Sometimes it takes a culture clash to make us aware that sometimes we are unaware.
Company A had a powerful PowerPoint approach. Every PowerPoint was limited to only a few slides, and had to be accompanied by a written report that explained the context and meaning for the slides. It was the company’s cultural expectation that everyone read the report in advance of the meeting, so they would be fully-informed and ready to focus on dialogue and decision-making that was facilitated by clean and clear slides.
I was very impressed. Here was a corporate culture that had effectively bypassed the very serious problems that PowerPoint presents for every corporation — cognitive overload, lack of context, loss of intellectual assets, diminishing dialogue, and discouragement of deep thinking. If every CEO decided today that every PowerPoint in every organization be limited to no more than 10 clean and clear slides and be accompanied by a written report, the number of PowerPoint presentations would dramatically drop, but their quality would dramatically increase.
Sounds like a happy ending, right? Well, Company A was acquired by Company B, and Company B had very different PowerPoint practices. When someone from Company A presented a PowerPoint to his new colleagues in Company B, he was told something to the effect, “No, you can’t do it that way. You need to put all of the information from your slides and your report onto only one slide, because that’s how we do it here. You don’t need to bother with writing a report, because no one will read it.” They had pressured him to change his PowerPoint approach from clarity and simplicity to confusion and cognitive overload.
This story is especially poignant because Company B is in fact a very smart, innovative, creative, adaptable company. It simply is not aware it has a particular PowerPoint culture, let alone that it unconsciously suffocates innovative ideas, as it did in this case. If Company B were to try out Company A’s approach as an experiment, I’m sure the strategic benefits would be quick and crystal clear.
In the natural world, the point where two rivers converge is a place of conflict and turmoil, but it is also the place where some of the richest forms of life thrive. In the natural world of business, the convergence of two corporate cultures is a place of conflict and turmoil that can force us to re-think how we think, if we only look and listen for the very rich opportunities.
Tip: Take the temperature of your PowerPoint culture by trying out one of the tips from this blog. What kind of response do you get? If you get an open reception, keep on creating. If you hear back that “we don’t do that here,” share your story by adding a comment to this posting, and maybe together we can figure out a way to spin a culture clash into a creative opportunity.