Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Quote of the Day: Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal

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


That's General Stanley A. McChrystal, as quoted in the New York Times. He's referring to the slide above, a PowerPoint slide from a presentation in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” said Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, echoing a sentiment that information design expert Edward Tufte has been advancing for years.

Why is PowerPoint so bad? Here, I offer a bulleted list of reasons, culled from various sources (mostly Tufte):
  1. PowerPoint slides are too small to offer enough information.
  2. By doing everything in bullet points, they force people to gloss over the connective details that give a true, accurate picture of an issue.
  3. As Tufte writes, "PowerPoint templates (ready-made designs) usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis."
  4. PowerPoint shuts down discussions and oversimplifies issues.
Tufte concludes that using Microsoft Word would be better: "Serious problems require a serious tool: written reports."

Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster won't use PowerPoint anymore; he told the Times, “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

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