It was May 1, 2003 and from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, with a banner that read “Mission Accomplished” looming behind him, George W. Bush declared an end to ‘major combat operations’ in Iraq. It wasn’t until seven long years later, after counter insurgencies, countless car bombings, and dozens of setbacks that the U.S. was able to officially end combat operations in Iraq when the last remaining combat brigade left for Kuwait.
There is no shortage of Iraq war critics, but most experts agree that the Iraq war was both bravely fought by our soldiers, and that it was also a poorly planned operation.
In his book Fiasco:The American Military Adventure in Iraq author Thomas E. Ricks cites senior military brass revealing an unexpected culprit hindering the war’s execution.
[Army Lt. General David] McKiernan had another, smaller but nagging issue: He couldn’t get Franks to issue clear orders that stated explicitly what he wanted done, how he wanted to do it, and why. Rather, Franks passed along PowerPoint briefing slides that he had shown to Rumsfeld.
The issue turned out not to be so small. Retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, a former military commander went on to contrast the conventional means of detailed war planning with it’s de facto replacement.
“To imagine that PowerPoint slides can substitute for such means is really the height of recklessness.” It was like telling an automobile mechanic to use a manufacturer’s glossy sales brochure to figure out how to repair an engine.
The problem is not just bullet points and PPT presentations, it’s any communication that lacks context. Business culture is notorious for condensing complexities into bite sized chunks, but clearly this practice does not serve an organization well, especially an organization with boots on the ground. In business, those boots on the ground are your customer facing employees, those marketers and content creators that must have a rich and context sensitive knowledge of your customers, or those are creating and designing products and services.
The U.S. military is arguably the most effective war machine mankind has ever known and if Powerpoint is degrading it’s ability to plan and execute, could it be doing the same to your marketing?