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”.


Post Author: Kate Natividad

Frustrated artist doing geek for a living.