When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

24 September 2005

Ask E.T.: PowerPoint Does Rocket Science

From the invaluable Edward Tufte, a section from his forthcoming book: Ask E.T.: PowerPoint Does Rocket Science

A more arresting and eye-catching title might be something like, "How bullshit slideware and poor presentation technique combine to short-circuit intelligent analysis and kill astronauts."

Because that's what we're talking about.

The case study in question is the Space Shuttle Columbia, which burned up on re-entry in 2003.

To help NASA officials assess the threat, Boeing Corporation engineers quickly prepared 3 reports, a total of 28 PowerPoint slides, dealing with the debris impact. These reports provided mixed readings of the threat to the Columbia; the lower-level bullets often mentioned doubts and uncertainties, but the highlighted executive summaries and big-bullet conclusions were quite optimistic. Convinced that the reports indicated no problem rather than uncertain knowledge, high-level NASA officials decided that the Columbia was safe and, furthermore, that no additional investigations were necessary. Several NASA engineers had hoped that the military would photograph the Columbia with high-resolution spy satellites, which would have easily detected the damage, but even that check-up was thought unnecessary given the optimism of the 3 Boeing reports. And so the Columbia orbited for nearly 2 weeks with a big undetected hole in its wing.
Tufte's work on PowerPoint should be required reading for every manager in America, at any level, and especially so for anyone who actually puts PowerPoint presentations together.

Go read it now.

No comments: