powerpoint the idea


We all know the IDEO maxim, “Fail Faster, Succeed Sooner”. Rapid prototyping is a key principle of successful innovation. The sooner we make prototypes, the sooner we figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what to make in the next prototype.

Yet marketers are quicker to PowerPoint than to prototype. We spend more time on two-by-two matrixes and venn diagrams talking about ideas than actually making ideas happen.

I gave a talk last week that included a workshop on bringing ideas to life through doodling (video here). I talked about doodling as the simplest form of prototyping, a medium that anyone on a project team can use.

Marketers are sometimes hesitant to create prototypes, often leaving that job to engineers and designers. Yet everyone on a project team should contribute prototypes. Prototypes are the best way to investigate and share ideas.

This picture shows prototypes that led to a new laundry detergent at method. One prototype even featured a horse suppository that a marketer brought in for the form factor. Over 50 prototypes followed, before the product finally launched, made stronger by the sum of all of the prototypes that led to it.

Ideas don’t fully come to life in PowerPoint slides. They only come to life in prototypes. If a picture tells a thousand words, a prototype tells a thousand PowerPoint slides.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post. I’ll pick one comment by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

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18 Comments

  1. Ted Simon says:

    Point well made, Tom. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what must a 3D prototype be worth?

  2. Martin Kronborg says:

    Being Danish, I love that you use Lego in your cartoon, and I couldn’t agree more with your point. Working in a media agency where the mantra “the more slides the better” seems to prevail, death by power point happens all the time in this business. +100 slide presentation seems to be the rule, rather than the exception and all insights and ideas always have to fit into a template before it can be presented to the client. We often think ‘how will this fit into a powerpoint presentation’ before we actually come up with a new media idea or creative use of media. Powerpoint is by definition not very creative, and does not help sell any new ideas you might have. I say message over media, and hope we can soon stop thinking in powerpoint templates before coming up with good ideas.

  3. David says:

    Maybe ideas would come to life a “little better” in Keynote? ;-) Prototyping is without a doubt powerful, so long as the developers continue to evaluate alternatives and ensure that the prototype truly meets the end user’s needs. So many hours spent identifying features and requirements (on PPT) can get thrown out when the prototype shows up because it is sexy. Stay focused on the end user, regardless of the development method!

  4. Karthik says:

    I am a student at Wharton and I am a regular reader of your posts. This is a very well made point. It applies to entrepreneurs as well. VCs are not looking for powerpoint slides of how awesome an idea is. They are looking for what the entrepreneur has DONE apart from being on the computer. It is absolutely essential to take the idea to market, find out prospective customers’ reactions. Bootstrapping is the way to go!

  5. Bill Carlson says:

    All things in moderation… I’ve found that forcing organized thinking down on paper is a valuable exercise, whether your tool of choice is PowerPoint, Word or perish the thought that someone actually has some numbers to work with in Excel. It’s easy to blow past the business fundamentals when you’re caught up in a brainstorming exercise or enamored with a “really cool idea”. So… PowerPoint may not be the tool for creating a concept but let’s recognize that it’s an iterative process of concepting and thinking needed to convert a concept to a profitable reality.

  6. Susan Goewey says:

    In defense of PowerPoint, I used to fall asleep during sermons in my (traditional Episcopalian)church…now I go to a megachurch and it’s the PowerPoint graphics/quotes, photos, humor, numbered lists, colors, video clips etc. that help keep me interested. In business creating a pdf/link to the slides is an easy way to help others fwd the info… (Look how TED shares its presentations on Huff Post to give them longer life/audiences/help them go viral.

    One of the most popular webinars we offer is led by Carmine Gallo author of “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience.”

    One “secret” he talks about: Steve Jobs knew that simple presentations are more memorable and leave a far deeper and longer-lasting impression. “The human brain interprets every letter as a picture,” says Gallo. “By filling your slides with words, you literally choke the brain on images that render it virtually incapable of making sense out of your slide…” so he recommends the 10-40 rule.(More of his “secrets” here: http://www.businessmanagementdaily.com/20319/whats-steve-jobs-secret )

  7. Susan Goewey says:

    Whoops, forgot my main point: Carmine asks, “Would the father of the iPhone, iPad and Mac be as successful without his other great achievement – the ability to communicate and convey his vision and passion?” Jobs was the master of the PowerPoint presentation.

  8. Madhu Kopparam says:

    And yet…Steve Jobs couldn’t stand powerpoint presentations (if you’ve read Walter Isaacson). He apparently said if you had to resort to powerpoint slides then your ideas weren’t good enough. And throughout his career he couldn’t sit through powerpoint presentations.

  9. Safi Ghauri says:

    I know you were talking abount innovation and prototyping but on the point of ideas not coming to life in Powerpoint slides please can I recommend to people and especially brand managers, products managers and category managers the difference it makes when you are giving a presentation and have actual products – whether they be prototypes, NPD, your products or competitor products – you just get so much more engagement with those you are presenting to. Try it next time you intend to give a ‘standard presentation’ with Powerpoint and see the difference it makes!

  10. Rob Cottingham says:

    Not to be pedantic, but Steve Jobs was the master of the Keynote presentation. :)

    Long before anyone at Apple started assembling bullet points and animating transitions for Steve’s big day, they were creating (drumroll) prototypes. And versioning and reversioning, and going back to drawing boards. (And before that, they were planning; before that, arguing passionately for one vision over another.)

    And they were using those prototypes in their day-to-day lives – including Jobs, who in a now-legendary story, discovered his keys scratched the screen on his iPhone when both were in his pocket, ultimately triggering the revival of Corning’s Gorilla Glass line.

    I’m actually not religiously opposed to PowerPoint (or Keynote… my jury’s still out on Prezi). But too many people turn to it way too early on. It’s a great tool for organizing information and communicating ideas (provided you’re using it to convey and not confuse)… but not for discovery or generating insight.

    Now let’s hear more about this horse suppository. I’m suddenly looking at my Method laundry detergent pump with a little suspicion.

  11. Jennifer Nelson says:

    You just gave me a very inspired idea for a video I must make… what happens when my Lego loving 5 year old aerospace designer is asked to “develop the idea further” before creating his next spacecraft? (Sometimes the absurdity of how we do things as adults is best demonstrated in the conflict it creates in the eyes of children.)

  12. Robert Weinberg says:

    Great point. And with today’s “3-D printing” capabilities it will soon be almost as easy to rough out a prototype as it is to create a PowerPoint!

  13. Ginger Jenks says:

    So the message is to “Lego” of the PowerPoint?

    There is a time to think and a time to do. Finding the right balance for each project is the art of self-mastery and of leadership.

  14. Nick says:

    Really powerful point there, Tom.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  15. Paul says:

    A reframing of that old adage. Powerpoint doesn’t just kill the audience.

  16. tomfishburne says:

    Hi all,

    Great commentary this week, many thanks!

    I agree with Bill’s point that PowerPoint plays a role in shaping and refining ideas. I just think that too often, marketers rely on it as a crutch.

    This week’s cartoon goes to fellow cartoonist Rob Cottingham. I love the story of the keys scratching the iPhone screen leading to the Corning Gorilla Glass line. Getting prototypes into our day-to-day lives is key. I really admire Rob’s work: http://robcottingham.ca/

    The method horse suppository was a funny prototype, albeit short-lived. No horses were harmed in the making of method laundry….

    -Tom

  17. Rob Cottingham says:

    Well, that’s just the best news of the week! Thanks so much!

  18. Bob Coates says:

    The phrase ‘Death-by-Powerpoint’ has done a great disservice to a medium which when used well, is a very powerful tool in teasing out ideas, concepts and real meanings. Used in collaborative preparation, its also very helpful in delivering consensus and determining future agenda points. I agree that rapid prototyping is a good first call, but when words or images are the medium, Powerpoint forces the reduction of masses of discussion into a few carefully chosen phrases or pictures – a very helpful way to focus and record creative thinking on the reality of communication and dissemination. I like using a prepared Powerpoint template and a limit of say 5 slides as a way of collecting feedback from seminar working groups. Beats unreadable green ink on flip-charts any day!

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