Dreaming in PowerPoint

I’m in a mixed marriage.  I think in PowerPoint.  My wife thinks in Word, or sometimes in longhand-on-lined-pad.  Our children reflect this genetic mix.  Our daughter is bilingual in Word and Excel, and fluent in PowerPoint.  Our son’s native language is pencil-stub-and-spiral-notebook, though he’s now fluent in Word.four box

This is more than just about techno-geeks and Luddites.  It’s about a way of seeing the world.  Forget Myers-Briggs.  If you want to understand how people really think and work differently, look at their tools of choice.

Because for me, PowerPoint isn’t just a handy tool.  Sure, it’s a great way to avoid writing complete sentences, to waste time adjusting the meaningless details of a circle’s color and transparency, and to let my OCD run wild over aligning shapes.  But it’s much more important than that.  PowerPoint expresses – and indulges – my need to find patterns.  It’s how I make sense out of the nonsense. It’s not just how I do work.  I practically dream in PowerPoint, waking up seeing the boxes and arrows and connectors.

There’s a lot of power in that.  A lot of my professional work is based on seeing the patterns, helping people:

  • Step away from the details and see the bigger picture
  • Compare their experience to that of others in different but analogous roles or situations.
  • Understand, articulate and improve their models, whether of strategy or organization.

There are a lot of blinders in that too.  Models are inherently false.  They work because we strip out all the messy details to create the models.  Among those messy details are many of the individuals and their characteristics.  That means models are great tools to use, but lousy icons to worship.

You could almost draw a triangle, with each apex being people who primarily think in PowerPoint, Word or Excel.  Then you could do really neat stuff mapping people or roles on that — oh, wait, there I go again.

Do take a look around you, though.  How do the people you work (and live) with think?  Are you allowing them to work in a way that works for them?  Are you adapting to them, or forcing them to adapt to you? Are you creating teams with the right mix of complementary thinking?  Will that work or will they never agree on how to think about the assignment, let alone carry it out?

And we won’t even talk about Microsoft people versus Apple people versus Googledocs people.  You probably need a PhD in psychology (or marketing) to tackle that one.

[Scott Nadler is a Senior Partner at ERM. To share this post, see additional posts on Scott’s blog or subscribe please go to snadler.com. Opinions on this site are solely those of Scott Nadler and do not necessarily represent views of those quoted or cited, ERM, its partners or clients.]