PowerPoint inventors on the suckiness of PowerPoint

I am strangely fascinated by the philosophical debates about PowerPoint. Edward Tufte, who’s a hero of ours, is virulently opposed to PowerPoint. I’m someone who uses it constantly, so it would be a bit hypocritical for me to rant against it. True, I think it enables a lot of our worst tendencies (being verbose, summarizing rather than unpacking, using bulletized abstractions rather than concrete examples, thinking in terms of a collection of points rather than a storyline, “telling” rather than teasing, etc. … as a matter of fact, this parenthetical comment is itself rather PowerPointian). But I also have to say that the existence of Krispy Kreme enables a lot of my worst tendencies, too, and I don’t have an unkind word to say about them. It’s certainly *possible* to create a kick-ass PowerPoint, and it’s certainly *possible* not to eat a half-dozen doughnuts when you walk in KK. So.

In the WSJ, Lee Gomes has interviewed the inventors of PowerPoint to get their take on the anti-PPT criticisms. The surprise: They basically agree. Here’s an excerpt:

Mr. Gaskins and Mr. Austin, now 63 and 60, respectively, reflected on PowerPoint’s creation and its current omnipresence in an interview last week. They are intensely proud of their technical and strategic successes. But to a striking degree, they aren’t the least bit defensive about the criticisms routinely heard of PowerPoint. In fact, the best single source of PowerPoint commentary, both pro and con, (including a rich vein of Dilbert cartoons) can be found at, his personal home page.

Perhaps the most scathing criticism comes from the Yale graphics guru Edward Tufte, who says the software “elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.” He even suggested PowerPoint played a role in the Columbia shuttle disaster, as some vital technical news was buried in an otherwise upbeat slide.

No quarrel from Mr. Gaskins: “All the things Tufte says are absolutely true. People often make very bad use of PowerPoint.”

Mr. Gaskins reminds his questioner that a PowerPoint presentation was never supposed to be the entire proposal, just a quick summary of something longer and better thought out. He cites as an example his original business plan for the program: 53 densely argued pages long. The dozen or so slides that accompanied it were but the highlights.

Since then, he complains, “a lot of people in business have given up writing the documents. They just write the presentations, which are summaries without the detail, without the backup. A lot of people don’t like the intellectual rigor of actually doing the work.”

Analogies at Clif Bar

Check out Gavin Baker’s post discussing an interview with Gary Erickson, the founder/owner of Clif Bar. One quote from Erickson: “For me, stories are useful for a couple of reasons. First is, I’m not very technical when it comes to business. I can talk a bit of techno-language and theory, but it’s boring. Second, people relate to and remember stories. Their eyes roll back in their heads when you start talking theory, but stories are engaging. People are inspired by stories and parables.” And thanks to Gavin for linking the interview with our book!

Insights & summaries

There are two bloggers who have done multi-post series on Made to Stick recently — they are nice introductions to the book and its concepts for people who haven’t read it. I am learning a lot from the insights that they are bringing to the book.

First, there’s Cam Beck at ChaosScenario. Here are the MTS-related posts: Boil it down to just one thing. Get their attention and keep it. Hit your audience with a ton of bricks. Earning the trust of strangers. [Stay tuned to Cam’s blog for posts on Emotion and Stories.]

Then, there’s Katya Andresen from Network for Good, whose blog is a must-read for non-profit marketers. She shows how the principles in MTS can be applied to social enterprise marketing, which is something that Chip and I are passionate about. Here are the posts: Finding your core aka sweet spot. Go for the unexpected. Hang your message on hooks. Emotion and calculation.

Writing a more concrete online dating profile

In our Fast Company column this month, called “Polarize Me,” [which isn’t avail online to non-subscribers but is referenced by Brady Whalen here] Chip and I poke fun at people whose online dating profiles are terminally abstract and bland. Go ahead, do a quick search — you’ll see an infinite number of headlines like these: “Hey there!” “I’m unique!” “Looking for the right person.” That kind of thing. So in the column, we urge people in the dating world (and by extension, advertisers in the business world) to take a stand and say something wonderfully concrete, like this headline we found on Match: “Athletic math nerd looking for someone to hum Seinfeld intro music with.”

Well, it turns out that there are people who actually make a living giving advice like this! Check out this Time magazine piece called “It’s a Brand-You World,” which discusses consultants who help people spruce up their self-descriptions for job- and mate-hunting purposes. From the piece:

Fran Hartman, a bubbly New Hampshire widow, had posted a Yahoo! Personals ad touting her fondness for seafood and back rubs, and herself as “a young looking 66 year old grandmother. I still work as a courier for a lab company. I love to feel wanted and needed.” But when she didn’t meet a suitable man, Hartman, now 67, paid New York City–based PersonalsTrainer $159.95 to polish her narrative. Her new entry begins “Whether listening to Merle Haggard while driving in my courier vehicle or settling in for some fried clams and a good conversation at Bob’s Clam Hut, you will always find me with a smile on my face and a ready-hug for new friends and old.” The new story generated more responses from prospective mates and “made me feel like I walked on water,” Hartman says. “And it was very much me.”

Chip and I are in the wrong line of work. This sounds fun.

The elephant story

If you’ve read our book, the high-concept pitch for this story is: A Connection Plot meets Unexpectedness… (If you haven’t, ignore that line and just read this cool elephant story.)

From an email that’s making the rounds. (If you wrote this story, please contact us.)

I swore I would never pass along something like this, but this did touch my heart:

In 1986, Mkele Mbembe was on holiday in Kenya after graduating from Northwestern University. On a hike through the bush, he came across a young bull elephant standing with one leg raised in the air. The elephant seemed distressed, so Mbembe approached it very carefully. He got down on one knee and inspected the elephant’s foot, and found a large piece of wood deeply embedded in it. As carefully and as gently as he could, Mbembe worked the wood out with his hunting knife, after which the elephant gingerly put down its foot. The elephant turned to face the man, and with a rather curious look on its face, stared at him for several tense moments. Mbembe stood frozen, thinking of nothing else but being trampled. Eventually the elephant trumpeted loudly, turned, and walked away.

Mbembe never forgot that elephant or the events of that day.

Twenty years later, Mbembe was walking through the Chicago Zoo with his teen aged son. As they approached the elephant enclosure, one of the creatures turned and walked over to near where Mbembe and his son Tapu were standing. The large bull elephant stared at Mbembe, lifted its front foot off the ground, then put it down. The elephant did that several times then trumpeted loudly, all the while staring at the man. Remembering the encounter in 1986, Mbembe couldn’t help wondering if this was the same elephant.

Mbembe summoned up his courage, climbed over the railing and made his way into the enclosure. He walked right up to the elephant and stared back in wonder.The elephant trumpeted again, wrapped its trunk around one of Mbembe’s legs and slammed him against the railing, killing him instantly.

Probably wasn’t the same elephant.