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May 10, 2007


Hi Jon,

A few days before the conference on stroytelling by Smithsonian Associates, I was thinking about conversations as learning tools, due to my interest in informal learning. Is there a way we could talk about it? What would you recommend?

I'm inclined to agree with you insofar as the responsibility with making Power Point work rests with the presenter.

However, the flip side is, there is a tendency to use PP as a vehicle for too much jargon not in the least because it helps the presenter remember them which otherwise they would not have without the PP crutch. As if it somehow pressures the presenter into making the PP count in terms of 'substance' pasted into it, under the mistaken belief that it somehow confers upon the presenter a self-importance of sorts.

Conversations, and stories are far powerful analogies, and besides, they encourage participative learning.

There is nothing like an 'Anti-PP' movement, it's just that folks who dislike the blandness that most PP presentations invariably are, are merely giving vent to their feelings. I see no point in seeing a concerted organisation in this where none exists, and Anil, I'm sure you have sat through enough PP horrors youself to understand the intense dislike that folks have for PP presentations, even if it were the presenter who's at fault.

I share your interests in the links amongst storytelling, conversations, and informal learning. I'd welcome a discussion anytime, but for those who might read this and not have the inclination to speak aloud, here are a few resources that were shared at the workshop:

- Bohm, D. : On Diaglogue; 1996
- Burke, K. : The Art of Conversation; 1993
- Cohen, D. & Prusak, L. : In Good Company-How Social Captial Makes Organizations Work; 2003
- Denning, S. : The Secret Language of Leadership-How Leaders Inspire Action Through Narrative; coming Sept 2007
- Dixon, N. : Dialogue at Work-Making Talk Developmental for People and Organizations; 1996
- Isaacs, W. : Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together; 1999
- Tannen, D. : various
- Wenger, E. : Communities of Practice; 1999
- Yankelovich, D. : The Magic of Dialgoue-Transforming Conflict into Cooperation; 1999

- Brown, J. et al : Conversations as a core business process (www.theworldcafe.com/articles/CCCBP.pdf)
- Brown, J. et al : Asking big questions (www.theworldcafe.com/articles/askingbig.pdf)

Thanks for the thoughtful response. I'm not sure I entirely agree, however...

While I wholeheartedly agree that conversations, stories, and participatory learning are much more powerful than fact-based lectures, it's your opening and closing I struggle with.

Your "flip side" could just as easily argue against Word or 3x5 index cards as "crutches". I see it as being in the same vein as Socrates' arguement against the book, whereas the true problem still sits squarely with the presenter. I can't entirely dismiss the spirit of your stance, however, because I do agree that there is something to criticize about how easy PP makes it to misuse it.

(I just can't seem to dig deep enough in my mind to reconcile these two opposing stances... Is it a design flaw to make a tool easy to misuse? Or would 'preventative design' end up frustrating responsible users? Think how irrating 'Grammar Check' is in MS Word - now apply that to PP in the form of feedback like, "you have too much/too small text on this slide", "this slide doesn't include a graphic", "for the amount of time you have for this presentation, you have too many slides", etc.)

I also agree that the venting we see is clearly related to the PP horrors that are inflicted upon us daily. There may not be a full-fledged 'movement', but there is clearly a trend that accepts those who bad-mouth PP as being 'in the know', and I disagree with it. The 'point' of calling attention to this emerging trend is so we, as a community, stop pointing fingers to red herring scapegoats (tools) and begin to take responsibility for our role in not adding to the pile of boring, dense, script-driven presentations.

It means more work and effort, which will immediately thin the ranks of those who accept this challenge, but the term 'excellence' can't be applied to the masses without losing its meaning, right?

On the other hand....

I just ran across this interesting take (on a different, but related subject) by Ernie Schenck in his "Another Inconvenient Truth" column for Communication Arts magazine (see: www.commarts.com/ca/colad/ernS_342.html)

"Microsoft, Industrial Light & Magic and Adobe aren’t exactly Skynet, but the effect that PowerPoint, digital film effects, Photoshop and other creative arts technologies have had on the human imagination is corrosive. What were meant to be tools have become crutches, slowly but surely undermining innovation to the point that the power of story has become the power of eye candy. Technology was meant to serve creativity, but instead it threatens to enslave it."

As Anil alluded, there are always two sides to every coin...

Hmmmmm...... (Jon shifts in his seat, pondering the meaning and ramifications...)


Thanks much for the list of resources. i have just started reading Jay Cross's informal learning, and with your list, this is a great repository of information.

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