Open Source Thinking

Open source software is an important trend these days, but an even more important communication trend needs to be open source thinking.

Firefox_1 Steve Rubel posted an item titled Open Source PowerPoint about a group of developers who are collaborating to create a presentation to promote the Firefox browser.

I think it’s a great project. I also think it’s a great example of how deeply-ingrained the bullet-point orthodoxy is in our collective minds. If you visit their wiki you’ll see a representative example of how the presentation process unfolds at almost every organization:

1. Start with the slide design first. We all start thinking about PowerPoint templates first, but when we do, we rigidly enforce a visual structure on every single slide. What if the best solution is no background? What if visual variety is important to keep an audience’s attention? What if it’s a better idea to apply a design approach that balances visuals and spoken words in a slide/page hybrid? Too bad, because we’ve already enforced closed-source slide layouts.

2. Conform to a bullet point approach. Virtually all PowerPoint templates are set up for bullet points, as in this example. What if a full-screen photograph is best? What if placing the same text on a slide that you read verbally actually harms understanding? Too bad, because we’ve already enforced closed-source slide design.

3. Focus on structure last. Once the design is out of the way, then we look at ways to structure the bullet points that we’ll put on those pre-formatted slides. But what if a story structure is more persuasive than a bullet point structure?  What if writing a script first helps distill and focus information to prevent cognitive overload? Too bad, becuase we’ve already enforced closed-source presentation structure.

We all do this. But we don’t have to. We can enforce open-source thinking by flipping the conventional presentation process upside-down and aligning our worldview in a way that helps people understand and that evokes dialogue. I want the Firefox folks to do well, so I’ve invited them to try out a new way of presenting beyond the bullet-point orthodoxy – if they respond I’ll post the process as part of the makeover series I’m doing, as shown here

Keep your eyes, and your browsers, open to some fresh ideas on how to open up the sources of our collective presentation thinking.

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6 Responses to “Open Source Thinking”

  1. Great post, Cliff. Your points 1-3 really hit the nail on the head. When collaborating on a presentation, a common approach is something like “I’ll do the intro slides, you do the slides for section one, and we’ll have Frank do the slides for the last two sections….” The result is almost always a bullet-filled nightmare. But, this (bullets) is what is familiar. It’s all people know.

    When I was at Apple in Cupertino, I once was in charge of a group presentation (6-7 people collaborating for weeks). I took everyone’s input and updated them on how the story was unfolding every week. Frankly, I never even used PowerPoint in the group meetings, even though we knew we would deliver the talk that way to a large inhouse audience. I just used huge white boards to show where we were going. In the end I, — *one person* — put the slides together (very few bullets, lots of visuals) and I did the stand-up presentation. So, collaboration is great, but in the end, one person is in charge (even if others sometimes take the stage), and that person needs to take all the ideas, weave them into a story that the team signs-off on, and design visuals that support the story.

  2. Cliff says:

    Great comments, Garr. I think the need for someone to be an “editor” is a concept that is sometimes lost, especially in the blogosphere. The massive increase of information today actually heightens the need for editors to apply their critical thinking to help us screen, filter and figure out what’s most important.

  3. John says:

    Has anyone of the FireFox folks responded to your invitation yet? Just curious 🙂

  4. cliff says:

    Hi John – no, I never heard back from them.

  5. cliff says:

    Hi Yayan – yes, I posted a reply at that link a few months ago – it’s at the bottom of the wiki – but there hasn’t been a reply since.

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