Small Wars Journal

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint (Updated - Yet Again)

Tue, 04/27/2010 - 2:29pm
We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint - Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times.

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.

"PowerPoint makes us stupid," Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat...

More at The New York Times.

More and Related:

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint - NYT comment section

The TX Hammes PowerPoint Challenge - Starbuck, Small Wars Journal

Essay: Dumb-dumb Bullets - TX Hammes, Armed Forces Jorunal

Does the Military Overuse PowerPoint? - The Tank

Quagmire! - Jules Crittenden, Forward Movement

PowerPoint Is Evil - Edward Tufte, Wired

"Dumb-Dumb Bullets" and Information Processing - Adam Elkus, Red Team Journal

PowerPoint, Decision-Making, and Useless Staff Work - Reach 364, Building Peace

Who PowerPoint Empowers - Tom Ricks, The Best Defense

How Many SWJ Writers Can You Spot in this Article? - Starbuck, Wings Over Iraq

A PowerPoint Briefing About Why PowerPoint Is Bad... - Schmedlap

Hollow Point Power Point? - GSGF, GrEaT sAtAn"S gIrLfRiEnD

When Technology Is The Problem - Bill Egnor, Firedoglake

Guns and Bullet Points - Julie Weiner, Vanity Fair

Army Discovers PowerPoint Makes You Stupid - Preston Gralla, Computer World

Afghanistan: The PowerPoint Solution - Julian Borger, The Guardian

The Battle for Hearts and Bullet Points - Michael Evans, The Times

The U.S. Military's Fight Against PowerPoint - Althea Manasan, National Post

Beautiful, Pointless Graphs - Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic

Why the Military Declared War on Powerpoint - Max Fisher, The Atlantic

Pentagon Uses its Noodle to Win War - Brad Norington, The Australian

Baffling PowerPoint Presentation - Daily Mail

PowerPoint Backlash Grinds Onward - David Perera, Fierce Government

The US Military's War On PowerPoint - Kyle VanHemert, Gizmodo

And of course a blast from the past ppt that got many thinking WTF?:

The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation - Peter Norvig


James Hutson (not verified)

Sat, 05/15/2010 - 4:27pm

I concur with GEN Mattis;Powerpoint has made us stupid. But, only because we've allowed it to happen.

MAJ Chris Isgrig

Thu, 05/13/2010 - 11:18pm

What would GEN Depuy think about PowerPoint? He would love it, but he might use it differently, but not much. GEN Depuy, if I remember correctly liked storyboards. He liked using hand drawn cartoons on VGT to show the key events to "show what its supposed to look like". It was a view that was borne out in the manuals that GEN Depuy helped fashion; draw them a picture, show them what it's supposed to look like. Trouble is that PowerPoint more often then not does not show what the product is supposed to look like. Worse yet because it is used in place of text, the graphics used can not be accessed by text searches and text based data processing. SO the way to fix Powerpoint is to make sure that it does what GEN Depuy might have used it for, to show what its supposed to look like in clear pictures that are easily understood, that is to use PowerPoint for creating and displaying story boards. Many of the people who use PowerPoint in the military do not have the tools that would make it easy to make storyboards on PowerPoint. What TOC has a scanner to be able to scan in images into the presentation? What TOC has the graphics programs anf the digital tablets and the trained personnel? AT least if you have a scanner, someone can dray the storyboard on paper and then scan it in. The only advantage that the PowerPoint gives if hand drawn images are used for storyboarding over the old VGT if that the presentation can be stored as a presentation in PowerPoint while it can not as a VGT.

I think though that if we drive home the point that the PowerPoint is there to tell a story and a storyboard is a very good technique for graphically telling a story, and it can be presented on PowerPoint we might be able to solve some of PowerPoints issues by using it the way that GEN Depuy might have.

ALB (not verified)

Wed, 04/28/2010 - 1:49pm

As you'll see in this first slide....

Simon (not verified)

Wed, 04/28/2010 - 12:25am

Actually, I think this slide is the exception to the usual complaints about PowerPoint - no joking. The intention was to portray the complexity of the situation in Afghanistan, and does so perfectly - at a glance, one can appreciate just how many different factors and factions are at play.

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 04/28/2010 - 12:06am

Recently (early 2009) was sent a PowerPoint presentation totalling 167 slides!

Read the first two sildes and then deleted the presentation--guess what--the program was approved for funding and is still in business.

So maybe MORE is better where money is involved.


Tue, 04/27/2010 - 11:40pm

PowerPoint doesn't make us stupid. Leaders who insist on its use when it is inappropriate make us stupid.

Greyhawk (not verified)

Tue, 04/27/2010 - 6:12pm

I'm nor sure about the color scheme on the Gettysburg PowerPoint. There are probably other font choices available, too.

Powerpoint is a great tool for showing maps, photographs with the final slide showing a brief summary, as the last thing seen is the first remembered.

Also never give the handout until the end. Otherwise people read that and don't follow your talk.

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 04/27/2010 - 12:23pm

The term "death by PowerPoint" does not exist for nothing.

Try to get any military decision maker, DARPA, JIEDDO, Army AAR, CTC AAR reviews, BCT Cmdr, research programs to put together a PowerPoint slide presention of TEN or less slides on the topic!

Impossible---what happen in the last six years to convinced everyone that MORE is BETTER?

I use to brief off of three and everyone declared me to be crazy---usually a opening statement, highlights of the total presentation and then take away comments---what more does one need? We have gotten away from being great briefers using the spoken word which actually means one has to understand the subject---PPT just masks non-knowledge.