John Klossner's Ink Tank

PowerPoint: Your guide to loving it, hating it or leaving it


Klossner kitten



* It beats working

* You can pick up subtleties in the 254th PowerPoint presentation that you may have overlooked in the 253rd

* You like the cartoons

[Note: Include directions to article on PP addiction]


* It puts you to sleep

* The snoring of those around you prevents you from sleeping

* You have seen so many PowerPoint presentations that you are unable to read to your children unless "The Cat in the Hat" is bulleted



* … Openly (e.g., include announcement of next week's PowerPoint presentation on searching for new job)

* … In your internationally published column [NOTE: See if this person will do a PowerPoint seminar for us on "how to write a resignation letter and get paid for it"]

* … Secretively (e.g., include announcement of tomorrow's PowerPoint presentation on how to blog anonymously)

* … On your Facebook page -- and when confronted, claim that "that no-good Zuckerberg has no respect for privacy"


You'll have more time to ...

* ... Spend with your family

* ... Work in the garden

* ... Travel


… Just stick around for the cartoons

[NOTE: Insert cartoon here]

Klossner PowerPoint

[NOTE: Do we have to pay for the cartoon? If so, use photo of kitten (NOTE: Make sure to use public domain kitten image)]


* Possibility of advancement when those above you are let go for complaining

* Possibility of a military medal for lower body numbness caused by sitting through a three-hour PowerPoint [NOTE: Look into this]


* Give out bonuses for anyone spotting inconsistencies in the type faces or color coding (e.g., include announcement of next month's PowerPoint presentation, “Is the Army more Helvetica or Times New Roman?")

* Have a "pick the cutest kitten" contest

[NOTE: Change this to "pick the cutest public domain kitten image" contest]


* Show Rorschach image for audience responses

* Make sure image is actual Rorschach image and not the coffee stain we accidently used in last PowerPoint

* In case of screw-up, ask audience if they can spot the difference between Rorschach blot and coffee stain

* For bonus points, have audience color code the Rorschach blot for the appropriate military branch

* Additional bonus points for any audience member who thinks Rorschach blot looks like public domain kitten image

* See if audience members think the "bowl of spaghetti" slide looks more like an omelet


Respect your audience: End presentation early, to allow them to make it to the next scheduled PowerPoint

Posted by John Klossner on Nov 10, 2010 at 12:19 PM1 comments

Federal vs. corporate pay scales: A cartoonist tries to sort it all out

Principles of economics

The heading to my blog posts on says "FCW cartoonist John Klossner." I am not sure whether this is to warn the reader not to take the following too seriously or that the linked piece will be entertaining, but I get the feeling that I can't win either way.

It was with this in mind that I approached the topic of federal employee salaries. There has been a tempest recently over whether federal employees -- especially in light of current economic issues -- are being paid more than corporate workers. People have argued about the validity of the various studies, about whether you can compare a federal middle manager to their counterpart in the private sector, and about whether federal employees are generally a better educated community than the private sector at large. I thought that this was the opportunity to rise above my cartoonist's ghetto and offer some real substance.

I threw myself into the research. I read numerous salary surveys. I annoyed various editors looking for comparable figures. I looked at charts. I made charts. I annoyed my federal employee wife with numerous questions about fed pay scales. I went through two pages of Google listings on federal salaries. This led me to a major discovery.

I am a cartoonist, not an economist.

Early on in my search for numbers that would allow me to compare a Pentagon receptionist's salary in 2000 with a midwestern Fortune 500 IT project manager's pay in 2009, I had a conversation with an editor who put it succinctly - "You can't compare apples with oranges." This person was trying to save me time. A lot of time, as it turned out. Hah, I thought. Surely I can compare apples and oranges, and maybe throw in some pears while I'm at it.

It turns out that a cartoonist trying to be an economist is as American as orange pie. For those of you looking here for the in-depth number crunching that will clarify the question of "do federal employees make too much?" I apologize.

But in the midst of all my research, I encountered the following anonymous comment:

"I am not believing what I am hearing here. I am a contractor with a MAJOR international corporation who permanently reduced the salaries of all of us by 5% while laying off thousands. The federals on the other hand were complaining that their pay RAISE was reduced to only 2%. These are people who can bank leave and earn time off for practically everything they do. I am salaried exempt. I get nothing more no matter how much I work and I do not know a single private sector company that allows you to save up leave.... I am currently working with federals who earn salary commensurate with what I make.... You tell me if these people do not enjoy high pay and great benefits that are not available in the private sector. Where else can you be guarranteed a job for life by just showing up every day. I have not had a pay raise in four years, my salary was cut 5% and my health benefits cost me more than they did last year for worse coverage than I had before. If the economy ever recovers I will probably look for another job somewhere else....maybe somewhere that has some sort of retirement plan. I don't have one, but the federal employees do!" (Let’s just say [sic] for the entire comment.)

(As an aside, I want to propose that all "add comments" boxes have an opt-out "sic" button.)

This comment brought a couple thoughts to mind. For one, if the feds have it so good, why didn't this writer apply for a federal position when he or she was entering the job market? When the economy was booming, federal jobs were looked down upon: They didn't pay as well as the private sector, federal employees didn't have access to the latest technologies, and what self-respecting motivated capitalist would want to work in those bureaucratic morasses?

Two, I come from the school that says that one can make numbers support whatever argument they make and, in that light, I'm sure some federal positions pay too much and some not enough. I look forward to a time -- when the economy comes back to life and the natural order is restored and the commenter can once again look down his or her nose at federal employees -- when this person's follow-up post states how unfair it is that private sector personnel are compensated at a higher rate than comparable federal employees.

There is a cute game being played here: Members of the private sector are complaining about the compensation feds make when, in the past, these same people had no respect for these same federal positions. Being a cartoonist, I feel qualified to resort to analogies here. The ant and the grasshopper come to mind. Or the fox and the grapes. The tortoise and the hare.

Or the economist and the cartoonist.

John Klossner

Posted by John Klossner on Oct 28, 2010 at 12:19 PM57 comments

Note to feds: Go forth and fail!

Monty PythonThomas Edison said a lot of things about failure. "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work," Edison said. "Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless," he also said. "Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure," is another Edison quote. And, "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." Thomas Edison had pages and pages of quotes about failure. In fact, he may have said "I've made 10,000 quotes about failure that didn't make sense" but, unfortunately, that was one of them.

There has been much discussion about the "culture of fear" in the federal workplace, that fear being failure. This fear prevents personnel from trying new methods, as any failure results in consequences. This creates a mixed message: In a world where technologies and strategies change every 13 seconds, we are looking for new ways to communicate, new ways to work and new ways to do the job, but we are told not to screw it up. Heck, I make mistakes opening new jars of peanut butter (How do you get that paper off in one piece?).

How can someone find any fresh approaches to contracting without a couple errors?

I recently enjoyed one of those afternoons that I rarely -- okay, never -- have time for any more. I was able to find an open Saturday to join my good cartoonist friend Mike with a pizza, some beverages, and the "Monty Python, Almost the Truth (The Lawyers Cut)" DVD collection -- more than six hours covering the beginnings and careers of the iconic British comedy troupe. It included visits to the material that influenced the members, interviews where the players talked about their relationships and, of course, the famous sketches. It is full of little-known tidbits for even those of us who consider ourselves knowledgeable in many things Python. (For example, I had always written Terry Gilliam off as an outsider, the weird American who did the animation. But I learned from this series how integral he was to the group's concepts and often held them together during internal squabbles.)

One particular nugget that has stayed with me is from one of the interviews where a Python member (I forget which one)  recounts how in their first season on BBC television in 1969, they felt that no one was watching them -- neither viewers nor station management. But instead of causing them to worry that their show was failing, this gave them a sense of freedom to create the material they wanted without fear of trying to please anyone other than themselves. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

The sense of freedom the Python members felt when they thought no one was paying attention allowed them to be more creative, and we now have the "Fish-Slapping Dance." Does this mean they could have put any content they liked on the air? Of course not! They were motivated to include the best possible material on the show, especially since if it went off the air they would soon be searching for other TV writing jobs.

But what if BBC management, in light of their ratings, had insisted on them writing what was then considered traditional sketches?

Am I recommending that all managers ignore their employees and pretend they don't exist in order to give them space to be creative? Yes. (Note to all my federally employed friends: I tried.) If only it were that easy. My point is, if you are looking for something new, innovative, creative or original, you have to step back and trust the people you've brought in to do the job. You also need to accept a certain amount of failure.

As with Edison's experiments, for every innovation, for each "success," there are many more attempts and -- again -- failures. Where does the federal workplace find space for these mistakes? And, equally important, if innovation occurs in the form of a mistake, will anyone recognize it?

Of course there needs to be oversight and control over the myriad work processes that occur in anything as layered as the federal government. But there’s a fine line between being on top of a project and stifling workers' skills. If you know what the results will be before you start the project, then you will not be open to discoveries along the way. And then you will not allow failure. And you will always get the same results. Forever. And you will become a dinosaur. And this will allow you time to go catch up on all those old Monty Python sketches and Thomas Edison quotes.

failure cartoon

Posted by John Klossner on Oct 07, 2010 at 12:19 PM7 comments