Thursday, May 6, 2010

When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war

The title is a comment reported in the NYT by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, when shown the PowerPoint slide below (see a larger version here)


The slide was meant to depict the complexity of American military strategy in Afghanistan, and it seems to have over-succeeded. Apparently PowerPoint is not just an obsession with business managers but also with senior military commanders as well. But behind all the PowerPoint jokes are "serious concerns that the program [PowerPoint] stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making”. The following observation is quite insightful
[PowerPoint] slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold, and that they relieve the briefer of the need to polish writing to convey an analytic, persuasive point. Imagine lawyers presenting arguments before the Supreme Court in slides instead of legal briefs.
But even with mounting reservations over the ability of PowerPoint to usefully represent military situations, no one is forecasting any change – it is just too embedded in the military, as it is elsewhere. And while “no one is suggesting that PowerPoint is to blame for mistakes in the current wars”, it takes a great deal of time with PowerPoint to keep a war going, let alone end it.