Spend a significant part of your life in Corporate America and you’ll feel like you’ve had an all-expense paid trip to Bedlam (the British psychiatric hospital once know for brutal treatment of the mentally ill). Hour upon hour in large companies are wasted in meetings, listening to pointless presentations to demonstrate that some executive is committing attempted leadership.
Want to accomplish a business goal? Get ready to sit and listen to a room full of people rehash pointless information that really doesn’t get much done. A friend posted this quote on her Facebook page from comedian Fred Allen: “A committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing but together can decide that nothing can be done.” One – nothing could be more true. Two – you younger readers need to look up Allen on YouTube. Acerbic, but very funny.
Before I was asked to leave my previous position at a Fortune 500 company, I got the meeting experience on a too-regular basis. Small meetings, department meetings, group meetings, cross-departmental meetings, one-on-one meetings. Sound. Fury. Signifying nothing. One of the things that had become particularly popular with big-wigs was having a PowerPoint demonstration to have a visual counterpoint to everything that came out of your mouth. And of course, instead of just calling it a PowerPoint presentation, they had seized on the business jargon of the day and would only refer to a presentation as a “deck,” as in deck of cards, representing the different slides of the PowerPoint. After all, why be clear and straightforward when you can be obtuse?
A quick way to bore people to the point of narcolepsy is to make them sit through a meeting dealing with something that could be handled much more simply with a face-to-face assignment to complete a particular task. Of course, that means the executive in question would actually be forced to lower themselves to talking to a peon-level employee, taking the chance of having to answer questions and perhaps even have to try and make sense of their decisions. So much better for the ego in question to talk at a group of employees, particularly while showing them slides that basically repeat every line of what they’re saying.
There’s a piece in the New York Times on Thursday that brought this all to mind. Seems that the kudzu that is PowerPoint has spread from overuse in the business world to the U.S. military. One platoon leader is quoted in the piece as saying he spent most of his time creating PowerPoint presentations. A Marine general says “PowerPoint makes us stupid.” Finally, some real military intelligence!
If any of the executives at my former job read this, I may be ending any chance (however slim) I had of being re-employed there. Fortunately, going back is not high on my list of things to do. I am convinced that while the Microsoft people have a handy business tool that helps people showcase ideas, it has become a crutch for weak-minded and unimaginative managers to obfuscate a process to a point where their bosses don’t have a clue as to what’s really going on (connections to Wall Street anyone?).