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Stick a Fork in It — Medium

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Now, don't get me wrong. PowerPoint isn't the problem, it’s a symptom of the problem. PowerPoint is just a tool. You don’t blame the pen when you're a lousy writer, after all. Let’s set the tool aside and focus in on the tool behind the tool. Because that’s where the real problem exists.

Last year, I addressed this issue in a post for Tom Ricks in his Best Defense blog:

We suffer from a communication problem. Stringing together a coherent, one-page information paper is a challenge for many people; forget about a more in-depth “thinking” piece.

What we have here is a failure to communicate. But we have no one to blame but ourselves:

We often bemoan the loss of the Army’s Combined Arms and Staff Services School (CAS3), where young officers spent weeks refining their writing, speaking, and presenting skills. The feedback was honest, direct, and often brutal, but the end result was a marked improvement in communication skills. When the Army scuttled CAS3 in 2004, we surrendered the one course that sharpened the fundamentals we so desperately need today.

Thirty days. Back to basics.

The TRADOC commander, General David Perkins, once said that the problem wasn't PowerPoint, it was that “People start making slides before they know what problem it is they're trying to solve. Pretty soon, they've got a bunch of really great slides but they're no closer to solving the problem than they were when they started. But they've got some great slides.”

Start with writing. Before a single slide is created, require the “big ideas” to be written out in an one-page information paper. And until those ideas can be condensed into a single page, not one slide is created. There’s a scenefrom the film A River Runs Through It that captures this thought perfectly, as Tom Skerritt educates his son, Norman MacLean, in the fine art of writing succinctly. “Write it again, half as long.” That clip is 90 seconds well-spent with any group of leaders. “Again. Half as long.”

Thirty days. Back to basics.

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What we have here is failure to communicate. 

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