This PowerPoint slide by the U.S. Army is making the rounds on the Internet to ridicule ineffective presentations that stifle creativity and decision making.

The article in the NYT

does not actually talk about this busy slide specifically, it attacks the use of bullets points and the fact that the majority of time spent by staff in corporate/army headquarters is wasted on producing PowerPoint slides. Seth Godin is repeating today once more why bullet points are bad for you.

The spaghetti slide itself is not that bad, at least that is my opinion.

It makes the point that things are complex, that issues are related, all contributing to a highly unpredictable cause and effect sequence. Almost like the myth of chaos theory, and the butterfly in China that can cause a hurricane on the other side of the planet. Pretty good slide to visualize that.

I guess the source of the slide must have been some management consulting report that applied the technique of Business Dynamics to a complex problem (I recognize the many loops having used the tool in my previous life as a McKinsey consultant).

What is Business Dynamics? Business Dynamics tries to apply the physics of systems theory (electronic circuits, weather, ocean waves, etc.) to business. Complex problems consist of a number of forces. Forces influence each other. Forces can be good and bad, some cancel each other out, some reinforce each other. Everything is related to everything.

In some cases it is possible to model all these forces in a computer program and you get your hands on a very powerful tool: software can make simulations of what happens if you give the system 1 shock by studying the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th order effect of your action.

My guess is that's what the U.S. Army was trying to do, and the chart cited here is simply a screen dump of the output pages of these Business Dynamics tools. In itself, a sensible approach to the problem. Not sure whether it delivered the solution though.

A better way to present it could have been to start with the overwhelming complexity of the overall problem (serve the spaghetti), after which you pick one counter-intuitive loop and show how a positive action can actually do serious damage to the objective of your mission.


UPDATE: There is now a "business dynamics"-like chart available for download in the template store

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