How Jeff Bezos Banned PowerPoint and What to Learn from It

This is now the eighth year I’m blogging. I like writing. Writing helps me to get to the point. And by this I mean, really to the point and not just to bullet points on a slide of PowerPoint. Formulating thoughts in such a way that they appeal to the reader and the message reaches the reader is damn hard work. It requires discipline and concentration – for every article, every week again. It is all the more astonishing that Jeff Bezos has banned PowerPoint completely and instead insists on six-page narratives, which are then studied in silence (sic!) by everyone at the beginning of a meeting. If Jeff Bezos and his team utilize their time in this way in the extremely fast-moving business fields in which Amazon in very successful, this can be seen as an inspiration for all of us to tell more and better stories instead of heartlessly enumerating endless lists of bullet points.

Long before people began using written (about 2,000 to 3,000 BC) and then printed word (and finally PowerPoint…) to carry messages, they told each other stories. It is believed that people had fully developed their language skills around 35,000 BC. The epic cave paintings of Lascaux suggest that people were already telling each other stories back then. All world religions are full of stories and parables. Even today, a good story fascinates people like few other things, turns films into blockbusters, books into bestsellers and makes actors, directors and authors world-famous. Actually, it is an obvious thing to use this ancient fascination for well-structured stories for meetings as well, as Jeff Bezos does.

We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of “study hall.”
Jeff Bezos

And of course there are also very good presentations on slides. And there are even still speakers who tell fascinating stories without any slides. But that’s not the point. These exceptions confirm the unfortunate rule that PowerPoint leads to shallowness. For both the sender and the recipient. PowerPoint is communicative fast food: useful at best, usually not very nutritious and harmful in the long run.

Narrative imagining — story — is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, or predicting, of planning, and of explaining.
Mark Turner

Anyone who has written longer texts knows how difficult this is compared to a few isolated bullet points. Not everyone has both the talent and the practice for this. Even at Amazon, the quality of the memos varies considerably, as Jeff Bezos himself admits in his last annual letter. Nevertheless, I can well understand that the preparation of meetings in the form of multi-page structured texts leads to a significantly higher quality. And the joint study of the memo at the beginning of the meeting is a beautiful ritual and a mindful moment of deceleration, which brings the necessary attention to the author and his matter. A very important, if not the most important aspect of Jeff Bezos’ rule.

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