Ban PowerPoint

From Weekly I/O#35

Why does Amazon ban PowerPoint in meetings? First Principles and writing to think.

Podcast: Eugene Wei: Compress to Impress

In Amazon's 2018 annual letter, Jeff Bezos wrote, "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."

Eugene Wei, who joined Amazon in 1997, talked about his experience working with Jeff in this Podcast. He talked about how Jeff Bezos was a first principles thinker and a huge fan of raw data. He believed that PowerPoint, as the medium of communication, can distort people's thinking. Slides are compressed and second-handed information. It is easy for the presenter but difficult for the audience. Switching to write in narrative memos lets the audience judge from raw data by themselves. In other words, it opened the opportunity to invite the audience to think from the First Principle.

Additionally, writing forces the presenters to clarify their thinking more. As I noted in Weekly I/O #27.3, writing is thinking. "When you haven't had a clear thought to elaborate, you should start writing first, and the idea will get more concrete and clear by the process of writing."

To add to Eugene's points, I think switching from slides to writing also opens the opportunity for other people who are not in the meeting to review and understand the context. This advantage is also related to Basecamp's Internal Communication Guide:

"Writing solidifies, chat dissolves. Substantial decisions start and end with an exchange of complete thoughts, not one-line-at-a-time jousts. If it's important, critical, or fundamental, write it up, don't chat it down."

"Speaking only helps who's in the room, writing helps everyone. This includes people who couldn't make it, or future employees who join years from now."

Lastly, regardless of being a big fan of raw data and absorbing them from the bottom, Jeff Bezos is still really good at encapsulating the derived thoughts into concise but captivating principles for communication.

Eugene Wei's career is pretty interesting. He joined Amazon early working on product, then left Amazon to be a filmmaker, went to editing school in NYC, then to UCLA Film School. Later he became the head of product at Hulu and Flipboard, and head of video at Oculus. This interview with Eugene Wei is quite fun to listen to. I also like his writing.

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