Is PowerPoint the Enemy of Productivity?

Last Updated May 2, 2010 11:40 PM EDT

PowerPoint slide decks are a central tool of the business world, but they simultaneously manage to over-simplify and obfuscate critical issues. That's the allegation of senior leader in the US military, who believe the Armed Services have grown over-dependent on bullet point slide decks and are often paralyzed by them.

The New York Times recently reported on the military's obsession with PowerPoint and how some, like General Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, think that PowerPoint now does more harm than good.

He's not alone. The Marine Corp's General James N. Mattis says "PowerPoint makes us stupid." And Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster says this about PowerPoint: "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."

It's easy to see why senior leaders are concerned about PowerPoint. Not only does PowerPoint's bullet-laden approach oversimplify issues that are inherently complex and interrelated, but it's also easy to obfuscate important truths in dense spaghetti swirls diagrams, like the one at the top of this post. About that very slide, General McChrystal declared: "When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war."

I resisted the urge to provide a list of pithy bullets in this story, like "The four worst things about PowerPoint," lest I set off the irony alarm (but don't be surprised if I post something like that tomorrow).

Nonetheless, there are clear dangers posed by an over-reliance on PowerPoint as a communications medium. How does your own company fare?