranda rights. Before you shoot a suicide bomber, you have to create a slide outlining the disadvantages of embarking on a career in suicide bombing. And to the civilian who has just pushed you away from stepping on a land mine, you show a Power Point slide saying Thank You !

Can you believe the existence of the term “slideware” in business lexicon. Every consulting, outsourcing, IT, whatever company, has its own proprietary “slideware” that is guarded jealously and continuously “developed” by an army of nerds labouring away somewhere. I have some familiarity and admiration with the outsourcing business, but surely the most soul degrading outsourcing business is that of creating Power Point Charts offshore.

I like the epithet quoted in the NY Times article – “hypnotizing chickens”. Its now every clear to me how the US can win in Afghanistan. Launch their most potent nuclear weapon on Power Point. Actually, I have a better idea. Let Power Point seduce Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda is then surely doomed.


Ravi Rajagopalan said...

Hi Ramesh, I have been terribly busy and unable to comment on your very interesting blog. I totally agree with your post on Powerpoint.

I would highly recommend that your readers refer to Edward Tufte's monograph on how Powerpoint destroys the cognitive process. He wrote this piece more than 10 years ago and is quite prophetic.

In my role I am required to present sometimes twice a day. I enjoy it, but of late, I distribute a deck and tell the audience that if an idea cannot communicate itself in words, then pictures will not help. Then I just talk without the projector on. I have made several presentations this way, and I find people like this approach.

In Greek times, every citizen was taught the art of Rhetoric, in which he (women were not citizens, sorry to all my sisters out there) could learn how to present an idea to his fellow citizens. The idea was that if a man can organise his mind to present an idea, he would have the wherewithal to analyse a problem to make it "presentable" i.e. to understand it, decompose it, and analyse it in front of his peers. Interesting concept.

Last story: my wife (a former investment banker who sold toxic waste) was seeking compliance approval from New York for a complex structure that had an INPV of $200m. The very senior guy in Compliance refused to read the four page document outlining the deal. He kept asking her to "reduce it on one slide with bullets" so that he can rule on it. In frustration she turned to her boss, gave him the four page document, and asked him for help. The boss was an irreverent scotsman. He picked up the phone, called the Compliance guy, put him on speaker, and said "Each page is worth $50m to the bank. Now read the f*&%$$g document".

Keep the blog coming. I read it but just dont find time to comment. Its a struggle as you can imagine. Cheers

Adeshsidhu said...

PowerPoint is for those who neither have power nor have points to make :-)

Like article said, PowerPoint creates 'illusion of control and understanding' which can be dangerous or may be fatal for armed forces. Atleast this illusion has proved fatal for lot of business houses.

Ramesh said...

@Dada - Hey much appreciate your stopping by ( I presume its somewhere in the air between London and Bombay). Don't work too hard :)

And please - the wife did not sell toxic waste. R- please shoot this guy although the example he quotes is superb. Did it really happen that way ??

@Adesh - I'm going to use it as a quotable quote. They neither have Power nor a point to make !! Very nice.

zeno said...

1) Seems IT PM ppl may survive even in US army just with their power point skills.
2) point to ponder: do many IT projects fail cause of power points?? ;)
3)May be taliban is using keynote ;)
4) two good links with tips fr a good PPT

Anonymous said...

power point use panna it gives power to ur point..apdinu sila per yosichirukalam!! Ravi saar sonna letter ejjample toppu :D

Priya Ganesh said...

we create a power point and then spend hours in a meeting trying to explain the point. No point I say.

mahesh said...

haha. I can relate to this :)...

One thing that I would like to humbly add to this is frustration of how people edit font color and size not worrying about what is written on the slide...

Also if they do an analysis of how much time is spent on doing the presentation and then redoing (edit and beautify it) the first one is usually very miniscule as compared to the time wasted on the second bit.

One thing that I have as a solution for Bill Gates (I am sure he reads your blogs silently) - distribute the software free and charge a royalty of 1 paise per slide created - Microsoft can add a few zeros to the pile of cash you were mentioning a few days ago :)

Ramesh said...

@zeno - well bulletted comment. Perfect to put on a slide !!!

@gils - ravi example toppudan, gilsu example engay ??

@Priya - Complete waste of time

@Mahesh - Brilliant idea. He's sure to make more money that way !

ambulisamma said...

I always take a back seat when asked to prepare a ppt,somehow i was not interested in preparing.Even in college project presentation i go with flow diagrams alone in OHP sheets than a PPT.
But dont call me hypocrite for asking the husband to prepare the first b'day invite of baby in PPT and circulate it for friends and for publishing it in the blog too.

Anonymous said... in favor of ppt's :) i find them easy to read. vala vala nu word doc padikarathu bore. trng materials ppt ya iruntha trng edukarathum easy. Though i love filling up reams and reams of word doc..comfort and ease na athu ppt thaan :)

Sandhya Sriram said...

the journey of powerpoint::::

Presentation 1

Slide 1

The Point

Dt: 28.04.2010

Slide 2

Use of Powerpoints

Summarize underlying concept
Aid Presenter in flow of thought
Hold audience attention
Improve Visual appeal

Presentation 2

Slide 1

The Powerful Point

Dt: 28.04.2010
Welcome to the esteemed audience

Slide 2

The Great Benefits of the Powerful Point

Hold esteemed audience attention

Aid the great Presenter in flow of thought

Improve Visual appeal

Summarize concept

Presentation 1

Slide 1

The Great, Magnificent, spectacular, ultra powerfulPoint

Dt: 28.04.2010
to great, greater, greatest of all audience

Slide 2

Use of Powerpoints

Heavily, magnificently, spectacularly improved visual appeal

Hold attention of the amazing, brilliant, intelligent audience

Underlying concept (not relevant)
flow of thoughts (random to fill up the hour)

PS: I rate myself a very poor presenter coz i am heavily failing in getting to the third and supreme stage

Sandhya Sriram said...

small typo - read last one as presentation 3

Sandhya Sriram said...

small typo - read last one as presentation 3

J said...

I agree that the most fascinating presenters are those who are able to hold your attention and get you to think with them just by their clarity of thought and persuasiveness of words. But I think these days more and more people make presentations and not all of us are talented or trained in the art of making a good presentation and we end up resorting to the crutch called Power Point. Would love to hear Ravi's strategies for his shift to prop-less presentations.

Deepa said...

Ramesh you are at your humorous best these days!

But truly, most of the times the info on the PPTs is more of what you want people to see rather than the real picture! Its a very valid point, that it gives a false sense of control to someone who is blindly relying on those PPTs. Although, until I read this piece, it never struck me that there might be people who consider PPTs seriously in strategic planning!

The only interesting PPT story I have is, my friend's brother, once prepared a PPT for his dad, to present to him why he should marry this particular girl, complete with all pros and cons! The PPT didn't work! :D So in Adesh's words, if there is no power in your point, no use of the Powerpoint.

I am still chuckling over the last bit of the NYT article. PPT works best where the idea is not to give information! :D:D And "hypnotizing chickens"!!

zeno said...

@sandhya PPT super :P thaniya room pottu yosipinga pola :P

Vishal said...

@J - One of the great persons who hold your attention like a magnet is our own "Lao Ming Zhi".

You really captivate the listener, Ramesh!

One really does not need the point of power on a slide. Power of engagement may be more effective through other modes of communication for sure.

@ Adesh - Very well said!

Ramesh said...

@ambulisamma - Shall trawl through your blog to find that ppt and will comment there !!

@gils- if you put one power point slide in your blog, I shall stop following forever !!!! That's a threat :)

@Sandhya - You are hereby christened Minsara Pulli Arasi :):)

@J - Ravi is a superb speaker with flowing flowery language ; so he doesn't need crutches. So don't you .

@Deepa - That guy really did slides to his Dad ??? He doesn't deserve any gal if he did that :) What would he then do - instead of popping the question on bended knee, would he show a slide ??? UGH!

@Zeno - Hence my name name for her

@Vishal - J is a more captivating speaker - she is a pro at that.

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

Ramesh: Yes, it did really happen. The guy concerned is still a close friend of the family. He quit the bank and is now setting up a plant to process - umm, human waste prducts - into electricity to sell to the Yorkshire grid. He says investment banking gave him all the background he needed for his new venture.

J: Ramesh is a born flatterer. No flowery language. But of late I just focus on what the audience wants to hear rather than what I want to tell them. It usually works

Anonymous said...

even more crazy is the competative powerpoint culture - that is, who can create the most colorful, fancy new layout.

if you have a good message that is compelling, a conversatioin or simple pen a paper will do me !

Trevor in OZ

Ramesh said...

@Dada - ha ha - that's a new one; investment banking being good training ground for his unique venture !

@Trevor - Couldn't agree with you more.

RamMmm said...

Having been a PowerPointer (no escape from it), I can see all the fun in the article on that. The discussion for an hour's meet will run on just 2 slides, but pad here, pad there, add unnecessary things makes it a great bloatware tool. Hey PowerPoint versions improved upon the ability to seamlessly obfuscate info into grids, tables, charts, animations and eventually the audience, as in Sandhya's comments, will say "Bravo! what an impressive presentation" and then miss the risks. And not to mention, the folks who read the ppt on the fly and ask diverting questions. :-) :-)

Ramesh said...

@RamMmm - Spoken like a true expert. Do a good deed for humanity RamMmm; once in a while just kick Power Point hard !!

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