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Is PowerPoint Oversimplifying Our Military Strategy?

We like to believe that the U.S. military knows a thing or two more than the rest of us. Your devoted Switched team, for example, would be hard pressed to dismantle an IED, no matter how many times we've seen 'The Hurt Locker.' But it turns out that the men and women in uniform are entangled in the simplifying software magic known as PowerPoint, no different from the soporific strategy meetings taking place on projection screens in conference rooms across the nation. Some military honchos, however, are of the opinion that Microsoft's slide-show staple may be doing more harm than good.

The military has always relied on a hierarchical understanding of the world; rank, priority and power are the watchwords of this rigidly organized system in which one must know one's place to do anything at all. The bullet-point-prone software is perfect for establishing order out of chaos, which is why everyone from General Petraeus to President Obama gets a regular dose of PowerPoint to break down any given situation. But, in the same way that the H1N1-like spread of infographics across the Internet has triggered a backlash against visualized information, some high-ranking officials have had enough already with the slides.

Of course, memos and briefings existed well before the advent of PowerPoint, or even the personal computer. But the underlying issue is not necessarily the software itself, but the culture in which extraordinarily complex issues are condensed to key phrases and action items. PowerPoint is "dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control," General H.R. McMaster, who banned the software after his brigade took hold of the Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, told the New York Times. "Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable." And McMaster is not alone in his sentiment.

Some junior officers may spend entire days putting together these presentations, but to what end? The Army, like any other large action-making body, needs clerical staff. But maybe some of that on-the-clock time could be better spent. As the jargon of corporate America seeps further into military culture, vague phrases like "conduct a key leader engagement" and "accelerate the introduction of new weapons" give the illusion of understanding the situation -- all while divorcing strategy further and further from reality. General Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was shown this labyrinthine diagram in a PowerPoint presentation last summer, and subsequently quipped, "When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war." We're not laughing. [From: NYTimes]

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