Monthly Archives: July 2013

Slide over, Powerpoint!

Your creative juices decide to go into overdrive. And the proverbial bulb just not flashes in your mind, but decides to glow…and glow bright too.

This is brilliant, you tell yourself. I must let my boss know this!

You pick up your phone or rush into your manager’s room and pour out (as lucidly as you can) your great big idea.

“Hmmm…” As you wonder what it really means, you hear, “Sounds good, but can you put it in a Powerpoint presentation…a few slides you know, a few bullet points, and maybe we can call for a meeting and discuss it?”

And of course, the silent sound that follows is that of a deflating balloon!

Or take this all too familiar situation

You’re in a meeting room and the screen lights up with presentation slides of the monthly report.

You rub your eyes – do I see ants crawling on the screen?

Mercifully no! Only a 10-point text occupying all possible nooks and crannies on the slide!

And your bored hands rescue your tired mind by translating them as squiggles and doodles on your pad!

Somebody wisecracked oh so wisely, “ Powerpoint makes us stupid…guns don’t kill us, their bullets do!”

Did I come out too strong? OK, so let me be fair. Let me exclude models, diagrams, graphs, processes and other such well-defined facts where clarity is enhanced by visual aids.

But strategy in Powerpoint? Or creative thoughts? Or conversations? Or anything else as dynamic?

That would be like Jerry in Tom’s paws! Pat visuals take the wind out of dynamic and kinetic ideas to make them look so pathetically static!

It is literally the pits when when organizations allow Powerpoint slides and decks become proud substitutes of actual communication and conversation. Speak to me please, how many times did you want to say that to your manager? Speak to me, please, not to your slides!

When you speak to me, I listen. When you show me something, I only see.  And when you ask me to see, read and listen, all at the same time, I yawn! I lock the doors to my mind and lose the keys. No kidding, the very thought of paralyzing my brain with overload horrifies me!

But when you address me with energy and motivation, I willingly bind myself with three-dimensional attention – visually, aurally and emotionally. I go into ‘active’ mode, and catch the outline, details and nuances with ease. What is more, I willingly lend you consciousness to react to and address my vibes.

Elementary, my dear Watson! To me, you are important, not your Powerpoint slides. You see, when I come out of your meeting, I can take your handouts back with me. But if you do not impress me, I cannot take away your presence or the actual message. Get it?

No amount of slide transitions can make them an iota more active than their two-dimensional passivity. But if you try, you can project character and charisma. That is what I like to see and hear, and I am sure that is what you want to be seen as too.

Was I only punching my manager? Tch..tch…it applies to me too.

So next time I need to talk, let me subject myself to the following interrogation

Can I describe in words what I have put in my slide?

Will I really be at a loss for words if I cannot see it staring at me?

Can I throw away the crutch that makes me a lazy speaker and attempt to become an actual orator?

Can I risk the eyebrows-raised disdain, or cluck-clucking sounds of pity that attempt to say, “Whaaat, no slides?”

And if I have to use slides, as sometimes I will, can I avoid getting trapped behind a ‘touch-me-not’ sheath from my listeners? Can I try to emulate Steve Jobs whose slides actually amplified his audience connect?

Else, as Edward Tufte prophesizes so truly in his book ‘The Visual Display of Quantitative Information’ – “Power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.”

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My peer – friend or foe?

My peers. Who exactly are they?

They are my teammates right? Our goals have a line of sight to that of the larger and common organizational vision and success, right? And if they looked good, I would look good too, right?

But wait a minute, aren’t they competition too? Aren’t they the ones with whom I have to play the jostling and nudging out game to get my performance ratings, salary raises and bonuses?

As we move up the management ladder, positive interpersonal relationships, teamwork and influence become our mandated competencies. We learn it is imperative to work in co-operation and collaboration with our peers; that it is OK to direct praise their way without flinching even if it was our ideas; and that we need to be sportive and accepting if they were more successful, even if we helped them reach there.

I ain’t no saint, do I hear you say? I feel resentful if my manager gives them credit over me, do I hear you admit? I need to prove I am better than them, do I hear you confess?

Would you consider me stupid, if I asked why we feel so? My optimism tells me there could be a more positive perspective if I did.

The truth is, while we are taught in school and our initial work years on how to be smart, driven, and to develop valuable skills, we are not counseled on true relationship-building. While we grow up being praised for being the smartest in the team, we are not taught to share our knowledge or skills with our teammates. We are programmed to believe that success is individually achieved when we get the work done and grab our managers’ attention and praise.

Result? Our motivation does not stem from being involved in driving the organization forward, but from the need to be noticed and appreciated for our individual work. We seek opportunities to take credit for ideas, and sometimes even talk down our peers’ contributions. To be fair, we may not even be aware that we do so, immersed as we become in the rat race.

If this is true, would you say it is time to apply the brakes?

It does take tremendous maturing and growing up. We need to get to the point where we accept that our strengths lie in the work we do – and that they can stand on their own.  Most important, we need to be secure enough not to need or seek our managers’ validation and pats on the back. It needs true conviction that it is really about my organization succeeding, and it matters a whit not as to who is actually in the limelight to make it happen.

And we should not be looking to the organization to drive this – in fact, the organization cannot do anything if we do not. The power lies in our hands, both individually and collectively to shape a culture of workplace collaboration.

Let us…

…start by giving up control – and find ways to let others help us and impress us.

…give up the fallacious notion that their success diminishes ours

…be authentic in our relationships – yes to candid honesty, sharing, camaraderie and generosity in acknowledgment; no to hypocrisy, defensiveness politicking and grudges.

…understand them – what are their motives and perspectives? Can we also be the ones coming around to their points of view?

If you want a less selfless view, here is an undeniable truth. Your peers are today, and will be tomorrow, your most powerful advocates. They are the ones who cast the biggest impact on your future success. Do not ignore them because you cannot see their influence. Do not destroy them because you cannot engage them.

For spotlight is a short-term glow, and success is a long-term signature.