The Power(Point) of magical thinking

“I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking. People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”

~ Steve Jobs

After reading “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson, I learned the founder of Apple who died in 2011 was a foul-mouthed narcissist who routinely dressed down employees, vendors and clients by calling them “shitheads” and much worse in corporate meetings.

I used to admire the man and his innovative thinking. Now, I just admire his innovation and appreciate his aesthetics.

Still, I love the philosophy on PowerPoint from the man who coined “Think Different.”

Slide presentations can be effective and powerful in a lecture setting where a single speaker is talking authoritatively to a large group. The best slide presentations rely heavily on images and short headlines designed to underscore the point being made by the speaker. Even Jobs used PowerPoint in his Apple product launches.

But in a business setting, PowerPoint is often gee-wizardry designed to overpower weak thinkers or mask weak thinking.

It’s not surprising, given Jobs’s contempt for ineptitude, that he would refuse to listen to PowerPoint presentations in his boardroom because he apparently much preferred to get into people’s faces and intimidate them into his way of thinking (different). But even without the rudeness, he had a point.

I can’t tell you how many bad PowerPoint presentations I sat through during my years as a corporate drone. I was mute witness to thousands of slides filled with statistics, complicated diagrams and words, words, words, often created by an MBA who was trying to prove her superior intelligence. Sometimes I even helped create such works of dazzling BS in my role to make a weak-thinking boss look good in front of a board of directors.

Not my best work.

Just for fun (because I’m arrogant and rude like a supercilious CEO sometimes, too), I dug up an example from my past (slightly modified to protect the guilty) of a “shitty” slide (in Steve Jobs’s parlance) that was used as more of a crutch for the speaker than to underscore a point for the audience:

shitty slideLots of pretty colors, huh? It’s like an explosion of baffling brilliance. You know you’re in trouble with your deck when you have to say, “You can’t read this one, but … .” For the eagle-eyed, I especially love this particular slide because it mentions “Oprah” as part of the strategy on the same level as “Bus. Cards” (because there wasn’t enough room for “Business Cards”). Thank goodness Oprah has a short name. And she’s so accessible.

Jobs was profane when he encountered such incompetence, and I wish I would have read that he learned a little more compassion before he died of cancer. In my case, I’m just grateful I’m no longer sitting in a boardroom full of shitheads patting each other on the back for crappy PowerPoint presentations.

Tomorrow: My book review of Walter Isaacson’s biography

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3 responses to “The Power(Point) of magical thinking

  1. You make me laugh, even as I share your remembered pain – brilliant post!

  2. Now imagine you work for a company in which people are stunningly incompetent with all the MS Office Suite.

    How is it you show your slides (or Word doc or Excel doc) with all those jagged underlines that mean “hey, idiot, you misspelled this word!” Do you not care? Do you not know? Have you never wondered what those angry jagged red underlines even mean?

  3. Pingback: Book reveals complex nature of Steve Jobs’ success | Minnesota Transplant

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