The Baby and the Bath Water

Jeff Bezos of Amazon (and now the Washington Post) has banned PowerPoint presentations from Amazon staff meetings in favor of six-page written arguments.

I certainly understand the motivation to get rid of bad presentations; it’s one of the reasons IMP Communications exists! But replacing bad presentations with bad writing seems to be an especially odd strategy.

I love the written word. A well-reasoned argument on paper allows me to engage with the material on my own time and at different times. When I want to learn something, I google the topic and I’m faced with links to dozens of sites that will teach me how to do something. Half of them are YouTube videos; I invariably ignore the videos and click on the text links.

Yet, earlier this week, I wanted to learn how to tie a bow tie. Turns out the video was a heck of a lot easier to follow than a list of steps.

And that brings me to my point- use the right tool for the job.

Finding the right tool means thinking carefully about the purpose of the communication. You’re presenting new research at a conference of astro-physicists. Is it really necessary to stand up in the auditorium and speak for 45 minutes? No- your listeners are very much used to reading and extracting the pertinent information. They would most likely better understand the research if you sent them a 60-page document.

In fact, you are there to represent your organization and to make personal contact.

I like the idea of forcing employees to write their ideas. And I like the idea of forcing people to read. Both of those skills have been neglected.

However, one tool- a six-page document- doesn’t seem likely to meet the wide variety of communications that a company like Amazon needs.

In short, Bezos has thrown out the baby with the bath water. But he’s a smart man and I’ll bet Amazon’s internal discussions will become more productive. Then, he will say, “Okay, now that we’ve all learned to be articulate, use the tool that you feel works best.”

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