Wall Street Journal Blames PowerPoint For GM's Woes, Must Be High

Oh, Wall Street Journal. You cross-hatched-portrait-loving kook. One of your writers, Joseph White, just wrote something about how GM's troubles could be solved if they did one thing: banned PowerPoint. I have one comment about that idea:


PowerPoint is the problem with GM? Look, GM has plenty of issues, ranging from bad cost-cutting decisions to what must be some issues in quality control to overall management issues, and they're all pretty complex. What I am pretty sure about is that the use of PowerPoint is not the key factor here. In fact, I'm not even sure if the writer of the article believes it, either, since this is the paragraph immediately following the words "ban PowerPoint":

References to PowerPoint and "slide decks" show up throughout former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas's brutal, 315-page dissection of how GM executives failed to act on evidence of deadly defects in its cars. There's a good reason. Lengthy slide presentations have been a substitute for meaningful communication at GM since before Microsoft's ubiquitous PowerPoint software was invented.

The emphasis there is mine, and I'll want it back when we're through, but I think you see what I mean here. So, banning PowerPoint is the solution to the problem that was firmly in place before there even was PowerPoint? Is there a time machine involved here?

The basic point of the piece seems to be that there was a lot of data being presented in PowerPoint slide format, and that information was being ignored, or missed, or just lost. I'm sure that's true, but I'm not so sure the medium used — PPT decks — is the culprit here.


The writer gives this example from the Big Report:

In 2012, a GM engineer uses a bullet point in a PowerPoint slide in an effort to explain a theory about why data from the "black boxes" on cars that crashed without triggering the airbags showed that the ignition switch was on. "Neither the plain text of this bullet point nor its implications are crystal clear," the report notes.


That's not an example of bad communication due to the use of PowerPoint slides. That's an example of bad communication due to the use of written language. Look at the quote:

"Neither the plain text of this bullet point nor its implications are crystal clear,"


The problem isn't that it's a bullet point in a slide, the problem is that, apparently, the actual text of the statement wasn't clear. So is banning the written word going to solve GM's corporate culture problem? Should meetings use charades to convey ideas? Maybe. Especially if there's booze and snacks.

The article concludes nice and melodramatically with this:

What if someone had simply stood up, without a visual prop, and said: "People are dying."


You know, a visual prop probably would have made that statement even more powerful, really. Look, the idea that PowerPoint slides were the reason that nobody took a bold stand on the side of safety or that engineers didn't have the data they needed or that executives weren't aware of the scale of the problem because they didn't recall a particular slide is just bullshit.

It's a gross oversimplification of what's going on, and it distracts from actually trying to figure out how to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen again. I'm pretty sure the sort of fucking up that went on at GM could have happened if they'd used typewritten reports or cuneiform on clay tablets, or interpretive mimes to communicate.


PowerPoint. Come on.

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