Strategy Making and PowerPoint
| Nicolai Foss |
We have blogged more than two dozen times on PowerPoint (here) and at least as many times on pomo (here), never realizing that the two themes are connected. In a recent paper, “Strategy and PowerPoint: An Inquiry into the Epistemic Culture and Machinery of Strategy Making” (forthcoming in Organization Science), the ever-interesting Sarah Kaplan poses the question, “How is PowerPoint engaged in the discursive practices that make up the epistemic culture of strategy making?”
Yes, this does smack of hardcore pomo, and would prima facie seem to be up for hard lashing under the O&M rubric of “Pomo Periscope.” However, upon reading, it turns out that this is highly reasonable, well executed, and meaningful pomo. In a nutshell, Sarah argues that PP is a privileged strategy-making support tool, and that it may usefully be analyzed as a genre. And it matters to strategy making, as suggested in this key passage in the paper:
I show how the affordances of PowerPoint enabled the difficult task of collaborating to negotiate meaning in a highly uncertain environment, creating a space for discussion, making combinations and recombinations possible, allowing for rapid adjustments as ideas evolved and providing access to a wide range of actors, no matter how dispersed over space or time. Yet, I found, these affordances also supported cartographic efforts to draw boundaries around the scope of a strategy, certifying certain ideas and not others, and allowing document owners to include or exclude certain slides or participants and control access to information. Cartography in the world of ideas is similar to cartography of the physical landscape: drawing maps and defining boundaries help people navigate otherwise uncertain terrain. These collaborative and cartographic practices shaped the strategic choices and actions taken in the organization.
And here is the abstract:
Strategy and PowerPoint: PowerPoint has come to dominate organizational life in general and strategy making in particular. The technology is lauded by its proponents as a powerful tool for communication and excoriated by its critics as dangerously simplifying. This study takes a deeper look into how PowerPoint is mobilized in strategy making through an ethnographic study inside one organization. It treats PowerPoint as a technology embedded in the discursive practices of strategic knowledge production and suggests that these practices make up the epistemic or knowledge culture of the organization. Conceptualizing culture as composed of practices foregrounds the “machineries” of knowing. Results from a genre analysis of PowerPoint use suggest that it should not be characterized simply as effective or ineffective as current PowerPoint controversies do. Instead, I show how the affordances of PowerPoint enabled the difficult task of collaborating to negotiate meaning in an uncertain environment, creating spaces for discussion, making recombinations possible, allowing for adjustments as ideas evolved and providing access to a wide range of actors. These affordances also facilitated cartographic efforts to draw boundaries around the scope of a strategy by certifying certain ideas and allowing document owners to include or exclude certain slides or participants. These discursive practices – collaboration and cartography – are part of the “epistemic machinery” of strategy culture. This analysis demonstrates that strategy making is not only about analysis of industry structure, competitive positioning or resources as assumed in content-based strategy research but also about the production and use of PowerPoint documents that embody these ideas.