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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