Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 16, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

POWERPOINT HATERS UNITE!....Microsoft just can't catch a break. Via The Talent Show, apparently PowerPoint is now being blamed for the space shuttle crash:

NASA, the board argued, had become too reliant on presenting complex information via PowerPoint, instead of by means of traditional ink-and-paper technical reports. When NASA engineers assessed possible wing damage during the mission, they presented the findings in a confusing PowerPoint slide -- so crammed with nested bullet points and irregular short forms that it was nearly impossible to untangle. "It is easy to understand how a senior manager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it addresses a life-threatening situation," the board sternly noted.

That's rough. However, at the risk of offending the legions of PowerPoint haters out there, I'd caution everyone against taking this too far and indulging in dreams of a golden age in which everyone sat down with quill pens and fashioned beautiful, tightly reasoned prose in the business world. Information was presented really badly in the pre-PowerPoint era too. Trust me on this.

As for me, I'm torn. There's no question that PowerPoint can hide a lot of shoddy thinking and often ingrains some bad habits, but on the other hand I'm a PowerPoint guru and would lose some of my competitive advantage if it became less popular. So let me just leave it at this: if you're good at presenting ideas, you'll probably do fine with PowerPoint. If you're not, you won't.

But I will say one thing: PowerPoint is great if you're presenting to a foreign audience that might otherwise miss some of what you say. It's a real boon for us Americans making sales pitches in Asia or Europe.

Oh, and one more thing: Edward Tufte is kind of a cranky guy. I liked his first book, but his subsequent books devolved into a set of really idiosyncratic lectures on How Charts Must Be Drawn. I liked his advice on a broad level, but his obsession with "chart junk" eventually got to the point where there was virtually no chart left. I'd take him with a grain of salt.

Kevin Drum 5:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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