Even intelligent people embrace dumbed-down thinking

It’s no wonder people have gotten so dumbed-down that they are now considering electing the sorts of idiots we see on TV nowadays. I now question the theory that a lack of education or even a lack of intelligence contributes to the “tyranny of the majority” that results in dumb leaders ascending power or idiotic ideas getting funded to the tune of millions of pesos.

A 'robot' made with Duplo bricks.
A ‘robot’ made with Duplo bricks.
Last week, my boss came back to me with “feedback” on a Power Point “pack” I did to summarize a design consideration for the head of my project’s steering committee. My boss said that I needed to simplify further some of the diagrams I included in the pack and to make the slides “a bit less wordy”.

So I thought, “ok, here we go”.

I told him, we’ve been through this before. I dumb down the content “so that a four-year old could read it” (my boss’s words in another instance of this scene several weeks ago), submit the pack, and then, as we’ve observed, endless meetings followed asking us to “walk the committee through the document” to explain the details behind the slides.

Boss then goes, “Uh, yeah, Frank just needs the key highlights of these considerations to make the high-level decisions required to guide the direction of this program.”

I said, “These are complex design considerations involving multiple systems. How do you expect us to describe them in three bullet points using 24pt-sized font?”

My boss was about to respond when I added, “presumably, we all went to college, right?”

“Uh, yes?…”

“So I assume all of us, at some point, had to read books this thick written in 8pt Times New Roman text to understand stuff we needed to know to do our grownup jobs someday.” I made a gesture with my hand indicating the average thickness of a typical college textbook I assumed most of us at the office had to read as school kids.

Boss: “Okay okay, I get your point. Could I have the updated version in my inbox by four today?”

“As you wish.”

* * *

Who would’ve thought we’d all spend years in college only to find that writing children’s books is really what “business writing” is all about.

The thing with PowerPoint-based writing is that in the community of practitioners of this trendy “business skill” lies a big black chasm that separates the very expert professionals and the merely-competent pretenders. The scary thing is that our office is infested with these pretenders — the Duplo Set. Duplo is a brand of Lego bricks designed for really young kids. They are bigger, more blocky, and are not compatible with the standard Lego components used by older kids and grownups.

The Duplo Set of Power Point jockeys at our office churn out slides the way a baby would spend half a day stacking three Duplo blocks before yelling out “Mommy, look, HOUSE!” while pointing at her work.

A Lego robot kit
A Lego robot kit
Now, a “house” made of Duplo blocks built by a two-year-old is subject to a broad landscape of interpretation. Mommy will always agree with her precious kid that the outcome is, as claimed, a “house”. It seems to me these kiddos at the office expect the readers of their colorful Power Point packs to be the same — motherly.

Tough luck. The work of these Hot Shots at the office attract a wide range of interpretations of what their slides mean.

“Oh, but this is just a high-level summary of the issues…”

“Ok then, could we please drill down on the detail?”

“I’ll need another week to investigate.”

Really good and useful encapsulations are built from the bottom-up. A house looks like a house from afar. But look more closely at a real house, and you will see that the real ones are built from the ground up, with every component nailed, welded, cemented, and laid together systematically.

It seems that in the age of Power Point and 140-character “viral” messages, we’ve been conditioned even more to base our cherished beliefs, decisions, and, worse, actions on the products of the minds of Duplo “engineers”.

print

Post Author: Kate Natividad

Frustrated artist doing geek for a living.

Leave a Reply

21 Comments on "Even intelligent people embrace dumbed-down thinking"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Gryphon Hall
Guest
I know your pain. What is tragic is that Powerpoint was never designed nor intended to provide the level of detail that a printed handout should provide. Heck, meetings aren’t even always necessary: a powerpoint slide show (created to have the summarised points and whatever glitzy animation to appear on each slide BUT with the detailed info in the notes) emailed to everyone. Quicker, more efficient, with the benefit of giving only the summarised points to those who want key points but providing the detail IF someone needed to dig deeper. And, like you said, if they had really gone… Read more »
Vincent
Member
“Heck, meetings aren’t even always necessary…” and “It makes senior management feel powerful and important.” – So true!! Like in one scenario: Client: We have a meeting tomorrow at 8AM and management wants you to be there. Me: What about? Client: (explains the agenda) Me: Sounds like it has nothing to do with me. Client: Yeah, but I and the manager wants you to be there. Me: Are you sure? Because I have a deadline with you. Client: Just be there. Me: Let me guess. It will just like the last time where I was just there doing nothing. Client:… Read more »
Gryphon Hall
Guest
@Vincent: I know, right? I especially hate it when they spend more time on the presentation (i.e. the outward form of what is being constructed, like the fonts, the colours, the graphics, etc.) when they could be spending more time on the content (which, when one reads it, is like the efforts of a third-grader trying to sound important). It’s one more measure of control. I know a manager who successfully made her team so totally dependent on her that they cannot do things on their own but must always have her present directing each step in the process every… Read more »
marius
Guest
>> When only two out of five hands went up, I promptly closed the meeting and said “let’s reconvene when everyone has read the material,” then walked out. You have an excellent working style. A big reason the Philippines never changes is that bozos at the top are NEVER challenged. It’s yes sir, no sir, all the way down the line. Mediocrity or worse is the inevitable result. Frankly, I’m surprised you haven’t been fired. I suppose one little neuron still flickering away in their tiny minds tells them that without competent employees, they’re just idiots in suits. Among all… Read more »
ChinoF
Member

The word for that is “pseudo-intellectual.” Just like the middle class, “thinking” people who go for the Yellows. Like the people who go into mile-long “intellectual” discussions that only end up with the same old conclusion: I hate people who disagree with me.

Robert Haighton
Member

I wonder who hired those guys and what requirements were needed to get that job?

tomas
Guest

Hi Robert,

Exact same question I have when I look at the upper management in the company I work in. Notice that most of the examples cited above are from Pinoy superiors. Even in provate firms, padrino system is the dominant form of gauge for staff promotions and the like. It’s not an exception in Pinoy society. It’s a rule.

Robert Haighton
Member

@Tomas,
I can give you a real, genuine, exact example of how such things work in my country. But whats the point? Almost everything in my country works differently compared to how things work and are run in the Philippines.

In general, every company wants the best candidate with the best papers (diplomas) for the (right) job. And sometimes the candidates have to undergo a phychological test and/or assessment (depending on level of job). In some cases, it may help if a canditate knows somebody in the company but it is not always beneficial.

ChinoF
Member

Just had to say a funny thought: meetings these days seem to be the latest way to look busy. hehe

Vincent
Member
By the way, there are another set of bad traits that I have noticed among Filipino managers/superiors. “Hugas kamay” and, so far among the nationalities that I have worked with, the “Kiss up, kick down” attitude is much common among Filipinos. Hugas kamay – Have you ever heard of excuses like “di ko nakita ‘yan” (I didn’t see that) or “Wala akong kinalaman d’yan” (I have nothing to do with that) despite that some of the outputs went through and even signed by them? Talk about command responsibility. Making one self responsible or accountable for something is quite scarce among… Read more »
Gryphon Hall
Guest

@Vincent: I’ve worked with Australians exclusively since 2006 and, I’m telling you, it makes up for all the years I’ve had to deal with all the drama and politics of working with Pinoy managers.

I had one, exactly one Pinay manager that I liked (made her a Ninang in my wedding; that’s how much I like her). But the only reason she’s good is because she’s the daughter of a missionary and have seen how non-Pinoys operate. So when I was part of her team, only time I was satisfied.

d_forsaken
Guest

Nature makes only dumb animals. We owe the fools to Failipino society. Only in the Failippines, Kate.

ChinoF
Member
I just re-read your saying “I don’t believe lack of education is the problem,” and I just recalled this: there is a severe lack of common sense among people today. You tell someone, you can’t tow a car with a motorcycle, they’ll say, yes you can, you find a way you lazy ass! Or you tell another supervisor that doing 12 takes more time than doing 2, then they tell you “no, no, you can write 10 articles in the same time it takes to do 2, there’s a way and you don’t want to know it!” Perhaps you can… Read more »
Alma Lin
Guest

Judgement is not only to see the cover of the chapter however internally will reflect the motivation in regards to the owner of the builder.

twisky
Guest
Powerpoint is the technological equivalent of index cards— not meant to have heavy duty information, more like a placeholder of talking points. It’s a misunderstood, abused program. Also, graphics are not the enemy. In the right hands, they can enhance and add to an idea, a conversation, or a project. So the problem here then, is the logic— how people communicate, process information and divulge it. Which actually is a worldwide problem, not just here. Whether or not its a TV induced thing or simply a refusal to process information through the eyes, I’m not sure. The truth is prolly… Read more »
Coo
Guest

Just adding some experience. My supervisor wants me to be on a meeting with him and his boss and another boss from another department because I will be the one explaining all the issues and solutions of the project to them which supposedly my boss should be the one doing it. Boss just sat there piggy backing like a back up singer/rapper repeating everything I say. Then when the project is successful takes all the credit from higher management, goes to celebration parties and flaunts it on social media. Well at least there’s feedback from every project by higher management

Tokwa
Guest

@Kate Natividad

“Duplo is a brand of Lego bricks designed for really young kids. They are bigger, more blocky, and are not compatible with the standard Lego components used by older kids and grownups.”

Unfortunately you are wrong, kindly refer to the links below for reference.

http://thebrickblogger.com/2010/12/lego-duplo/

comment image

Aryianna
Member

PowerPoint Makes You Stupid. (See link here.)

During my short teaching experience at a university in the Philippines (first time last semester, and I decided not to return), I was shocked to find out that students relied on PowerPoint slides for learning. They didn’t even read their textbooks. Likewise, they had the English writing skill of a 2nd grader. I am not exaggerating.

wpDiscuz