Small Wars Journal

How PowerPoint Stifles Understanding, Creativity, and Innovation Within Your Organization

Tue, 09/04/2012 - 5:30am

This article addresses a most unexciting military topic- the form and function of routine planning and briefing methodology within our modern digital-age military organizations. Although the topic of briefings is hardly groundbreaking, it deals with what has become an engrossing affair for nearly all military organizations: PowerPoint. The purpose of this article is not to bash any particular trademarked digital commodity, but to instead explore our unhealthy dependence upon it as a military, and critically think about whether we can improve our organizational knowledge production more effectively by considering information sharing alternatives. None of the problems in this article are any fault of PowerPoint software; rather it is our own military institutionalism that requires transformation. Microsoft PowerPoint is an excellent organizational program that can display graphics and support conveying useful information across an organization rapidly in a digital age. There are many examples where PowerPoint aids an organization and leads to increased productivity when employed in a supplementary role. Yet our military has become addicted to the benefits of PowerPoint, while potentially blinded by the many negative impacts on organizational learning, creativity, and critical thinking. Design theory provides a critical and necessary examination on why military organizations are misusing PowerPoint, and how leaders might develop information alternatives that improve organizational readiness.

PowerPoint provides a useful vehicle for sharing and developing concepts among military professionals in a variety of venues. Unfortunately, the U.S. military tends to lose track of the supportive context for PowerPoint and instead shackles organizations to institutional processes and rigid ‘group-think.’ We tend to burden our military professionals with an exhausting and high-maintenance requirement to churn out repetitive and non-explanatory slide decks for nearly every conceivable information requirement. Rarely do we conduct a meeting without the ever-present bright projection of PowerPoint upon a screen. At times, correcting the font size seems to trump questioning the content of the slide itself, as uniformity and details upset the focus of our modern military institution. How did we get to this point, and can we reflect on what we are doing to our organizational knowledge production, language, and shared values so that we can adapt?  [1] More importantly, do we even realize why PowerPoint tends to steer us towards a less productive way of thinking when our military often faces some of the most complex and dynamic problems?  

First: PowerPoint Steers Towards Descriptive, not Explanatory Thinking

A key way to distinguish between description and explanation deals with the concepts of WHAT versus WHY. [2] When you attend a briefing and the majority of slides and material attempt to reduce, measure, categorize, or describe something, we are often merely admiring the problem. [3] One might describe something in an endless loop of perpetual reduction, measurement, and further analysis while missing out on the explanation entirely. A useful metaphor involves the parts of a bicycle; the descriptive-oriented organization briefs an exhaustive presentation on each individual part, but never gets to assembling the bicycle or considering where to ride it. Explanatory thinking (the assembled bicycle) often requires conceptual, abstract, and holistic appreciation of a complex system; explanatory thinking produces novel approaches and improvisation to the organization by changing our perspective or discovering new knowledge that has utility. This is often in opposition to preformatted slide decks and queries that categorize and isolate information into even smaller, fractured packets. Yet military organizations often employ PowerPoint presentations to standardize nearly all briefings and meetings into uniform and repetitive procedures that codify organizational perspective into “group think.” We follow the slides, and conform to the slide requirements. Next slide, please.

Instead of thinking about why something is occurring, we are usually required to answer precise information that satisfies a descriptive (WHAT-centric) procedure instead of a critical line of inquiry. Many military professionals refer to this as “feeding the beast” in PowerPoint-centric organizations, where we openly acknowledge that our own hierarchy often demands volumes of often meaningless or irrelevant information for illusionary pretexts. If descriptive thinking blinds your organization to critical and creative thinking, then PowerPoint is the drug of choice for continuing the reductionist and highly tacticized mentality across an organization that fears uncertainty.[4] Reductionism is the process of applying categories and a scientific approach to break complex problems down into “manageable” chunks.

Weaning your organization off an unhealthy institutional behavior requires strong intervention by the senior leader; with careful and methodical treatments, they can implement to transform the organization. Going from a user of bad information methodologies to a streamlined and adaptive team that critically and creatively reflects on FORM and FUNCTION takes time and patience. Yet old habits die hard.

Second: PowerPoint Murdered the Art of Briefing

Briefing an idea or concept to an audience is a core process within the greater phenomena of organizational knowledge production. We gain information, and then convey it to the group, which is supposed to lead to organizational utility through greater understanding and productive action. Our human condition elevates formal briefing into something of an art form, where confidence, articulation, and the ability to improvise and adapt lay a solid foundation for most professional briefing venues. Yet in the modern digital age, has PowerPoint taken some of these critical components away from military organizations and exchanged them with superficial and somewhat toxic effects?

Briefing aids have existed in some form since the dawn of human discourse, yet it seems the arrival of the digital age exchanged the roles between the briefer and the briefing aid. Meetings feature extremely dense slides, paired with presenters that often read similarly dense material to the audience while the slide is projected. Audiences are torn between where to direct their attention. Often, briefers rely so much on densely packing information onto slides that they often lose their own management of the information, and instead rely on the slide to “brief” the audience. Military leaders might recognize this paradigm shift by simply asking a briefer to turn off the presentation on the very first slide. If the presenter is unable to articulate their thoughts or convey much of anything, you might determine that the slideshow is the actual briefer, while the human has become the willing presentation aid. Presenters that sprinkle key phrases such as ‘if I could direct your attention to this slide,’ or ‘what the slide is telling us’ are verbalizing their subservient role where they are dependent upon the slideshow, instead of the slideshow dependent upon their ability to brief the ideas and concepts. Have you ever been in a briefing where the presenter turned the slideshow off and directed all attention to his own words? Perhaps the greatest tragedy occurs when military professionals actually instruct their audience to read the slide while they stand silently and patiently; the puppet master tangled in his own strings.

Third: Quantity Is Now Greater than Quality

Most professionals in our modern military institution have served in positions where they must produce a mind-numbing array of PowerPoint slides. To apply critical thinking to this resource consuming habit, WHY does the military prefer to do this sort of approach to sharing and expanding organizational knowledge? Do we learn more effectively by discussing issues with critical and creative perspectives or does the passive-learning model that PowerPoint espouses help us learn faster? Can we address a challenging topic and generate useful outputs using a single slide (or none at all) instead of the standard twenty to forty count slide decks? Could a briefing be effectively conducted entirely with a series of written reports or ‘white papers’ and no slides at all? Are we so visually conditioned that we associate the modern meaning of ‘meeting’ with PowerPoint now?

As an organization, do we correlate deeper understanding with fewer slides that explain, or do we actually associate greater value to larger, more complicated slide decks filled with charts, data, statistics, and ‘hide-slides’ with even more exhausting description?[5] Should ‘more’ really be better, or can ‘less’ bring greater organizational value to group knowledge production? Is quality over quantity through critical and creative thinking is a better alternative instead of never-ending slideshows of WHAT-centric description on things our organization reaches cognitive exhaustion over?

Some topics require a great deal of information. Some meetings cover a wide range of topics. Therefore, some meeting venues may require PowerPoint presentations with many slides. Provided that the quality of the presentation matches the quantity, the briefer and the organization should profit from these interactions. However, if a meeting features an ever-growing deck of slide that gets “good idea” assistance to perpetually increase the quantity without improving the quality, the organization may suffer. If an organization believes that the next meeting must feature the same slides as the last meeting for merely the sake of uniformity and repetition, that organization is choosing to ‘group-think’ and fostering a culture that extinguishes critical thinking, improvisation, and exploration. Consider all of the PowerPoint presentations you encounter within your organization’s weekly battle rhythm; do they accomplish the core objectives of the meeting for your unit?

Additionally, a recent trend of cramming four slides onto one “quad chart” slide is another work-around that compresses a larger slide show into fewer yet more cluttered slides and supports the ‘quantity over quality’ tension. This recent staff technique defeats the purpose of a quadrant chart that uses two separate tensions in an overlapping geometric structure to demonstrate patterns and explore complex relationships.[6] ‘Quad charts’ are not interrelated if you apply one simple test. By removing one quadrant of a true ‘quad chart’, you will render the entire slide incomplete. Each quadrant in a quad chart should systemically relate to the other quadrants in terms of context. If you are only removing one component while the three remaining quadrants maintain their coherence, your staff has merely shoved ten pounds of dirt into a five pound bag for you, by condensing four slides into one. This reduces total slide numbers, but does little to improve organizational learning.

Fourth: “Tabling” an Issue to Get Through the Slide Show Misses the Point!

When your military organization stumbles upon an engaging dialogue that generates critical and creative thinking, the last thing we should do is suppress the discourse. Innovation is driven by experimentation and the curiosity to challenge established knowledge to seek out novel and approaches- that are more productive yet the very composition of PowerPoint prioritizes a slide agenda over any productive thought that deviates from the set timeline and sequence of programmed slides.[7] Time drives slide progression, and any deviation represents a threat to getting to the final slide.

We are instructed what to read, what to think, and how to link our previous thoughts to the ones associated with the next slide. Anyone that drives the conversation too far away from the planned slide topic or delay the slide transition for too long threatens the completion of the brief. Often, the conflict between your organization learning and adhering to the sequential group digestion of prepared information encourages silence and obedience. Instead of dissent through critical inquiry, reflection, and dialogue, we expect audiences to remain in passive reception as the information flows from slide to slide and unquestionably into organizational knowledge. Perhaps this is why most briefings involving PowerPoint are unidirectional; the briefer provides prepared information to the willing audience. There is little opportunity for creative thought or innovation when the only expectation for the audience is for them to show up. It becomes even more suffocating for free discourse when these briefings are conducted over video-audio systems (video-telephone conference) and audiences are reduced to tiny shapes on a monitor. Silence becomes the default setting in these highly digital formats, where the human element of body language and interaction becomes rather two-dimensional with an awkward time delay. Technology, heralded as a cure to previous information problems, seems to have burdened us with new problems that are self-inflicted.  

Fifth: Planning ‘PowerPoint Deep’ Creates a Very Shallow Pool to Swim

A popular buzzword in military organizations today is the notion of a ‘deep dive’ session which revolves around an extensive slide show and goes into significant detail on a particular mission topic. ‘Deep’ implies extensive and thorough understanding with explanation, yet most ‘deep dives’ appear to stop at description.[8]  Remember, description (WHAT-centric) leads to further reductionism and even greater illusion of control over a complex and dynamic system.[9]  In other words, our institutions may provide volumes of detailed information on various weather phenomena, but we are unable to explain why it is going to rain tomorrow.    

‘Deep dive’ sessions have a valid intent; they seek to develop an organization’s collective knowledge base through deep understanding, rich discussion, and often ending with some emergent decision points that the senior leader can make an informed decision with.  Done properly, ‘deep dive’ events nourish an organization, and help generate stronger shared knowledge with the ability for more individuals to rapidly and accurately access it. However, the depth that a ‘deep dive’ reaches has more to do with the explanatory content and emergent discourse, and less to do with how many over-detailed descriptive slides you can cram into an hour. When the number of slides is equal to or exceeds the minutes in an hour-long briefing, the depth of explanation any briefer can achieve is likely inadequate. Any valuable discourse is quickly suppressed by the overwhelming need to get through the brief.[10]  Ultimately, if a ‘deep dive’ presentation ends with a decision point for the senior leadership, does it not create its own vacuum where dissent, critical inquiry, and emergent thought are paralyzed? PowerPoint structured briefings like ‘deep dives’ generally force the audience into a passive state, ‘zombifying’ the group to the slide tempo and required timeline, and finish with decision space reserved not for organizational inquiry by dissenting thinkers, but for senior leaders within a hierarchical structure to approve any recommendations.[11] How often have PowerPoint presentations like these ‘deep dives’ ended with a senior leader glancing around the room and exclaiming, “Does anyone have any comments or concerns now?” The form and function of PowerPoint has shifted any discussion to the end of the brief, because the linear sequencing of slides objects to group discourse during the briefing. In especially dense PowerPoint decks, it becomes even harder for the audience to refer back to earlier slides; objections and dissenting thought are overwhelmed by sheer volume and lock step sequences. Our passive meeting structures further inhibit critical and creative discourse. While PowerPoint is not the overarching villain in our institutionalisms that damage how we communicate today, it certainly is a misused tool with numerous toxic effects. There are ways to break the cycle, if your organization becomes self-aware.

Recommendations: Restore the Briefer as a Critical Thinker

Many military organizations use ‘read-ahead’ packets that provide an advanced copy of the PowerPoint briefing slides in advance of the briefing. In theory, this implies an alternate route for information sharing that, when combined with a briefing, could function in tandem. In practice, this requires two commitments that are rarely met. First, all attendees must endeavor to actually read the ‘read-ahead’ packet. This prepares an audience to enter a briefing cognizant of the topics, context, and prepared to offer relevant discourse to drive emergent thought. Secondly, the briefer must resist using any slides in the ‘read-ahead’ except for ancillary or expository reasons during the brief. Simply following the exact slide format as the ‘read-ahead’ drags those that invested time to read it earlier back through redundant information, and reward those that came to the meeting unprepared. This positive feedback loop reinforces non-participation for the organization, and creates a forcing function where every briefer feels compelled to use all of their slides and waste valuable group discussion time.

If it is difficult to critically assess how dependent one’s military organization is with PowerPoint, there are many simple exercises that leaders can employ to shatter organizational stagnation and identify critical tensions preventing creative thinking and improvisation. Consider the following options with PowerPoint:

  1. Take a briefing that features too many slides, and instruct the presenters to reduce it down to three slides only; yet maintain the same length of the meeting. The discussion should bring forward those critical issues that require the most attention.


  1. At the start of a meeting, ask the briefer to turn off the presentation, and ask all participants to put away their ‘read-ahead’ packets. Those that are able to discuss are likely the only prepared members with some understanding of the issue(s). Leaders may notice emergent tensions that help illuminate deeper problems that slides are ill-equipped to uncover. This is less about “stump the chump” and more about appreciating deeper phenomenon within your organization.


  1. Seek other briefing aids entirely, and omit PowerPoint as an option for some topics or meetings. You may be surprised with what alternatives your organization develops to fill a perceived PowerPoint gap. Systems like ‘Command Post of the Future’ (CPOF) are digital alternatives that work collaboratively in real time; Outlook Calendars and SharePoint Portals also have many of these features. Microsoft Visio has many advantages over PowerPoint but is seldom used by military professionals. Challenge your staff in an exercise to conduct MDMP without using PowerPoint at all; there are many digital and analog alternatives.


  1. PowerPoint emerged from the same origins that white boards, butcher block, and chalk boards satisfied, yet PowerPoint locks away control to only the slide developer. How can your organization use white boards and discourse to replace PowerPoint? Do white boards break down barriers to improvisation that digital slide-makers currently hold? When everyone “owns” the product, does that change the organizing principle of being a “slide master”?


  1. Instruct the briefer not to refer to, or even look towards the slides projected. Instead, force the briefer to communicate directly with the audience, and only reference a slide behind them as needed to drive a point. Forbid ‘next slide’ and such PowerPoint lexicon from the meeting. This process breaks our organization out of language that limits how we appreciate problems and decision making.


  1. Reduce the passive audience factor by not only removing PowerPoint, but removing chairs and the conference table. We become programmed to behave in certain ways because we are conditioned to sit and be silent while a briefer spoon-feeds us information while the same information is projected.  Why? What happens when everyone is no longer seated for a briefing?


  1. For advanced techniques, have the briefer develop two sets of slides. The preliminary are for the read-ahead packet, with the advanced concepts contained only on the presented slides, of which there are no paper copies. This steers your organization to use ‘read-ahead’ packets as they are designed, but encourages emergent thinking and improvisation with new information presented that builds upon earlier work. It also rewards those willing to prepare for a meeting.


  1. Challenge accepted sequences; break paradigms. Briefing the decision point at the beginning of a brief, with the “questions” slide as the second slide in the brief may cue the briefer and decision maker to where the majority of the time should be committed, and which select briefing aids should be presented for the remainder of the time. Break out of the passive learning mode.


Conclusions: How to Swim Upstream in the Information Superhighway and Live

It is easier to go with the flow. The recommendations here suggest us to buck with the trends and swim upstream instead of down. This takes more work, and can be dangerous when everyone else in the organization wants to ride the current. The default setting for nearly all PowerPoint abusive relationships is that “everyone else is doing it this way” or “higher headquarters expects these slides done in this format.”[12] These are not necessarily valid reasons, but they are effective at enforcing conformity and smothering creativity and innovation. Military leaders at all levels can challenge the tight grip that PowerPoint has by asking one simple yet penetrating question: why is this valuable to our organization’s knowledge growth? Some briefings, reports, and procedures do seem to benefit from a standard PowerPoint slide deck and passive audience structure. Yet mimicry of success does not create further success. If anything, it generates a positive feedback loop of conformity, group-think, and the perpetual admiration of a problem without any breathing space for creativity, adaptation, or improvisation by your staff.

Time is a limited resource, and military staff personnel are valuable and often highly trained professionals. Why do we shackle our staffs to PowerPoint-centric processes that invest the majority of staff resources not into understanding and confronting a wicked problem, but into time-consuming slide formatting, repetitive behavior, and constrictive information chunking for passive audience dissemination? [13] Why do we believe that fifty slides say more than three? Why do we prefer to let slides brief us, instead of the briefer engaging the audience or decision maker with the slide playing back-up? Why do organizations reward those that show up to meetings unprepared, and punish those that read the ‘read-ahead’ packets?

New knowledge production within a military organization has to do with CONTENT and FORM. PowerPoint is just a preferred FORM that the military tends to indoctrinate into prescriptive and tedious sessions for over-describing problems that the military organization is unable to clearly understand or explain. Removing PowerPoint will not eliminate the fog and friction from your headquarters or staff, but it could unshackle them from draining organizational resources into unproductive briefing methodologies. Senior leaders in all organizations can shatter this digital and self-inflicted paradigm by reflecting critically on whether that huge pile of PowerPoint slides and hour of their time in a meeting really helps the organization EXPLAIN or merely DESCRIBE the complex and dynamic challenges facing them. Explanation leads to innovation, productivity, and exploration, while description leads to our organization embracing the superficial over deeper considerations. Ultimately, PowerPoint is a tool in the military kitbag. In the unending pursuit of improving our institution’s decision-making and knowledge production, our military requires a PowerPoint intervention to put the tool down and reflect on whether we really need to use it as much as we do. Some tools come with disadvantages that over time accumulate in patterns of bad behavior for organizations. Challenging our institutionalisms requires critical thinking so that we can transform into a more efficient and adaptive organization.

[1] For information on ‘knowledge production’ concepts, see: Martin Kilduff, Ajay Mehra, and Mary Dunn, From Blue Sky Research to Problem Solving: A Philosophy of Science Theory of New Knowledge Production, (Academy of Management Review, Vol. 36m No. 2, 2011).

[2] Valerie Ahl and T.F.H. Allen, Hierarchy Theory: A Vision, Vocabulary, and Epistemology, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996) 18. “Meaning, and explaining the “why” of a phenomenon, come from the context. The lower-level mechanics, the “how” of the phenomenon, have nothing to say about “why.”

[3] Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan, (New York: Random House, 2007), 16. “Categorizing always produces reduction in true complexity.” See also: Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life, (New York: Doubleday, 1996), 29. “In the analytic, or reductionist approach, the parts themselves cannot be analyzed any further, except by reducing them to still smaller parts.”

[4] Shimon Naveh, Jim Schneider, Timothy Challans, The Structure of Operational Revolution; A Prolegomena (Booz, Allen, Hamilton, 2009) 88. According to Naveh, military organizations demonstrate repetitive tacticization where military institutions “are inclined to apply knowledge they have acquired from their tactical experiences to their operational functioning sphere. In such cases, they either reduce the operational inquiry of potential opposition into a mechanical discussion or completely reject the need for a distinct learning operation.”

[5] Perhaps the most infamous PowerPoint slide of the modern warfare era: Elisabeth Bumiller, We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint, (The New York Times online; 26 April 2010; last accessed: 28 APR 2012; ). This NYT article features the “spaghetti slide” where planners briefed General McChrystal and he remarked, “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.”

[6] Ben Zweibelson, Cartel Next: How Army Design Methodology Offers Holistic and Dissimilar Approaches to the Mexican Drug Problem (Small Wars Journal, 30 June 2011); last accessed: 28 APR 2012.  In previous articles such as this one, I used true ‘quad charts’ to illustrate dueling tensions. Removing one quadrant dismantles the entire slide, thus illustrating what a ‘quad chart’ is versus four separate mini-slides slammed into a large one.

[7] For information on improvisation and organizational memory, see: Christine Moorman, Anne S. Miner, Organizational Improvisation and Organizational Memory (Academy of Management Review, 1998, Vol. 23, No. 4) 698-723.

[8] Gerald M. Weinberg, Rethinking Systems Analysis and Design, (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1982),121. “Reduction is but one approach to understanding, one among many. As soon as we stop trying to examine one tiny portion of the world more closely and apply some close observation to science itself, we find that reductionism is an ideal never achieved in practice.”

[9] Shimon Naveh, Jim Schneider, Timothy Challans, The Structure of Operational Revolution; A Prolegomena (Booz, Allen, Hamilton, 2009). Military planners are “confined to the ‘shackles’ of inferiority determined by institutional paradigm, doctrine, and jargon…[they] are cognitively prevented, by the very convenience of institutional interiority…because the ‘shackles’ of ritual hold them in place.”

[10] Gary Jason, Critical Thinking: Developing an Effective System logic, (San Diego State University: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 2001) 337. “People tend to compartmentalize: they divide aspects of their lives into compartments and then make decisions about things in one compartment without taking into account the implications for things in another compartment.”

[11] On the dangers of critical thinkers, see: Michel Foucault, Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia, (originally covered in six lectures given by Michel Foucault at the University of California, Berkeley in October-November, 1983. Published online at: (last accessed 23 April 2012).

[12] On group resistance to innovation, see: Mats Alvesson, Jorgen Sandberg, Generating Research Questions Through Problematization, (Academy of Management Review, Vol. 36, No. 2, 2011), 257. Alvesson and Sandberg identify ‘field assumptions’ and ‘root metaphors’ as theoretical concepts within an organization’s preferred manner of viewing the world that are “difficult to identify because “everyone” shares them, and, thus, they are rarely thematized in research texts.” See also: John Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife; Counterinsurgency Lessons From Malaya and Vietnam (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002) 9. “Military organizations often demonstrate remarkable resistance to doctrinal change as a result of their organizational cultures. Organizational learning, when it does occur, tends to happen only in the wake of a particularly unpleasant or unproductive event.”

[13] The term ‘wicked problem’ is used interchangeably with ‘ill-structured problem.’ See: Jeff Conklin, Wicked Problems and Social Complexity (CogNexus Institute, 2008. (accessed 05 January 2011) for more on wicked problems. 


About the Author(s)

Ben Zweibelson is the Program Director for Design and Innovation at the Joint Special Operations University and is a doctoral student at Lancaster University. A retired U.S. Army Infantry officer and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, Ben has provided design education across USSOCOM, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Government, academia and industry as well as internationally. He was named “design conference ambassador” for the second year in a row for the upcoming IMDC, and has recently lectured on design at the Polish and Danish War Colleges, the Canadian Forces College, NATO Schools at Oberammergau, the National Counterterrorism Center, the IBM capstone SPADE conference for NATO in Copenhagen, as well as numerous Special Operations and strategic level defense assets in 2018. He resides in Tampa, Florida with his wife and three children. He can be reached at




Thu, 04/13/2023 - 3:25am

Planning, time management are very important in the process of organizing the workflow. I know for myself how easy it is to get distracted by some minor tasks or not be focused at all during the working day. Personally, time tracking helps me a lot. I can keep track of the time that I actively worked, as well as not forget about rest and breaks during the working day.

Hubba Bubba

Mon, 03/25/2013 - 8:47am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

comment edited.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 12/16/2012 - 2:31am

In reply to by Hubba Bubba

Hubba Bubba---still waiting---did you "like" the article---if so why?

Hubba Bubba

Fri, 12/14/2012 - 7:18am

In reply to by Hubba Bubba

Oops; just 223 likes. My error. That is a pretty high tally though...

Powerpoint is definitely evil.


Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/14/2012 - 6:27am

In reply to by Hubba Bubba

Hubba Bubba---hope you "liked" the Facebook article---there are reasons some of us believe 1) there is a death by ppt, 2) ppt kills Trust, 3) decisions are made by ppt not by discourse/dialogue 4) ppt killed the WG concept, 5) team building/communication fails in the face of ppt, 6) COPs cannot be built using ppt, 7) understanding the OE cannot be achieved via ppt, and the list could go on and on and on.

Hubba Bubba

Fri, 12/14/2012 - 5:18am

233 likes on Facebook for this article? Wow- the SWJ community must really, really hate powerpoint.


What you are boldly proposing is what many of us have raised in the past; which itself is dangerous...changing MDMP (dismantling it; building a new model that avoids the mental pitfalls).

This is why I continue to bring up the concept of "problematization"- I discussed it at length here in the recent Military Review design article:…

When we challenge core values and self-organizing tenets of our institutionalism, we are poking the bear. Poke him wrong, he lashes out- and he can "kill" you. Whether killed by isolation, marginalization, evaluation, or simply not following Dan Aykroyd's advice to avoid feeding bears marshmallows from your mouth; to be the design advocate in your organization is a risky thing to do. It is safer to rigidly defend MDMP- to cast out those that threaten it, and enjoy the false security that the structure and reductionist logic of MDMP provides.

You continue to also champion "trust." I agree, because in environments where there is significant trust between professionals, there is discourse. Where there is discourse, we can problematize. If we cannot discourse due to trust issues, we will never problematize, thus never challenge the institution to correct things it does poorly but loves doing regardless.


Outlaw 09

Tue, 12/11/2012 - 2:33pm

In reply to by Hubba Bubba

Hubba Bubba----an interesting response to an ongoing issue that is being debated often here in SWJ---a friend wrote recently in SWJ concerning this issue-ie referencing the changing of MDMP--"if you poke the bear in the chest he will kill you---ie sideline you, eliminate you via the OER or simply ignor you".

I am still of the opinion that without Trust being a key element in the relationships between the Cmdr and his Staff and between officers and NCOs nothing can be "learned" regardless of the teacher.

Not many in the big Army have "learned" doctrine in the last seven years ie simply taking the time to read the ADPs therefore I tend to often use doctrine to teach doctrine.

The following three items are interesting reads referencing your comments.


2. (Recently I used the following problem solving process to merge two different military decision making process from two totally different national armies to create a single standalone decision making model--you will notice the similarity to MDMP but this model is a problem solving model that allows elements of Design to grow and does not come out of the military)
a. Define the Problem
b. Identify and Define the Root Causes
c. Generate Alternative Solutions
d. Evaluate the Alternatives
e. Agree on the Best Solution
f. Develop an Action Plan
g. Implement and Evaluate the Solution

3. One of our frequent SWJ contributors, Major Ben Zweibelson, was published in the latest issue of Military Review. His latest contribution to the ongoing debate on how to fuse design theory and military decision making builds upon many of the design articles and blog discussions Ben facilitated here at SWJ. In his latest article, Ben offers seven phenomena that routinely occur when military professionals attempt to fuse design and military decision making. Although he clearly professes that there are "no steps to design", Ben does make some solid points on how military leaders tend to do some things that help a staff gain better understanding of a complex environment, and how some design teams can quickly go astray and damage the design deliverable. SWJ is pleased to see other military journals such as Military Review getting deeper into the significant "Design and MDMP" debate that has been a frequent and fiercely discussed topic here at SWJ for several years

Hubba Bubba

Tue, 12/11/2012 - 12:54pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09


As you no doubt know; seeking answers about how we are dependent upon doctrine by citing doctrine is akin to a self-licking carrier group.

Does independent decision-making need to be "taught" or "learned"? Who are the teachers, and who are the students?

Can teachers learn from their students? Or are the relationships fixed in our military? If so- are we ever going to "learn" if our teachers can only teach?


Outlaw 09

Wed, 11/21/2012 - 2:48am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

To all---has in fact ADP 5.0 opened the arugument that there might be another way forward in military decision making other than the standard MDMP?

While almost every ADP refers to the Army decision making tool as MDMP just what is meant then by a single sentence in the following paragraph taken from ADP 5.0?

"Effective execution requires leaders trained and educated in independent decisionmaking, aggressiveness, and risk taking in an environment of mission command. During execution, leaders must be able and willing to solve problems within the commander’s intent without constantly referring to higher headquarters."

1) Where is independent decisionmaking being taught? and 2) What is independent decisionmaking?

A search on independent decisionmaking indicates over 40 concepts and there is no mention of a military method.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 11/20/2012 - 3:14am

In reply to by G Martin

bz/G Martin---answering your comments further--bz has it correct in his following statement from a previous response on the MDMP article he recently responded to.

"The staff of synergists assemble the bike parts together into working bicycles and ride them. The synergist leader runs a bike repair shop, and manages his staff to see the big picture while also putting out useful, meaningful outputs. Thus, the synergist also synchronizes, but he is not a slave to outdated and redundant practices."

The problem I am seeing the last several years is as follows; lack of trust and micromanagement within Staffs and leadership issues with Cmdrs.

It "appears" to point to MDMP problems, but when one looks at MDMP you doctrinally notice that while we now speak about Mission Command and Design there is no debate on the following issue---have we out grown MDMP?--Meaning does one decision making model fit all types of units from manuever to multifunctional---my answer is no MDMP does not fit one and all units.

If we look at how we have evolved as an institutional force after ten years of COIN and then look at how MDMP has actually evolved you will see that while all Staff's seem to think they know/practice MDMP in reality what they do is far from the actual model as practiced in the 1990s. What has evolved are Staffs that go through the motions of MDMP and assume that the Working Group concept is actually MDMP.

My argument is that MDMP has evolved to the point that yes while Staffs think they are doing MDMP they really are doing what their comfort zone as a Staff allows them to do buried under the mantel of MDMP.

With the advent of mission command which relies on the Art of Command--the Cmdr as the team builder/leader/developer of Trust and dialogue coupled with Science of Control-the Staff driving the processes ie targeting, and planning built on clear intent and mission orders---have we actually moved into a new realm of MDMP--a world where synergy and synchronization coexist together not separately?

If we look at the concept of cognitive hierarchy (ADP 5.0) and the six functions of a TOC and how data is moved to knowledge and understanding presented in a coherent Common Operating Picture about the OE to a Cmdr coupled with mission orders---are we in fact pushing decision making into a whole different area?

I would argue that if in fact the Cmdr has truly built/developed his team, if there is trust/open dialogue between the Staff and the Cmdr and his intent is clear and the mission order fully understood by all then MDMP takes on the form of Design and then the decision making process can be modified any way the Staff wants it to go as long as all including the Cmdr are comfortable with the model.

One can then shorten or lengthen the decision making steps to fit the OE and the characteristics of the unit. Meaning do I need WGs--what is really the battle rhythm ie my own determined schedule or is it the "actual schedule" dictated by the rhythm of the OE and mission orders.

If my TOC is driving nicely on the six functions and driving the cognitive hierarcy meaning they are flowing inbound data, converting it to information and then moving it to key teams ie a planning team, a targeting team or an intel team who then analyzes it and moves that information to knowledge to be presented to the Cmdr via his CUBs/BUBs and if the OE being presented to the Cmdr is standardized to fit his understanding requirements-do I need to follow all seven or part of the seven steps of MDMP-do I need to even follow MDMP at all or is my decision making process really the way the Cmdr and his Staff is comfortable with in the specific OE their are operating in.

The core take away is-if the Cmdr really does implement mission command and focuses intently on trust and dialogue and the TOC is presently the OE in an accepted COP-- how the Staff carries out the mission order is the key not how they did their decision making.

As G Martin indicates-- it is all about the conversation and how that conversation occurs not what steps one went through or how many slides were presented. Design and the planning behind a mission order is all about how that conversation occurs and what environment is needed for that conversation to occur. It is all now about now "mission orders" and that requires a new style of thinking/decision making, risk taking, and responsibility.

That is the lessons learned from "auftragstaktik"---we though at not at that point--meaning the Staffs do not function in a fear free open dialogue trusting world and Cmdrs are still micromanaging thus Design/decision making does not occur well and we all argue that MDMP is failing.

"Thus, the synergist also synchronizes......"

Outlaw 09

Tue, 11/20/2012 - 12:35am

In reply to by G Martin

bz/G Martin---fully agree we as an institution have allowed ppt to become the de facto decision making tool-or actually the decision itself.

bz's comments from his DATE rotation is spot on---we have struggled to present the OE via a common picture for darn near 10 years---once we finally get CPOF functioning in a stabilized location ie COIN-THEN it is off and running with DATE which is the old fire and manuever coupled with a multi threat and presto CPOF is not a "fire and manuever tool".

Mission command is though where we need to go BUT this is where the street starts getting rough--what OC-T actually watches for clear Cmdr intent and guidance-what OC-T is actually concerned that the simple but difficult thing called Trust actually occurs between NCOs and Officers and especially between officers-What OC-T actuallyu makes comments about the existence or lack of trust in a Staff, What OC-t is actually concerned that the mission orders are clear, concise and understood, and what OC-T really cares just how the Staff implements those mission orders what ever that decision model is the most comfoirtable for that Staff and Cmdr.

Right now I would be happy if a Staff just understood the WHY behind what they are doing and right now we only have MDMP for that---I would like to see a newer version of MDMP to hit the streets-one that recognizes that if trust exists so exists critical and creative thinking ESPECIALLY in a team environment where open dialogue without fear has been built via the Cmdr.

Then you will see a decrease in ppt use--as you are totally correct conversations do occur if thoughts are simply provided that answer the WHY or promote thinking around the question WHY---it is the concept of mission orders that should drive the WHY and HOW.

With our current CTC OC-T model we will never get there.

G Martin

Mon, 11/19/2012 - 7:50pm

I sat in on a brief not too long ago in which a visitor from DoD was overwhelmed with tons of ppt slides with way too much info on them for him to read in the time allotted. One briefer spent most of the time talking and most of it was just us telling him all the great things we were doing. I kept wondering during the entire time that if I was in his position how a request for no ppt, no briefer standing up, discourse from everyone in the room, and an objective of actual critical thinking and learning would have gone over and what it would have resulted in. Of course, maybe it is too much to expect that with a visitor from outside- but if our internal briefings were more like that, then maybe it wouldn't be so bad...

I recently was invited to sit on a panel during a university class. The head panelist asked me for slides and I told him I wasn't preparing any. After further prodding I sent him one slide with some pictures on the left depicting an intellectual journey and a few small bullets on the right entitling the main steps. Amazingly after the first slide the panel actually evolved into a discourse with the class and no slides were briefed save one line in one!

Last- I think David Brook's line is something that both applies to us and that ppt reliance lends itself to: "epistemic closure is when you exist in an informational cocoon and believe what you want to believe." Ben's right, I think, the problem is institutional and it affects our critical thinking- not that there are too many ppt formats...

I agree.

Too often when a briefing/order/working group/meeting/etc is scheduled, the action officer asks his boss how to prepare and his boss says "just pull up last week's slides and update them" or "well, use the slide format that BDE/DIV uses" or "I think 1st BCT just briefed the CG on a similar topic last week so get a copy of their slide deck and update it with our info and unit crest." The action officer is then left to wonder to himself "hasn't the situation changed since last week" or "don't we care about different things than BDE/DIV" or "why would we use 1st BCT's slides as a baseline, we're 2nd BCT?" This mentality of taking the path of least intellectual resistance does not foster original thought or assessment. I would say that powerpoint has become a crutch but even that is an imperfect analogy. A crutch is actually a useful tool that helps a patient move forward after a debilitating injury until that injury is healed. Instead of using PPT as a crutch, it seems to me we use it as a cast on a leg that was never injured in the first place. We let it slow us down, reduce our critical thinking, impede a constructive narrative between and within units and staffs. I'm not blaming the powerpoint program, I'm blaming our collective use of it. I think PPT can be a useful mechanism in certain situations that don't require critical thinking and don't necessarily benefit from a more nuanced discussion than what the slides are capable of depicting. For instance, it can be helpful in neatly portraying manning data, unit NCOER/OER/awards status, stats regarding FLIPLs across the BDE, etc. I think it can also be a useful visual aid for a briefer as many people are visual learners. However, too often we have allowed it - as Ben has ably argued - to overwhelm the briefer, to create an environment where format is more important than content, and where all thought is expected to be depicted on a slide that "speaks for itself."

"The last getting rid of useless products. I am sorry but I fail to see the need for a different formatted storyboard at every level, for the same incident..." - Hammer99.

What happens when the tool itself has become useless- in that the organization is unable to wrestle itself from using it for everything? Perhaps our military has come to that point with respect to PowerPoint?

The digital software itself is not our problem; it is us. Yet even streamlining PowerPoint decks and re-organizing how we brief will not necessarily fix the core problems; they are institutional in nature!

If we critically reflect upon our organization; we might recognize some of the core issues that continue to turn meetings and discourse into canned, repetitive, group-think infused echo chambers for our institutional preferences.



Tue, 11/20/2012 - 12:07pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

While you are correct, everything I said still applies to CPOF. Too many slides, containing little real useful information. All CPOF has done is having everyone on the same page at the same time. We could get away from PPT if we had more CPOF's/

As for trust issues not a whole lot can be done until the culture changes. Far too many commanders and CoS are not involved enough with the staff. What else is the CoS's job if not to be knee deep in it? However standardization would increase it I believe. You are correct that all OE are not the same. That being said unneed slides could be removed. How information is presented, does not need to change. Additionally I did allow in my idea for addional slides, for special or specific circumstances.

Understanding of the OE isn't going to come from a slide deck or CPOF.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 11/15/2012 - 8:12am

In reply to by bz

bz---got the CALL article back on the DATE venture-brutal.

Fully agree with the problem with CPOF in formations that are on the move---you are probably also right that it forces us to go back to the butcher block and white board days ---think voice over FBCB2 is the intermediate way forward---getting everyone in a single place from units on the move is actually Reforger days and it works but it has to be practiced, practiced and again practiced---the days of calling a location and multiple track tailgates all coming down together in that location is a lost art.

Actually do think we have to truly get back to briefers---but then BNs and Companies do need a solid COP and OE tool especially while on the move so I am not so sure of what that would/should be.

This problem set is kind of like how do you prevent green on blue attacks onboard aircraft while transporting a potential attacker-now that is a wicked problem set.


Thu, 11/15/2012 - 3:17am

In reply to by Outlaw 09


Having also completed a DATE rotation- I agree on everything you stated earlier about CPOF. The DATE unfortunately does not support CPOF because at the battalion level, jumping TOCs frequently reduces the ability to use it. Plus, until CPOF either becomes portable or "laptop-able"- we won't be able to pull Companies into the equation. Either the Operations Officer has to brief them over a digital alternative (FBCB2), read it over the radio as they furiously copy it, or drag them all to the same location to brief them in person. The nice thing about the DATE is that the same issues preventing CPOF also prevent PowerPoint. No time to make slides, usually no way to print them, and no way to distribute them. In some ways, butcher block and hand-written brief OPORDs became the norm. The briefer was restored, in some ways.


Outlaw 09

Thu, 11/15/2012 - 2:00am

In reply to by Hammer999

Hammer999---comments are valid, but the following is the issue---under the new doctrine of Mission Command the Commander is responsibile for Understanding, Visualization, Describing, providing Detail, Leading and Analysis concerning what his intent is and how he views the OE.

Currently my experince over the last seven years is that PPT has become the tool to visualize the OE---when in fact the Force has deployed thousands of CPOFs to units-now the problem kicks in ---not all units are equal and many do not have the sheer numbers a maneuver unit has and many higher/lower/lateral units are not on CPOF or have limited CPOFs---which if used correctly ties everyone to a single in near real time OE view---IF the Commander has in fact fine tuned it with his Staff.

If you watch many BUB/CUBs they are mostly being driven via PPT---if the Commander raises a question about something he saw the previous day or something triggers his thoughts that he has seen a couple of days earlier during a BUB/CUB---try to rifle through multiple PPT decks to get the right deck and then try to figure out what slide in that deck-darn near impossible leading to frustration on the part of the Commander and a frustrated Staff scrambling to provide the info which ends usually in the comment---"will get back to you on that sir".

In CPOF-instant and immediate is the process in calling up the previous BUB/CUB info---it really does increase the confidence/trust of a Commander in his belief that his Staff is providing him what he needs in understanding his OE. Also any further guidance and or adjustment to his intent is recorded and dissimenated to all CPOF users in near real time.

While it is good to standardize on PPT from top to bottom---all OEs are different and all Commanders view things differently based on their individual experinces/education/deployments and the efforts between the Staff and Commander to get the Common Operating Picture in reference to the OE right is extremely important if in fact Mission Command is to be successful.


Wed, 11/14/2012 - 3:35pm

What really needs to happen is three things, two are methods, one is the most preferred and the second is less preferred, but still workable. The last getting rid of useless products. I am sorry but I fail to see the need for a different formatted storyboard at every level, for the same incident.

The most preferred: This would have to start at the top and work its way down. The Army (or any other service) needs to create blank formats for all breifs. Why is it every time I walk into a HQ, I see different formats for every breif? We standardize uniforms, training etc, but we cannot get everyone on the same sheet for a BUB etc? Annually the decks are reviewed and changes are made, if needed, and published. At each level of command slides that do not apply or are not needed ar hidden or discarded. But from HQDA to the company level we all see the same slide. This may be bit hard. Another method would be to create slide decks at each command level... All the same, all standardized, all based on the next higher slide deck to facilitate ease of transferring information/knowledge.

Less preferred: The commander/leader at any job, at whatever level needs to have two items ready to go when he takes over. Hopefully these are based on higher's slide decks, so as to make them easily transferable. One is a blank shell of every breifing he envisions having. The second is an example brief, filled out as he wants to see the information.

For both, additional slides may be added... But the commander must put together the format and example first. The only thing that changes is the unit marking.

Hours and days are wasted creating product, only to have the commander/leader, say "I don't like the format" etc. But little or unclear guidance is given to the builder when he is doing the work, so he spends a week doing what he thinks he was told and in thirty seconds it is shot down. He repeats this over and over until a satifactory (or at least semi usable) product is obtained.

As a matter of fact all shell decks could be built so they auto input the info in the correct format, font etc. All tables, graphs etc are standardized as well, better yet, they auto populate changes. Items not used are kept, but hidden. For example not every unit is going to need high/low tide information or any other sea data... But all units using boats or conducting diving operations would... So all units that do not require this info would hide that slide or the portions of it that they don't need or that don't apply.

The best part? At every level, all breifs would be standardized and be the same, with the information in the same spot etc. Obviously different unit types would have somewhat diffent formats, but these would be minor. Every infantry companys deck would be the same. This would carry across to all unit types.

Think of the time this would save...

Outlaw 09

Wed, 11/14/2012 - 1:42pm

In reply to by bz

BZ---good to have reread the article again.

I have just completed a Tier 1 exercise where the major unit has gone through mission command training since August where we pushed intensively the cognitive hierarchy (ADP 5.0) in all of the training exercises-coupled with the concept of the five dysfunctions of a team tied to Trust building--all of this coupled with the six reasons of a command post.

In this unit they received in October a three day compressed CPOF training session as they were in the process of receiving and training on their new DRESHs--normally a six month training event which they compressed into two months prior to deploying for the exercise.

It was interesting to observe a unit learning the concepts of Trust/open dialogue, deploying new equipment and having at the same time the problem on how to depict the Common Operating Picture for their Commander via CPOF.

In the two months of working with that unit their use of CPOF as a central COP became actually very good---it took the entire Staff (officers and enlisted) a number of refined versions all the time being nudged by gentle questions of their Commander until the final COP was settled prior to their last CPX and CAX. What was great to see were the internal staff (officers and enlisted) discussions conducted quietly on how to use CPOF to present critical OE changes to the Commander.

BUBs and CUBs began to occur in under 30 minutes and the questions posed by the Commander were fewer and fewer as he was seeing exactly what he envisioned he should be seeing of the OE---meaning the Staff using the cognitive hierarchy was moving data to knowledge and knowledge to understanding to a level that the Commander was expecting to see. The Commander gained more and more confidence as the exercise progressed in the growth of his staff .(both officers and enlisted). That confidence was expressed in fewer and fewer trips into his TOC and their briefing book that the Commander carried into the combine review board sessions allowed him to pose a number of times interesting questions to his Analysis team.

The plus of CPOF is that it constantly updates to a central CPOf and it is tied directly to the supported BNS and vice versa-so that the COP/OE were being shared by all the units. The only down size would be if this unit was invovled in a DATE rotation where bandwidth issues become a problem for CPOF especially if moving a number of times was required.

Once the COP format was locked in the Commander simply walked through the TOC any time of day outside of his BUBs/CUBs and he never asked a question as his OE updates were constantly flowing---occassionaly he would ask a WHY question and another nice thing about CPOF is that one can call up any CPOF COP from any briefing and compare it to the new events--try to do that using PowerPoint.

Down side of CPOF is that not all units use and or have CPOF and for those units one is still forced to produce a PPT---interesting was the fact that information/knowledge taken from the CPOF tended to translate into fewer slides. Pulling PPT into CPOF was also easy when Snag It was implemented on the CPOF.

A fourth aspect of CPOF is the fact that this unit invested extensive time in developing their unit specific battle drills taken from their CTSOP/TSOP, and then refined them constantly during the CPX and CAX.

By placing the BDs on CPOF and highlighting those of their own specific staff section all the battle NCO/CPT/MAJ had to do was call out BD 5 or 7 or 9 and the entire TOC shifted to the drill via CPOF and then ran their drills by the numbers which were quick and accurate as they had them in front of each section. If anything in the Bd did not make sense then the changes on CPOf was easy and then at the end of the exercise the colloration of changes to the CTSOP/TSOP was easy.

The really strong takeaway was that this Staff after going through intensive mission command training and really understanding it and trying to develop a open dialogue and build trust ran a TOC that was quiet, functional, quick, and without the ever present senior leaders being present--AND with no PPT and micromanagement by officers.

This freed up the officers to concentrate on CHOPS and FUOPS which for this unit was extremely critical.

The conversation on Design and where it occurs became interesting in that for this unit as Design was an inherent part of the MDMP planning side and since the officers and enlisted involved in that process had learned to openly dialogue with each other the sessions were quiet, intense and made in a timeframe of under three hours as their planning had to go to O6s and then onto GOs.


I agree; as others have pointed out, military and government (or business, as it also applies) leadership shape how their organizations learn, reflect, and adapt. Meetings are at their fundamental level a gathering of humans that share information and make decisions. The PowerPoint approach reflects not only a tool, but an underlying process and tensions generated by the institution. It really does not matter what tools an organization uses if they employ unhealthy processes- but PowerPoint is unique in that it seems to accelerate certain bad habits.

If an institution allows the tool to become an unhealthy appendage, they must summon the intellectual courage to cut it off, or at least perform corrective surgery.

I am glad to hear that your first Commander provided such a positive environment- in my experience that is rare and refreshing. Your second example strikes me as the norm. How did we end up like this?

Are we too afraid to change because it is difficult, or that we fear failure? Does the very strength of our military hierarchy also prevent us from critically thinking and addressing those core processes that are no longer useful? Do we attack those that offer alternative solutions because they threaten the institutional relevance of outdated symbols that are important to us for reasons that escape the nature of enduring success?



Tue, 11/13/2012 - 7:02pm

"Done properly, ‘deep dive’ events nourish an organization, and help generate stronger shared knowledge with the ability for more individuals to rapidly and accurately access it."

I whole-heartedly agree with your assessment, and have participated in sessions at both ends of the effectiveness spectrum. One outstanding Commander demanded weekly intelligence deep-dives, to focus on the "Why" (in this case of the Pashtun/S. Afghanistan insurgency). It involved a revolving door of our junior intelligence analysts, other staff officers, and the Commander. The only visual aid allowed was a map and numerous white boards. The intent was to discuss, share ideas, and explore the issues in a way that a formulaic powerpoint brief could never accomplish. These sessions were invaluable, and allowed everyone from the junior analyst to the senior officer to share ideas from unique perspectives.

At the other end of the spectrum, I now continually participate in DA-level "portfolio reviews." The unwritten rules appear to be:

1) Provide more slides than humanly possible to digest in an hour.
2) Move through the slides quickly to prevent contrary opinions.
3) Put as much stuff onto each slide as possible; a font-size above 12 is unacceptable.
4) Ask for a decision at the end of the brief, with no time for discussion.

Oddly enough, there only seems to be two possible outcomes: do a study or conduct another briefing at a later date. Never a decision, and never a critical discussion.

In both examples, the leaders drove the technique. It remains incumbent upon Commanders to shape how we share and examine knowledge.


Sun, 10/21/2012 - 8:06pm

PowerPoint is a tool. That is all it is. As wth any tool if you abuse it, it will come back to hurt you. The biggest problem with PP is that it allows you to vomit massive amount of information into a breifing. We have got to get back to What do I really NEED to know and what would be really nice to know. Anything else is whitewash... Take it out. The other problem is improper use of resourses and staffs. And lastly commanders asking (and middle management thinking they are going to ask) for stuff that is out of their lane. Everyone at every level has a lane... Stay in it. Here is the breakdown:
1. Stuff the PL needs to know, that the CO need not concern himself with. 2. Stuff the CO needs to know, that the BC need not concern themselves with.
3. Stuff the BC needs to know, that the BDE CDR need not concern themselves with.
4. Stuff the BDE CDR needs to know, that the CG need not concern themselves with.

ETC, ETC, ETC. Do you need to waste a staffs time on a storyboard for an little bitty cache?

Meetings should be specific in nature and so should the slide deck that goes with them. Once over the world briefings in PP are less than useless, they are wasteful. Slide breifers need to know what they are talking about, not just load the slide with every bit of concievable information.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 1:49pm

In reply to by bz

bz--some really good summation comments.

"Is it because we lack trust, or are the past two decades of PME as an institution a point of significant failure for not instructing officers at all levels to recognise this? Is it our military culture?"

It is all three---lack of trust is the culmination of the misfocused PME and our military culture which has devolved over the last six years---examples of this devolving culture is the troop excesses seen in the last two years in AFG and the discipline issues seen in garrison environments. For some of us we saw these trends starting in 2008 among the troops during their CTCs, but due to the ARFORGEN the units were never redlined and pulled out of their ARFORGEN due to the ops tempo. Close your eyes and pray became the ARFORGEN motto.

"...yet any transformational approaches when viewed from before they are implemented can be considered in this fashion, as they do not demonstrate increased utility until after implementation. Rejecting them conceptually prevents any actual design application."

You are right Design is the way forward into the wicked problems we will be facing in the coming years---WHY else has the Army shifted to DATE scenarios? The problem is that to get use to constantly using Design we have to try it over and over until Staffs get comfortable with it---but the core to it's success is the Cmdr plain and simple thus Mission Command kicks in. But that is where lack of Trust (culture) and poor PME from your first point kicks in as inhibitors--so point one is intertwined with point two.

" fusing a hybrid combination of Mission Command, Design, and MDMP...yet we cannot come to a common agreement on HOW to do this. By agreement, I mean shared appreciation for an overarching concept- not a step-by-step manual on how to fuse them."

You are extremely correct on this point---all three should be fused---think personally Design is intertwined with every step of MDMP and Mission Command is the mechanism that allows Design to live and breath---core problem is again a lack of a good PME that teaches officers to Trust, openly communicate, think critically, and build teams coupled with a culture that does not tolerate failure, open communication, and critical thinking. And a culture that recognizes it is deep into micromanagment and Trust is shot--but denys that the problems exist.

And yes some of those of us that appear to be "naked' are still trying to change things.

Really impressed with the great comments and discussion on this one. I notice that a few trends and patterns seem to indicate that there are some core pheonomenon for our military institution to ponder- thus a light take on the evils of PowerPoint have brought out some of the darker demons of our organizational culture.

1. Our doctrine, professional education, and form-in-function (how we execute) are often in tension. We say one thing, but do another- or we tell ourselves to do two opposite things at the same time... For instance- many discussed mission command and how we want to execute "disciplined initiative" and the CDR is "central to Mission Command and the planning process"; yet we all recognize that in practice, this is often not the case. Is it because we lack trust, or are the past two decades of PME as an institution a point of significant failure for not instructing officers at all levels to recognise this? Is it our military culture?

2. Design thinking is reflective, and often critical. Recommended design solutions are often categorized as "radical" or disruptive...yet any transformational approaches when viewed from before they are implemented can be considered in this fashion, as they do not demonstrate increased utility until after implementation. Rejecting them conceptually prevents any actual design application.

3. Our doctrine, PME, and organization wants leaders, when confronting "wicked" problems (the sticky, difficult, painful challenges we are most likely to face and least likely to be prepared for) by fusing a hybrid combination of Mission Command, Design, and MDMP...yet we cannot come to a common agreement on HOW to do this. By agreement, I mean shared appreciation for an overarching concept- not a step-by-step manual on how to fuse them.

PowerPoint, while a useful tool in some situations, is frequently overused not because we fail to appreciate how to use PowerPoint, but because we fail to understand how we tend to think- and how we tend NOT to think...and thus if we cannot appreciate how we do NOT think, we will categorically reject concepts that fall outside of our preferred paradigms and desired world-views. We see what we want to see, and cast out those that try to help us by exclaiming, "why your highness, you are naked!!!!"



Tue, 09/11/2012 - 11:59am

I did not see any mention of Edward Tufte's work on making data presentation meaningful (aka: exposing the evils of powerpoint). Some might find it of interest. Simply google him or check out his books on your favorite internet-based bookseller site. He is academically trained as a Political Scientist, but I understand he's moved into sculpture ... a modern renaissance man.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 09/11/2012 - 7:27am

For those that think things are rosy and well off within Staffs---these are a few comments taken from the:
TECHNICAL REPORT 2012-1 (compiled from 16.8K AC/RC Leaders and 2.9K Civilians)

However, about one in five Army leaders (21%) is rated ineffective at developing others.

However, developing others is an area where a smaller percentage of Army leaders are rated effective by their subordinates.
Appropriately, junior leaders expect and require development from their superiors, and ratings indicate that this is not occurring at an optimal level (see Exhibit 5).
• Just over half of company grade officers (56%), warrant officers (57%) and Jr NCOs (55%) rate their immediate superior effective in developing subordinate leaders.
• Nearly one-fourth of company grade officers (24%) and Jr NCOs (24%) rate their immediate superior ineffective or very ineffective at developing subordinates.
• Notably, only two-thirds of Sr NCOs (66%) and even fewer field grade officers (60%) indicate their superiors are effective at developing others.

Key Finding:
Develops Others is the core leader competency that continues to show the most need for improvement, across all levels of leaders.
These findings are not new, as over the past four years, the Develops Others competency has clearly distinguished itself from the other competencies as the lowest rated. Given its separation from the other competencies, Develops Others constitutes the greatest Army leader development need within the core leader competency model. Subordinate development is further discussed in section 3.2 of this report.

CASAL findings from past years have shown that the priority for leader development in units and organizations is generally low, and notably, has gotten worse. In 2010, only 46% of AC leaders rated the priority their unit or organization placed on leader development to be high or very high (down from 53% in 2009, and 55% in 2008). Ratings by RC leaders were only slightly more favorable during these years, but also experienced a slight decline in 2010.

Reference Trust---
Several factors relate to subordinate confidence in following their immediate superior into life-or-death situations. Overall, of leaders who indicate disagreement they are confident following their immediate superior into life-or-death situations, more than half view their immediate superior as ineffective/very ineffective in the following:
• Fostering esprit de corps (63%)
• Building effective teams (62%)
• Establishing trusting relationships with others (58%)
• Balancing subordinate needs with mission requirements (58%)
• Dealing with unfamiliar situations (55%)
• Interpersonal tact (54%)
• Encouraging candid, respectful discussion (51%)
Notably, most of these behaviors that relate to a lack of trust align with leading others, interacting with others, and fostering a positive climate, as opposed to achieving results, preparing oneself, or demonstrating one’s own (technical or tactical) knowledge.


Tue, 09/11/2012 - 8:57am

In reply to by major.rod

Major Rod- if you have time, check out some of my other articles at SWJ; they address more of what you are looking for. This article is a light take on design theory and only addresses the evils of PowerPoint...I go deeper down the rabbit hole in other articles. One challenge is that design theory is really much more than a discipline, field, or theory; it is a "meta-theory" or meta-paradigm- it transends quite a bit and remains adaptive and transforming...this is tough to handle in short articles although many have tried.



Tue, 09/11/2012 - 3:14am

In reply to by bz

Ben, there's a thousand ways to skin a cat. I thought your article was pretty thorough from a technique perspective but it doesn't address why many staff officers particpate in death by powerpoint. Helping a staff officer to put together a more efficient brief isn't going to change the slides required by COB for tomorrow's brief though it's much easier to do than change what the CO or XO have come to expect.

We learn MDMP and briefing from two places, the school house and experience. As a staff officer I can't tell you how my heart jumped for joy when a new CO or XO came in and said "what is this?", "why are you reading the slide?", "how many boxes of paper are we going through?".

I applaud your tecnical approach but leadership from above will fix this problem much quicker than technique from below.

Major Rod-

Agreed; my intent for this "light" design article was to tackle one of the bad habits I see as a corrupting element within a larger, deeper phenomenon that points to our military institutionalism; one that is wrapped around a structuralist, postivist, and entirely Clausewitzian/Jominian/Macheavellian mindset...but as my other articles to attempt to address these larger issues, the academic requirements tend to make such heavy topics challenging to convey to a wide audience.

I figure that getting some discourse and critical reflection on some of the surface issues (PowerPoint sins of the Staff and CDR) may help in nudging our organizations towards better introspection, innovation, and adaptation.

I stressed early in the article that PowerPoint itself is not "evil"- but our institutionalisms drive us collectively to mis-use the tool. Reminds me of the idiom "when you are a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail."

Communication remains critical, because if design theory is going to transform our military, design advocates need to articulate design explanation to the widest possible audience. Perhaps if we engage on multiple levels, at the philosophical, academic, professional (war college, ILE, CCC...), and at times with lighter articles, we may get the conversation really moving somewhere exciting. SWJ does a great job at doing this already.


Outlaw 09

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 9:17am

In reply to by major.rod

major.rod---will agree the XO usually is the driver BUT for Mission Command to succeed and ultimately for Design to succeed---the following two paras sums it up as to WHY the Cmdr is the single focal point under Mission Command (Art of Command)and WHY the Staff is the single focal point under Science of Control.

"Trust requires, in my opinion, a "tango" between CDRs and the organization-one where the lead switches during the music and at times, the CDR leads, other times, mission command provides the partner (staff, subordinates) with the "disciplined initiative" to take lead on the ballroom floor. Thus-roles are reversed; gender (in this case, he that leads is CDR) changes, the form and function adapts as the team works through a wicked problem."

Until the senior leadership addresses head on the lack of trust within
the current culture neither Design nor mission command will be successful as it requires trust built on open communication/dialogue free from fear, and Cmdrs who understand how to build and mentor a team.

From someone smarter than myself sent me this about Bde Commanders--
"The model identified the competencies needed for successful brigade command and the competencies were found to be operational skills, leadership skills, personal capabilities, and knowledge base. The
list of personal capabilities includes "ability to regulate and monitor
one's emotions" and "self-awareness and self-understanding." The leadership
skills required of brigade commanders, most (if not all) of which clearly
require social intelligence, effectiveness, and competence, as well as
political skill. In particular, the need to build and leverage the strengths of teams, build consensus, influence inside and outside a chain of command,and develop a positive command climate all would require social

BLUF--"Art of Command" as envisioned by Mission Command


Wed, 09/12/2012 - 4:57am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Agree with all your points and of course the CO is "responsible". Heck he's responsible for everything but it's the XO that is best positioned to train/mentor the staff. The CDR absolutely must communicate the vision and supervise but the XO cracks the whip when it comes to training/scynching and mentoring the staff (minus the S3 who has a unique relationship with the commander and often fills in for him during the MDMP process) otherwise it's for the XO to tame the staff.

Can't add to checklists, CONOPS & trust. You pretty much nailed it.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 09/11/2012 - 6:03am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

To add to the debate---how many of us have heard Cmdrs regardless of what kind of unit or at what level from BN up to Theater openly say your subordinates must learn to fear you or you cannot trust you NCOs or one officer behind his hand will say officer X cannot do his job---heck even the SP4 can do it. I have and it is over and over out in the field and especially in garrison.

We have gotten so far away from what is right some of us cannot even recall when Right was Right---ie CONOPs --when did CONOPS which is really a checklist on sternoids approach become the replacement for OPORDs?

Outlaw 09

Tue, 09/11/2012 - 5:54am

In reply to by major.rod

major.rod---indirectly you have approached the core problem---if one looks at Mission Command doctrinally and check out the Art of Command---it is the Commander who is responsible for building/mentoring his Staff team not the XO.

The key is Staff/Cmdr team building and along with Staff team building goes a hardy portion of building Trust, Trust within the Staff to openly discuss, dialogue, and critically think, Trust between NCOs and Officers, and especially Trust between the Commander and his Staff. It is not the XOs responsibility as he is not the Cmdr.

Right now we have become an Army especially at the Staff levels of Checklisters---checklists for deployment and recovery, checklists for patrols, checklists for leaving the FOB, checklists for Convoys, checklists for the OER/promotion, and we use the surpreme checklist of all time PowerPoint to drive all the other checklists.

Checklists reduce many Cmdrs and Staff officers to micromanagers.

Checklists reduce the need to dialogue and Trust building---open to anyone who could provide me an example of a Staff that "extended trust" within their Staff sections and between the Officers and NCOs without resorting to micromanagement.

Someone smarter thna me once said--Design and Mission Command is like a Tango being danced by the Staff and the Cmdr---the Art of Command is to know as a Cmdr when to lead and when to bow out and change partners---the Science of Control by of the Staff is to carry out an open critical dialogue with Trust to provide the Cmdr the exact point at which he changes the dance tune and or partners.

What many do not yet fully understand is that this cultural resistance by middle management (some LTCs up through to two Stars) is doing in Design and Mission Command at a time when the urgency to transform is gaining steam.


Mon, 09/10/2012 - 9:16pm

In reply to by major.rod

<i>Fixing the culture that has come to routinely accept a mountain of show instead of insightful staff work is the herculean task.</i>

Spot on, and this is not a new problem, it has only been exasperated via PowerPoint. Dog and pony shows have existed, well, since Noah first off-loaded two dogs and two ponies in probably the most definitive amphibious landing of all times;-)


Mon, 09/10/2012 - 6:28pm

Ben - great article from which to teach folks how to be better briefers but that's not the problem. Commander's emphasis and staff discipline as enforced by the XO are wanting. We can relearn all the briefing skills in the world but if those key individuals don't set and maintain standards we'll continue to have death by powerpoint. This isn't a new problem. Saw much of the same with butcherblock briefs before this.

The real question to ask is why are commanders and XOs satisfied with this approach? We have deep problems with telling ourselves the truth, thorough analysis and moral courage. 100 slide powerpoint presentations are a symptom, not the problem. Fixing the culture that has come to routinely accept a mountain of show instead of insightful staff work is the herculean task.

Hubba Bubba

Fri, 09/07/2012 - 11:47am

In reply to by tomkinton

Tom- I am not worried about radical change; if the current military paradigm is broken (which it is, from my foxhole), then eventually, those that usher in new paradigms will shatter it, and force an overhaul. Until then, as Kuhn warns, those that defend the old paradigm will vigourously defend it as best they can. Not saying you are doing that at all; but instead of baby steps, I suggest what sometimes may appear to those from within the paradigm as a large step off the beaten path as a method to breaking the paradigm- provided that the step brings those willing to follow into a clearly more effective paradigm.

Like other commentors earlier, it has to come from senior strategic leadership, as well as a groundswell from our PME, including War College, ILE, and the CCCs. Until we can break out of the "PowerPoint helps define everything" mentality, perhaps by a General Officer making a point beyond "PowerPoint makes us stupid" or "when we understand that slide, we will win the war"- and go beyond humorous yet isolated remarks. Clear, defined guidance on what PowerPoint is, and what it is not, as a communication tool for the Army. The sad irony is that the staff officers putting that guidance out will instinctively want to make a PowerPoint presentation to brief the concept...

Hubba Bubba


Fri, 09/07/2012 - 10:15am

In reply to by Hubba Bubba

Yes, you are correct.......I didn't elaborate here on the study/project re. video due to the moderators thinking I was hawking something (which I'm not). So here is the concept: it's an icon on each slide that, when clicked, shows the author or commentator actually briefing his or her own product. Also allows for video comments on the slide set to be memorialized (perhaps on an off-site web page thingy).

I routinely turn off students' .ppt's and make them present from the cranial housing group. Although I don't agree with a lot that GEN Mattis has done (EBO, firing his maneuver commander on the way to Baghdad) I do concur with his assessment that 'power point makes us stupid'.

So: while I fully realize that 'tweaking' ppt's doesnt' get to the heart of the matter, I'm also aware that getting big Army to move away from it is too much. So, I'm looking for ways to move Army off the 'X' and get it going in some other direction.

I believe deeply in Marshall MacLuhan's prescient words: the medium IS the message. Vehicles for ideation such as .ppt have shaped the thought processes of two generations of decision makers (remember Harvard Graphics and 5 1/4" floppies?).

Remember the words of Peter O'Toole to Omar Sharrif in LoA: When the character Lawrence suggests they undertake a journey longer than humanly possible, Lawrence replies: baby steps, Ali. Baby steps.


Outlaw 09

Fri, 09/07/2012 - 6:33am

In reply to by Hubba Bubba

Hubba Bubba---PPT is not only an issue for the US Army, but I have discussed this problem with at least six different MN military partners and they are all agreeing and saying the same thing you, myself, and Ben are saying/seeing---seems to be a core PPT issue across all militaries.

You would think big Army would wake up.

Now the issue of lack of Trust is worth an entire blog chapter---it is real, it is serious, and it is not going to go away until senior leadership takes it on front and center---goes deeply into the current culture of the Force right now.

If you noticed jholm's comment about change having to come from the top---he is right---it will take a generational change in the O6s thru to the two stars before we might see some serious acceptance of Design and Mission Command -----what is interesting is that it appears as if the O3s thru O5s and the 3/4 stars are aligning on the subject- but the middle group of officers are resisting changes.That topic is alone worth a blog session.

Hubba Bubba

Fri, 09/07/2012 - 3:29am

In reply to by tomkinton


I think the point of this article is less about "making powerpoint better" and more about making the military decision-making process (to include mission command and army design methodology) better by thinking about how we over-use powerpoint. The solution may not be "just make powerpoint better." In fact, I would bet that putting video into powerpoint reinforces the central themes of this article- that passive learning environments with slide after slide of endless description are not getting us the results we want. Jazzing things up with flashy videos is still replacing the briefer with the briefing aid.

consider having no slides; then what? Consider no videos at all; perhaps some of the tools offered instead...what will that do? Can the briefer do what the videos promise? If so- do we need videos at all? What purpose do videos embedded in slides do, other than usually demonstrate to me that the briefer is not knowledgable on the topic. It reminds me of lazy pre-school and young grade teachers when they sit the class around a TV and have some VCR tape instruct the kids because the teacher cannot do the job, or does not particularly want to. When I sit through powerpoint with cheesy gun-porn footage, or some terrible poorly produced "AFN-style" video of some expert reading a script from a teleprompter about sexual assualt or whatever topic we are being told to endure a meeting over- and as the slides roll through, the briefer just clicks on the slide to advance the frame and play the this really briefing? Is this useful for the audience? Is anyone learning? Or as Outlaw9 often blogs, where is the element of trust here- how does that dynamic relate to the organization- the problem-solving, the collective learning environment...

In my entire experience in the military, I have yet to experience a useful video in any slide show that could not be done better by a knowledgable briefer engaging in meaningful discourse with the audience. Except perhaps one funny video of some AH-64s discovering some couple going to town in a convertible down at JRTC which has to be one of the funniest videos I have seen; made for great humor during a horrifically long presentation on something I cannot remember.

Hubba Bubba

Outlaw 09

Fri, 09/07/2012 - 3:21am

In reply to by tomkinton

Tom---great comment on the B and W Keys---had not known that tip and I can see why it would drive them crazy. Will contact you for more information concerning the video embedding technique.


Thu, 09/06/2012 - 4:48pm


Coincident to the timing of this article I am in the middle of a consulting study for a way to embed video in .ppt and make it better. Anyone that wants to know more/help out please message me.

Separately, a technique I've been using for a while (and which my students hate) is hitting the 'B' or 'W' key (B=black screen, W=white screen) and having them continue without the benefit of the screened bullet points.


Outlaw- great comments.

Miller- we may disagree on the content and my theories; but I think that fundamentally, CPOF (Command Post of the Future- the electronic system that our military uses to graphically track and coordinate action) is completely different than PowerPoint. Consider the following:

What is a "static" system, and what is a "dynamic" system? For instance, whether you draw graphics on butcher block or PowerPoint, if you make a change, does any printed copies of the butcher block drawing (suppose we had RTOs trace it) or printed PowerPoint slide decks "change" when you make the change on the original? Of course not- hence PowerPoint is an entirely static tool. This is why military professionals on staff are often spending their days grinding on slides, only to re-do the same work next week because the last week's slides are now irrelevant.

In fact, sitting here in my office typing this, I had a subordinate come in and ask me why I corrected a training meeting slide that he had submitted. His slide was wrong, because he was using the wrong (older version) excel table from the wrong folder on our shared drive. I directed him to the correct one, but noted the irony in the process because as of this time tomorrow, even that excel table will be old-hence wrong. With the rapid changes we go through with taskings, our staff is caught in a endless loop of updating static systems (like PowerPoint and Excel) that creates a self-licking ice cream cone of more staffocracy. Worse yet, when printed versions of that table are handed out at the meeting, folks in my organization may carry them around in their green books for days (if not weeks) and expect that info to remain correct. We seek dynamic systems while shackled to static ones.

A dynamic system is what Outlook Calendars and CPOF offers- this is a significant difference that makes them apples and handgrenades when compared to PowerPoint or Excel. Making an appointment in Outlook calendars and inviting folks to the meeting (and then feeding into the event appointment any hyperlinks, files, and information) shares information dynamically...If I or someone else modifies the meeting, everyone gets the update. It automatically transforms other folks' calendars. Once an organization conditions themselves into discarding any printed calendars more than 24hrs old, we can get synchronized better- but this is hard when old habits are tough to break.

CPOF is another dynamic system; changing a shared effort changes everyone that clone-copied it; provided someone does not use the copy machine option to "break ownership"- it does the same thing; and I have in combat environments modified CPOF efforts for battle plans where our higher HQ and enablers gained real-time awareness of the latest changes. This helps when you are on the objective and the pesky Iraqis built a new building in the time since the satelite imagry was last taken; for CPOF it is a quick fix to add a new graphic control measure and transform everyone else's effort, followed with a quick note on MERCCHAT or ventrillo. If we used PowerPoint- it could not possibly work that way. There are work-arounds like analog horse-blankets and grid methods- which also work really well in CPOF...but an entirely PowerPoint-centric organization would stutter-step on the "new" building on the OBJ because all of their systems are static in nature- not dynamic. This is how CPOF can enhance organizational synergy.

I agree that CPOF is tough to learn, but mostly (in my opinion) because only the junior members of our force are trained on it. Once you get past a certain level, you push it off to your BTL CPT or NCO to do; I have heard too many senior folks say "I don't do CPOF." They don't even try...yet it is the premiere Common Operational Picture tool at the battalion level and above, although only for SASO and static environments. I cannot envision CPOF working well when jumping a TOC every 12 hrs or less in a high intensity or hybrid environment.

My main point in using CPOF as an alternative is if you are willing to be flexible and let go of PowerPoint, you are dropping a static system in favor of a dynamic one...or perhaps you try a hybrid approach with a little PowerPoint,some CPOF, a lap-board, and some white papers. There are no rules on how to do any targeting meetings or operational updates except for the ones we self-inflict on our organizations.

Just some thoughts-


Outlaw 09

Wed, 09/05/2012 - 5:39am

miller---"a poor craftsman blames his tools" is an interesting comment---
walk today 9/5/12 into any staff level PPT presentation---at BN/BDE/DIV/Corp and ask the following questions;

1. has anyone in the room sat through 100 plus slide presentations and went to sleep or nodded off during the presentation
2. has the briefer ever asked for a decision at the end of the WG or was the brief the decision
3. did everyone in the room simply nod north and south and get up and leave the meeting
4. was there much discussion/actual WG dialogue going on while the slides were being shown
5. did you want to make a particular point raised on a particular slide, but did not raise your hand/voice
6. if you did in fact raise a point were you shut down by the presenter leaving the room more frustrated than before entering the room
7. of everyone who nodded north and south did they truly "buy-in" to the presentation
8. was the slide presentation a form of micro-managment
9. was the slide presenter reading from the slides and was he/she knowledgable in the subject being presented
10. did the slides actually contain just data or did they contain knowledge
11. can PPT actually convey a true visualization of the OE
12. if your unit has in excess of 14 WGs in a week did they all conduct PPT presentations
13. did you "trust" the information being provided via slides or was the "trust" simply due to the progression of the slides leading you to a decision or the color of the slides or the bells/whistles attached to the information that lead you to "trust" it

The list could go on and on--"and a poor craftsman blames the tool".

If you have had great personal/Staff experiences with PPT then you have been extremely lucky or not in alot of different Staffs.

When one has the opportunity to talk with a multitude of Staffs in the last year and the above points are mentioned over and over then something is inherently wrong and it is not "due to poor craftmanship" so one does in fact have to look at the "tool" in more depth as was done in the article.

Does not mean you have to accept the depth of the article.

Hubba Bubba

Wed, 09/05/2012 - 5:32am

In reply to by Miller


If your attention to detail to articles is the same as your attention to detail with presentations, that may explain quite a bit.

On your concern of "what" versus "why"- there are these funny little things that authors tend to use called footnotes. You might notice that the author tagged his source material for this design concept directly to the sentence you raise.

Second- the author went to great lengths, rather clearly in my opinion (that means right up front in the first paragraph- the thesis, as folks tend to call those sorts of things) that he does not want to blame the tool, as you claim. You either did not read it, or lack the capacity to understand it.

But I found your rant to be entertaining- if devoid of comprehension and sprinkled with emotive angst. I know little of CPOF so I have nothing to argue with you on that stance...but perhaps the author will respond.

So, lesson for today for you- footnotes, thesis, and BLUF. Always look for these when reading more than powerpoint slides.

Hubba Bubba

This is yet another rant about power point. Nothing in this article was paticularly interesting or new. Furthermore, there wasn't one fact or bit of evidence here. For example: power point tends toward the WHAT and not the WHY. Says who? Why are we blaming the tool for the poor briefing skills of the briefer? I have seen horrible briefs given by guys on butcher block paper and I have been informed and challenged by a "dense" power point slide. I think it's a lame waste of time to extrapolate from one's own personal experience and make broad assumptions about what power point "does" (the devil made me do it.)

I found it particularly interesting that one of the suggestions in this article is to use CPOF as a tool. CPOF has every single one of the potential drawbacks of power point. If he used CPOF to brief, in a few years everyone would long for the simpler days of power point.

The bottom line is that a brief is as good as its briefer. A poor craftsman blames his tools.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 09/06/2012 - 3:10am

In reply to by jholm

jholm---some interesting points for a number of reasons---your last sentence points to the core issue namely leadership.

In some aspects what Ben has shown both with his Design articles and now his article on PPT or what we call on the Mission Command side of the house "an ill structured problem" also known as wicked problems.

What the PPT discussion points to is just a example of a far deeper problem-namely dysfunctional Staff teams. While the Army spends massive amounts of money on unit and individual training there is not a single Staff training center or series of courses preparing officers for Staff duties---somehow the Army assumes that if you are an officer together with your training on MDMP one is a fully functioning staff officer---what is then missing is the reality of officers up to the rank of CPT having little to no deep experiences in MDMP. Yes they have deployed and yes they have held some staff positions and yes MDMP was used to varying levels of success BUT do they really understand the WHYs and HOWs of MDMP. Do they really understand the WHYs and HOWs of B2C2WG and the list goes on and on.

If a Staff officer is assigned to a manuever unit he tends to get into a number of staff exercises but again actually limited in number---but say on the multi functional BCT/BNs side the most experience a Staff officer gets is a single exercise once a year as they are normally busy doing what the multi funcitonal unit does on a daily basis.

Most officers up to the Captains Career Course get little to no formal MDMP training---unless the MAJs are just out of their advanced course they will also have difficulties with MDMP.

Now enters Design which inherently rolls within specific elements of MDMP-now enters the problems that have been talked about in this article concerning PPT and one wonders why the Army is having a problem getting the Force to focus on Mission Command.

"Mission Command is the conduct of military operations through decentralized execution based on mission orders. Successful mission command demands that subordinate leaders at all echelons exercise disciplined initiative, acting aggressively and independently to accomplish the mission within the commander’s intent."

"Mission Command gives subordinates the greatest possible freedom of action. Commanders focus their orders on the purpose of the operation rather than on the details of how to perform assigned tasks. They delegate most decisions to subordinates. This minimizes detailed control and empowers subordinates’ initiative."

IT IS THE STAFF that builds the Operational Plan.

Key to successful Mission Command is the Art of Command where the Commander must focus his total attention on two critical items---the most important one that I think TRADOC misplaced into third position is LEAD development of Teams among modular formations. This is where the Cmdr has to step up and truly build/mentor his Staff into a Team not a group of officers spending time among different WGs.

Team building takes into account the elimination of the five steps of a dysfunctional team through the goal of developing dialogue. "In dialogue, a group explores complex difficult issues from many points of view. Individuals suspend their assumptions, but they communicate their assumptions freely."

In order to achieve dialogue there must be no fear within the Team to openly communicate---what does PPT do---it shuts down that dialogue ability and leads to fustration and lack of buy-in within the Staff---both officers and NCOs. There must be no fear of failure within the Staff Team, but again we the Army place leaders in a difficult position-failure during a deployment can hurt ones' OER and future promotion.

So enters micro-managment by the Cmdr when he detects the Staff is not providing what he needs. PPT is a great micro-management tool.

Let's even not get into the area of how PPT greatly impacts the success or failure of moving DATA to Knowledge/Understanding via the Cognitive Hierachy.

Let's not even get into the lack of Trust within Staffs, Staffs and Cmdrs, between Officers/Officers and between Officers and NCOs. PPT is a great tool for building mistrust among Staff officers and Staff sections. An interesting question is to ask Staff officers WHY they tend to not extend Trust to others---listen to the answers---quiet revealing.

Trust has been for some reason left out of the Army Values list---may have been that Trust has implied. Even General Dempsey in his April 2012 White Paper pushes hard on the issue of Trust-not many officers have even read the WP.

The second critical item that impacts the Cmdr in Mission Command is that the Commander is responsible for Understanding, Visualizing, Describing, Directing, Leading and Assessing. Not many Commanders are comfortable with that responsibility as to goes to the core of the Commander's Intent/Guidance.

So jholm you are correct in your statement---"My main point is that, until the culture changes come from the top down, we cannot begin changing things from the bottom up."

It is the Commander who MUST build his Team and it is the Commander who MUST provide UVDDLA and if the Staff is having problems then it falls to the Commander to mentor and lead his Team. MC is nothing more or less than German "Auftragstaktik" with an American mindset twist.


Wed, 09/05/2012 - 2:15pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

All valid points. It certainly would've been easier to avoid reliance on PowerPoint if the boss had been more open to other methods of receiving information from the staff. But he, like a lot of bosses out there, liked PPT. He's the boss, he gets to decide how he likes to receive information, analysis, and recommendations. The point I was trying to address in my initial comment was that as a staff officer, you can use other, non-ppt driven collaborative methods to build situational understanding while still satisfying your bosses desire to receive information on a slide.

It would be great if senior leaders were less reliant on PowerPoint. Until that day comes, staff officers can implement some methods on their own within their section and maybe, through peer leadership, influence some of their counterparts across the staff to do the same.

I do agree that knowledge management and the transfer of institutional knowledge is overly reliant on slides that end up on the portal and lose all context and nuance, assuming the new unit can even find them on the portal. When conducting a RIP/TOA (either a traditional one in theater or a "de facto" RIP/TOA after redeployment when the staff and CDRs all change out) I find that the best COA is a combination of three things:

1) A "brain dump" paper. This is less formal than a white paper. I think that the informality facilitates a greater ability to divulge understanding and complexity. Achieving narrative flow is more important than adhering to formating guidelines or the Army writing style. This should serve essentially the same function as a read ahead packet.

2) A "guided conversation" with key players rather than a power point briefing to the entire staff. As the Planner, the guys who needed to gain my institutional knowledge are the new XO, 3, Planner, deputy Planner, maybe FSCOORD or DCO depending on how the new unit operates. The smaller and more "right-sized" the audience, the less you need to dumb it down to slides and the more you can accomplish with an informal setting, a map, and a clear expectation that the expected dynamic is a back-and-forth. This ensures a more engaged audience and, assuming they've read the brain dump or white paper, the audience can guide the conversation with questions on topics they are less comfortable with. Maybe this wouldn't work as well with the 1, the 4, or the SPO, some one who lives in a world of numbers.

3) One-on-one Q&A with your individual replacement.

I absolutely agree that there is an unhealthy reliance on PPT. Some folks like to receive info that way. Some rely on it because, if they have to submit slides to HHQ anyway, it's easier to use the same format within the unit. For some it is an institutional knee jerk to any staff process.

My main point is that, until the culture changes some from the top down, we can begin changing things from the bottom up.