The Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has banned PowerPoint in meetings.
This strikes me as a brilliant move, as there are so many better ways to communicate ideas than using a clunky, outdated tool which most viewers regard as inherently boring.
PowerPoint was launched by Microsoft in 1987, long before the internet became massively popular. At that time, mobile phones – such as the Nokia Cityman 900 – were so expensive and heavy that they were only used by army generals and presidents.
Yet strangely, Powerpoint retains a stranglehold on millions of people, not because it is good but because it’s familiar.
I have noticed that university teachers seem to think it’s the clever person’s method of explaining complex data. And unfortunately, this sends a signal to their students that it’s the best tool for business, too.
Yet most professors and business people use PowerPoint slides in exactly the same way as their Eighties ancestors, despite all the recent advice on how to freshen up the visuals and make them interesting.
If I were to ask you to recall the highlights of any PowerPoint deck you saw recently, I am pretty sure that your mind will go blank.
And if you used your phone to take a picture of a slide, I doubt you’ve ever looked at it again. Although if you have a brilliant slide you’d like to share, do please message with me it so we can celebrate it together!
I’m sorry to say that in Japan, dull PowerPoint presentations dominate the education system and they also waste millions of hours of people’s precious work time.
People in China tell me that the problem is even worse there.
So I support decision Jeff Bezos’ plan to ban PowerPoint. I doubt anyone at Amazon misses it. They have Alexa now. And the company made a record profit of ten billion dollars last year, largely due to its creative ideas in cloud computing.
Amazon’s move is not new but I learned about it by reading a book which has just been published, called Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed.
“For more than a decade, meetings at the tech giant have started without a PowerPoint presentation or banter but with total silence. For thirty minutes, the team read a six page memo that summarises, in narrative form, the main agenda item,” writes Syed.
He says that Jeff Bezos wants people to use a narrative to explain their ideas, because this helps listeners understand the most important points.
Syed also says that asking people to sit quietly and think about an issue ahead of a discussion encourages them to delve deep mentally, before they hear the opinion of others.
Actually, I didn’t buy Matthew Syed’s book from Amazon. It was given to me as a present by my friend Iris Cai, who joined me at a presentation the author gave at the RSA in London last week.
I was thrilled that Iris asked Matthew Syed to sign a copy of his book for me personally. What a wonderful incentive for me to read it and to work on “the power of diverse thinking” with my Chinese friend!
I noticed that Matthew Syed didn’t use any slides or graphs. He didn’t need them. His stories were interesting and each one carried a thought-provoking idea.
But was he actually following his own advice? After all, his talk began with him throwing ideas towards the audience, without inviting us to think the issues through for ourselves.
Of course, I’d have resented it if he’d asked me to sit in silence for thirty minutes before he said anything important.
But I wonder if a really rebellious gesture like that would have been a powerful way to reinforce cognitive diversity in preparation for solving complex problems?
I’d have certainly have remembered it longer than another dull PowerPoint event.