Here is an explanation as to why:
In the late 1990’s Dame Marilyn Strathern – a distinguished British anthropologist – drew a parallel between the battle tactics of the Mozambiquean Naparama army of boys and men and the tactics companies use to respond to audits.
Naparama men and boys reuse weapons aimed at them in two ways. Firstly, they may collect unspent ammunition and other arms aimed at them from their opponents for reuse against their opponents in later battles. Secondly, if they are wounded in battle, they view the scars they receive from their opponents weapons as ‘vaccinations’ against further attacks. In doing this the Naparama men and boys not only answer back to their opponents in the language of assessment-accountability, but they also adopt the weapons fired at them for their own internal regimes.
When responding to audits, companies are producing documents and evidence which are part of the general installation of ‘good practices’ by which these institutions will show auditors that they can govern themselves and thus ward off too much government from the centre. The statements within these documents are armed with a language of assessment and accountability that has grown to include textual devices such as bullet points and mission statements.
In using the ‘weapons’ of the other side, companies under audit are trying to reflect aspects of themselves and their auditor ‘opponents’. That reflection is accorded power of its own; in the documents they produce, they hope to be reflecting back the will of their opponents. This constitutes the very secret of mimesis, that is, to perceive is to imitate and thus we become (and produce) what we perceive. Marilyn Strathern takes audit as a particular example of the way in which the more general ethics of good practice get implemented; audit defines its own context in so far as it creates organisations responsive to the auditing process.
So why should we stop using textual devices such as bullet points and mission statements?
Firstly because a very specific kind of self is brought about when companies edit the description of themselves to fit these devices. Secondly because these textual devices have spilled over into other aspects of company activities such as the creation of sales documents.
Instead of answering back with a PowerPoint racked with mission statements and page after page of bullet points, the Accelerated Solutions Environment regularly deploys different visualisation methods of presenting information for ourselves and on behalf of our clients:
Figure 1: an example of how the ASE presents information
To distil the information you see above into a series of bullet points on a PowerPoint slide would be wholly unrepresentative of what we seek to do as a centre.
So the next time you default to ‘answering back’ with PowerPoint weaponry, ask yourself: what you could do to break the mould and surprise your ‘opponent’?