Monday, May 3, 2010

PowerPoint redux

PAIN POINT: PowerPoint is a 2-D solution for 3-D challenges
I've recently joined ProtonMedia's Executive Advisory Board and I couldn't be more thrilled. As a true believer in the power of 3-D environments to enable new collaboration models, I've known ProtonMedia for several years and admired ProtoSphere.

However, the market is just now reaching an inflection point where technology and user needs are converging to create the 21st-century workplace. This workplace is not a real place, but a virtual one. It is global, data-rich, interactive, collaborative, and visual. Most important, it is also 3-D.

Ron's posting last week covered one of the most used and abused of all business tools: PowerPoint. In this case, the U.S. Army's strategy in Afghanistan was illustrated by what can only be described as the PowerPoint equivalent of a neural network.

I can't fault the author of this chart because we've all faced the same struggle in the past. We have a complex set of information to convey to our audience, and we slice it into 8 1/2-by-11-inch pages. Clicking through them one by one comes about as close to our original intent as the Visible Human Project comes to meeting a real person.

We have two objectives when using PowerPoint. One, to convey relevant information, and two, to tell a story so that the audience reaches the desired conclusion. Our charts might capture data as elegantly as Edward Tufte or have the emotional simplicity of Steve Jobs, but we are still fighting a losing battle.

The problem is that PowerPoint is trapped in 2-D, while people live life in 3-D. This problem is only exacerbated as we increasingly work in distributed virtual teams, where the nuances of face-to-face discussion are lost. PowerPoint must be viewed passively, without the scowls and hand-waving and laser pointers of the conference room.

The solution to the problem can be found in 3-D collaborative environments. A 3-D environment allows complex data to be captured in forms that our brains are already wired to process. Think about viewing a stack of blueprints versus walking around inside a completed building, and you quickly see the difference.

3-D environments also allow storytelling in both a linear and non-linear fashion -- whichever works better for your audience. As an example, consider your last visit to a history museum. It was likely laid out chronologically so that as you progress through the building, you move forward in time.

Each time period laid a foundation for the next, and the story unfolded one century at a time. However, if your appetite for history matches many executives' appetite for information, you might have quickly moved on to the gift shop and skipped a few of those historical details.

3-D environments are more than just a replacement for PowerPoint. I believe they are the foundation for the 21st-century workplace, and I'd like to explore some of the reasons right here in future posts.

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