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Does PowerPoint inhibit decision making?

I chuckled when I read “Speaking Truth to PowerPoint” in the Wall Street Journal this morning. Business has grown to rely heavily on PowerPoint as a primary communications medium. Unfortunately, details are lost because the nature of presentation slides is summarization. I depth business planning requires a format that is conducive to thoughtful detail. I don’t think that PowerPoint itself is evil, but I do believe that it is radically misused today. I’ve seen complete product concepts delivered with no more documentation than a slide deck. Business infrastructures are proposed through slideware without the discipline of writing out the analysis and presenting the details in supporting logical order. There’s a reason that we were taught to write papers in college. We were trained to make cogent and complete arguments. Unfortunately, PowerPoint has enabled the business world to create a deliverable that lacks substance and allows for sloppy thought processes. Colonel Hammes is correct when he says that PowerPoint is “actively hostile to thoughtful decision-making.”

I ask my staff to put together summaries. Formally writing out a business case or a tactical plan requires people to really spend time succinctly defining their goals. Its too easy to embellish concepts with fluff in a presentation because of the personal delivery and the limited time frame but when the reader sits down to focus on a written concept they have more time to analyze what is being presented. The author must carefully craft an argument and provide supporting evidence in a logical manner that reinforces the goals. A well crafted briefing is very easy to read and understand. It should compel the reader to agree or contribute to the concepts. A written summary will also more easily expose logical weaknesses and allow them to be addressed more swiftly.

The “PowerPoint” culture that has become pervasive in business today has created some very bad habits. Planning and execution are done in brief bullets and pretty graphics. Unfortunately, the lack of detail has led to what is almost a “glibness” towards due diligence. Without some level of rigor in planning and execution, critical items are missed, like the “O” rings in the space shuttle disaster. Not all details have such dire consequences but they are important to our business. It is work putting at least as much effort as we did for our mid-term papers in college in the creation of our business and project plans.

3 comments to Does PowerPoint inhibit decision making?

  • Chris

    We are also obsessed with speed and personal efficiency. I think in many organizations one would struggle to get even a well crafted briefing read — it is almost a cultural thing. Being myself in the middle of trying to get a decision made, mostly via Power Point, this post resonates (sadly). Tufte has some great anti-power point diatribes out there. I wonder if I could get somewhere with a good briefing…


  • Devin


    Great post, I agree that the speed drives the lack of details and, sadly, the poor decisions that often come with them. Try a good briefing or summary, really focusing on both content and format, and judiciously apply it. See if it resonates. Let me know how it works for you.

  • Poor Powerpoint presentations inhibit decision making, as it presents more questions then it answers. Key to an effective powerpoint will be to ensure your ask is clear and that it explains a) the opportunity, b) cost of doing so (time, people, resources) and c) the cost of inaction. Clearly, no one wants a brainmelting presentation, make is long enough to provide insight, but short enough to give folks time to digest and discuss.

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