Slide inertia

Published in working in the open.

There’s a thing that happens in organisations, I thing I call slide inertia. It’s the tendency for presentation slides to be reused, repurposed, copied and pasted time and time and time again.

The image above is a sign of how strong slide inertia can be. Anyone who worked at GDS and wrote slides at the same time I did (approx 2012-2016) will recognise it: on the left it’s the standard light grey background of a typical GDS slide. On the right, there’s a bunch of coloured bars that I think were intended to be different options for use at the bottom of the grey slide.

When I arrived at GDS in 2012, this slide was already old. It had been hanging around from some time before, but had made its way into various decks that people tended to duplicate every time they started writing a new one.

I saw the same slide background just a few days ago, while writing slides for something at Public Digital. They were buried under several years of Public Digital stuff, but as I moved or deleted that stuff, those familiar coloured bars reappeared.

How many times has this slide background been duplicated?

How many decks does it still lurk behind?

How many gigabytes of needless data have been copied from one slide deck to another, duplicate after duplicate, moving not just through time within one organisation but through corporate space, from one organisation to another?

This is what slide inertia looks like

I don’t think there’s an easy way to avoid slide inertia. It’s going to happen. Slides you create from scratch today might be copied and reused and fiddled with. They will live on in someone else’s presentation, possibly in another organisation, years after you’ve forgotten writing them.

Slides carry their origins with them, aggregated layers of words and shapes and charts and pictures, like archaeology.

You can do your bit to lessen the friction: don’t be lazy when you write slides. Re-use old ones with care, only when doing so makes sense in the context of the new presentation. Write new slides as much as possible, creating them from scratch with the same care, and without digital cruft accumulating in the background.