Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Editor’s note: Firstly, at Zyncro, we would like to welcome our new blog contributor, Manel Alcalde, creative writer, audiovisual producer and, as he says himself, a wannabe digital communicator. In his personal blog, Nionnioff, he writes about creativity, communication and narrative. He himself says that he’s delighted to zyncronize with our readers and we’re sure you’ll enjoy many of his articles. Thanks, Manel, and welcome to Zyncro Blog
I had never thought about it: PowerPoint arose as the first digital tool for collaborative work in companies. I read it in the book by Franck Frommer, “How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid: The Faulty Causality, Sloppy Logic, Decontextualized Data and Seductive Showmanship that Have Taken Over Our Thinking”, which beyond criticizing the communicative style created by one of the most used IT programs in the world, I believe questions a certain work and cooperation model in the corporate world. Frommer’s vision perhaps may seem a little exaggerated to more than a few, or even antiquated (PowerPoint is clearly a 1.0 product), but I think reading this book can remind us of some of the aspects of business collaboration dynamics that new technology solutions and the 2.0 culture can and should help us to improve.
What can we do to end the “PowerPoint thinking”?
1. Promote continuous exchange of information and productive discussions
According to Franck Frommer, the Power Point age was the era of meeting-shows, in which communication between employees was given essentially done against a sales-style presentation backdrop, in which it demanded getting to the point, highlighting key concepts (those “bullet lists”), and encouraging action without losing too much time in discussion. “The idea of collective work, with thinking based on debate and the exchange of views, became difficult, because it was less efficient, not fast enough therefore not profitable, and in the end, old-fashioned. PowerPoint definitively transformed the work meeting into a spectacle”. In the age of enterprise social networks, where interaction between employees is virtualized and made easier and where exchange and discussion no longer have to take place within the framework of the “meeting”, it seems that this black spot has been overcome. The fact that collaboration is a process integrated in daily life and not an “event” seems to allow us to work with more detailed information and less simplified points, while encouraging a rich, authentic discussion in a more flexible environment.
2. Encourage honest and healthy collaboration
Frommer talks about a paradox, collaboration based on narcissism and control. The communicative proactivity that arrived in the business world with the rise in the multidisciplinary approach and the birth of PowerPoint was adopted by employees, according to the author, in a sort of exhibitionism, designed to achieve that their activity was visible and valued. In “presentation” companies, PowerPoint worked as a test and justification of the work done. Each employee became both controlled and the controller of others in the de-hierarchized company. Or as Frommer says, for “an autonomous and creative ‘collaborator’ who likes to work in a team and knows how to communicate, but is constantly subject to the gaze and the judgment of others in the context of meetings and presentations that operate as so many trial scenes and sites for evaluation”. What is “collaboration” based on in an organization 2.0? Is it a philosophy that seeks to achieve common goals or is it essentially an instrument used for business control and personal promotion?
I think that, without a doubt, collaborative work in our era should be based on honest participation in a corporate project, and not just on a culture of “monitoring” or the narcissistic exposition of talents and individual achievements.
3. Find more quality in content and form
In creative worker companies, says Frommer, the need to generate contents continuously encourages the copy-paste culture and provokes a dynamic where “generating noise” is more commonplace than producing useful content. This question, inherited from the “PowerPoint age”, not only concerns enterprise networks nowadays, but social networks in general. What volume of valuable contribution and of noise is there in our activity 2.0? I believe it’s a good question to ask ourselves, as collaboration needs to be focused on the common goal and stimulate the contribution of value above and beyond the frequency, priming quality above quantity. On the other hand, if the birth of PowerPoint involves an increase in the linguistic dimension of work, in the Web 2.0 world, this has doubled. As employees, we all become content generators, through multiple platforms and formats, but…what happens to our communicative abilities? PowerPoint, according to Frommer, transforms language into “an institutional, bureaucratic and administrative idiom in which ready-made formulas and all-purpose expressions flourish”, and in a form of “infantile communication”. We may disagree with this point of view, but perhaps we should ask ourselves how we should look at the issue of communicative abilities in the employee in an age of maximum expressive democracy. In a business world that starts to encourage its employees to participate by co-creating contents that the company shares through the web, I think a certain pedagogic gap needs to be overcome on the issue of redaction inherited from the “PowerPoint age”.
4. Abandon “the infinitive”
“PowerPoint implies an idea of exchange and debate, interactivity, whereas all its language, fragmented and elliptical, encourages only slogans, commands, and authority. The software is also supposed to enable the individual to express creativity and affirm autonomy, but this goal is hindered by an extremely formalized framework in which the effacement of the speaker is manifest and the neutrality of the statements transforms personal expression into all-purpose language that has always already been legitimated”. In other words, although PowerPoint started in the middle 80s to serve the new ideology regarding creativity in the company, for Frommer, it is a unidirectional and poor framework and way of communicating and organizing thinking. It is not an authentic tool for exchange and collective creation, rather an instrument for the transmission of knowledge, in which knowledge is simply presented and staged in an almost propagandistic way, without giving option to participate. One of the typical traits of the program, according to the author, is it “imposes under the appearance of freeing”. In this sense, Frommer’s arguments remind me of those of Jaron Lanier in his book “You Are Not A Gadget”, in which he talks about social networks as tools that claim to stimulate but in reality limit the creativity of the individual by imposing closed environments with pre-established rules. Obviously, Lanier’s argument can be used to question the point to which enterprise social networks give the employee creative freedom, but in any case, it seems to me that “the infinitive” of PowerPoint thinking is more than overcome in the Web 2.0 world that, as we said before, it ends the dynamic of the “presentation” and becomes definitively something collaborative in a process and a space for participation.
In short, I believe what is important is not finding the flaws in the software (whether it’s PowerPoint or “X” social network), rather to continue questioning the issues in depth. If we promote a “real” collaborative culture, in which apart from implementing “environments” the habit of discussion, exchange and co-creation are encouraged and employees are trained to improve their communicative skills, we can work beyond the limitations that the tools, imperfect, are always going to impose on us.
Related article on ZyncroBlog: The Challenges of Collaborative Environments