Friday, August 11, 2006

Achieving Representation

John at CT shows us this PowerPoint slide that was apparantly used in the planning of Iraq's reconstruction. I am quite fond of the phrase “Aimed Pressure to Achieve the End-State Over Time."

Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Look Rob, I know it's fun to make fun of PowerPoint, but the PowerPoint is just an illustration for the talk, it isn't the content. I'm certain when this diagram was talked through it all made sense." Unfortunately, the Pentagon chiefs have fallen into the habit that Tufte first noticed in the business world: emailing the PowerPoint slides to people who weren't at the presentation as if this were an adequate presenation of the ideas. John quotes Thomas Ricks, quoting Lt. General David McKiernan
It’s quite frustrating the way this works, but the way we do things nowadays is combatant commanders brief their products in PowerPoint up in Washington to OSD and Secretary of Defense…In lieu of an order, or a frag [fragmentary order], or plan, you get a bunch of PowerPoint slides…[T]hat is frustrating, because nobody wants to plan against PowerPoint slides.
So, in fact, the PowerPoint does become the content. This is the big risk of PowerPoint as social technology. Over at Tufte's site there is a wonderful discussion of the military's use of PowerPoint going on. One commenter who has worked in the military points out another way the Pentagon uses PowerPoint which Tufte has criticized: "The expectation is that the handout is also simply a printed copy of the briefing slides themselves, so that while the PP slides are being projected on screen, the participants in the meeting are simultaneously reading the printed versions."

Others at that chat note that the Pentagon's PowerPoint tends to be more information dense than corporate PowerPoint, which is taken as a virtue in Tufte's philosophy if done properly. Here's another second hand quote, this time commenter John Landis quoting a Slate article on how PowerPoint destroys the paper trail.
Almost all Air Force documents today, for example, are presented as PowerPoint briefings. They are almost never printed and rarely stored. When they are saved, they are often unaccompanied by any text. As a result, in many cases, the briefings are incomprehensible.
This will make the war crimes trials more difficult.

No comments: