Don’t Mistake the Tool for the Goal

Is innovation good or bad? Yes!

What do I mean? Tools are neutral – they are only become good or bad through action. Our strategies can be good or bad. Our goals can be good or bad. The vehicles that help us execute our strategies and achieve our goals are neither.

Here’s a case in a point – a brilliant discussion of the uses of powerpoint – it is worth your time to go through it (it’s fast):

This raises an important point: the slides are not the presentation. Instead of attacking powerpoint, we should be attacking people that choose to make bad presentations. Well, maybe we should be trying to help them improve, actually. In any case, the problem is not with the tool, it is with the user.

Innovation is the same – it is a neutral tool. When we encourage people to innovate, this is another case of mistaking the tool for the goal. Innovation isn’t inherently good. We can use it to further good strategies that are designed to make the world better, or we can use to pursue bad strategies that are designed to enrich some at the expense of others.

Either way, the choice is yours.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

5 thoughts on “Don’t Mistake the Tool for the Goal

  1. Tim I agree with 90% of what the PowerPoint presentation says and it is a very good one well presented and persuasive (note that last word) though I am not sure that I have heard all that many people blame PowerPoint, may be a bit of a straw man.

    I think there is a clue in the name itself – Power Point, it was really developed as a persuasive device (its original name was “Presenter”) and I find that it can perhaps frame, dictate (and monopolise) the form of interaction (of lack of it) in an educational context. But education is not all about persuasion and monologues it should be so much about communication, interaction, dialogue and questions (as well as answers), and that can sometimes be crowded out by obsession with PowerPoint.

    Maybe I have just been unlucky with many of the presentations I have seen as “Don’t blame PowerPoint; its just a vehicle” would say. But as an old BabyBoomer I remember Marshall McLuhan and “the medium is the message” (more accurately, the medium frames the message).

    Sure there is a good research proposal in this. but if there is, also sure someone has done it already (that’s my version of rational expectations and excuse for being lazy).

    But nice blog, makes you think.

  2. Hi Neil, great points, as usual.

    I’m not sure that PP is too much of a straw man though. Google “death by powerpoint”, or look at this from Edward Tufte:

    and this:

    His main point is like yours – that the medium frames or often determines the message. I see that point, but at the same time, as the presentation says, we are able to make choices about these things.

    I’m aiming to build on this idea later this week, though, this was really just an intro!

  3. Tim, the Tufte stuff is fascinating. On the original PowerPoint stuff, I think the key is that slide which says; “Let’s focus on what really matters: the presentation”

    Yes, Yes, Yes, if you are trying to sell things

    No, No No, if you want genuine dialogue Then what really matters is the content.

    Tufte’s criticisms were that PowerPoint is not authoritative enough

    My reservations are that it can be too authoritative – or at least can appear to be. Try getting a student to question a Power Point you have spent ages polishing up.

    If Moses had given ten bullet points on a couple of PowerPoint slides instead of some scribblings on a couple of pieces of rock he might have got on better.

    Don’t get me wrong I can PowerPoint with the best of them, and I read the feedback when I switched some years ago to using PowerPoint for my classes

    But when I stand in front of a group I want them to know that knowledge is contingent, uncertain, there are opposing points of view, there are other interpretations, and that what can be even more important than giving absolute answers is asking the right questions.

    Not sure that is what “Don’t blame the PowerPoint” was trying to say

  4. The contingency of knowledge is a whole new issue Neil, and an important one. And one that is difficult to communicate no matter what format or supporting media you use…

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