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Afghan spaghetti

Jon Moynihan
The Times
3 May 2010

In using charts to grapple with complex situations we should support dynamic thinking and avoid the over-simplistic


You printed what has been dubbed on the internet a “spaghetti” chart, depicting the current Afghan environment (“The Afghan situation explained . . . or not, depending on your opinion of PowerPoint”, April 28). PA Consulting Group produced this chart. We thoroughly agree that thoughtless use of PowerPoint is pervasive and corrosive, particularly in overreliance on dot points, and oversimplification of message.

However, ours was far from being over-simplistic PowerPoint, using instead a well-known technique — system dynamics — to review a highly complex situation. Unlike linear thinking, the default mode of the human brain, system dynamics thinks about repercussions and occasionally unintended consequences of actions. This chart was published without context; it was designed to be part of a broad briefing, where it was slowly revealed alongside a verbal description of each major element.

This chart, with its attempt to grapple with complexity, was a dream for those wanting to respond trivially. But do we really want simplistic philosophies to win out in defence thinking? Do we want strategies developed that take no account of complexity and the sometimes counterintuitive outcomes of well-intentioned actions?

We should support dynamic thinking and duck the temptations of over-simplistic linear thinking.

Jon Moynihan

Executive Chairman, PA Consulting Group

To read this letter in The Times, click here.


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