Speaking truth to PowerPoint
- By John S. Monroe
- Sep 10, 2010
[Note to staff: Below please find the text for a PowerPoint presentation updating readers on the buzz about Army Reserve Col. Lawrence Sellin, a staffer at the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command (IJC) in Afghanistan who was sent packing after writing a column that criticized command leaders for, among other things, their over-reliance on (ahem) PowerPoint.]
[Heading:] A PowerPoint Opponent Makes Headlines
“Colonel Kicked out of Afghanistan for Anti-PowerPoint Rant”
“Consider it a new version of death by PowerPoint. The NATO command in Afghanistan has fired a staff officer who publicly criticized its interminable briefings, its over-reliance on Microsoft’s slide-show program, and what he considered its crushing bureaucracy.”
— Spencer Ackerman, Wired.com’s Danger Room
“Colonel Who Slammed Afghan HQ PowerPoint Is Fired”
“We'd guess that Colonel Sellin may become something of a hero among frontline troops in Afghanistan, no matter what the unidentified two-star IJC general thinks of him.”
— Lewis Page, The Register (United Kingdom)
“How to Get Kicked out of Afghanistan Without Really Trying — Too Hard”
“I’m no fan of PowerPoint, which I think undermines clear thinking. But in this case, I think the colonel’s gripe really was with mindless military bureaucracy.”
— Thomas E. Ricks, Foreign Policy
[Heading:] What Sellin Actually Wrote*
“IJC has successfully grown into a stove-piped and bloated organization, top-heavy in rank. Around here you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a colonel.”
“For headquarters staff, war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information.”
“Each day is guided by the ‘battle rhythm,’ which is a series of PowerPoint briefings and meetings with PowerPoint presentations. It doesn't matter how inane or useless the briefing or meeting might be. Once it is part of the battle rhythm, it has the persistence of Carbon-14.”
* Source: UPI’s Outside View column (Aug. 24, courtesy of Breitbart)
[Heading:] Mixed Reaction to Sellin from FCW.com Readers*
Did Sellin Speak for the Masses?...
“Col. Sellin hit the nail on the head and stated what many, many others are only willing to say behind closed doors.”
— Paul, Washington, D.C.
“My personal opinion is that everything started going downhill when charts began taking the place of reports. The charts became too detailed for a good briefing and were still not nearly detailed enough to substitute for a quality formal report.”
“People have built their entire careers on their ability to make the best-looking brief to stand above their peers. An eager captain will get the attention of the general with pretty slides; it is sad.”
— Gino, Crystal City
* Source of comments: "War consists largely of endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides" (Aug. 30, FCW.com)
…Or Speak out of School?
“With the likes of Gen. James Mattis having said the same, I'd say Sellin is in good company. So I doubt he was fired for stating the obvious. Rather he was sent packing for public contempt of his own leadership.”
“He did not get fired for criticizing the use of PowerPoint. Read the original article. He starts off by saying he has not done anything productive. He then starts digging into how moronic his bosses are. Of course, he is going to get fired.”
— Phillip, Iraq
[Heading:] A Chorus of Critics
Numerous top brass have come out against PowerPoint, according to an April 26 article by Elisabeth Bumiller at the New York Times.
“When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.”
— Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, describing a slide purporting to explain the U.S. mission in that country.
“PowerPoint makes us stupid.”
— Marine Gen. James Mattis, Joint Forces commander
“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.”
— Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster
[Heading:] Final Thoughts: PowerPoint in Perspective
Even Sellin sees a purpose for PowerPoint.
Before writing the article for UPI, he put together a briefing on ideas for streamlining the organization of IJC but to no avail. His chosen methodology for the briefing? A five-slide PowerPoint presentation. (Source: Danger Room)
[Note to staff: Too many words for .ppt slides? Please edit accordingly and perhaps add graphics and special effects tailored for readers with short attention spans.]
John S. Monroe is the editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week.