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Bezos on Powerpoint, the military’s favorite software

August 8, 2013

As we have all heard by now, Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, has purchased the Washington Post.  I have nothing to add about what this means for the newspaper, Bezos, or the publications that Bezos didn’t purchase from the Washington Post Company (Foreign Policy and Slate).  But I did notice something interesting about Bezos in Ezra Klein’s interview with Don Graham, the chairman of the Washington Post Company – Bezos doesn’t like Powerpoint:

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the past two weeks. When Jeff holds meetings at Amazon he asks people not to use Powerpoints but to write an essay about their product or program or what the meeting is to be about. For the first 10 or 15 minutes everyone sits and reads the essay. His point is that if you write at length, you have to think first, and he feels the quality of thought you have to do to write at length is greater than the quality of thought to put a Powerpoint together. He also says to get to know people he calls daylong meetings about books where everyone reads the same book and talks about [it]. So he’s a reader.

The U.S military and Department of Defense is (in)famously obsessed with Powerpoint.  The software is the defense community’s golden calf.  A U.S. military officer was even sent home from Afghanistan for an anti-Powerpoint rant.

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3 thoughts on “Bezos on Powerpoint, the military’s favorite software

  1. Brilliant move on the part of Jeff Bezos! While PowerPoint can be a useful briefing aid, we as a society have become obsessed with pretty slides and kewl graphics in place of actually learning anything. Col. Lawrence Sellin was correct about the banality of most briefings and their content. I for one believe he was fired for telling the truth, rather than the BS excuse that was put forward about not clearing his comments with the PR hacks.

    PP is great for presenting data and information, but is does not work well for knowledge and assessment which come from actual thinking and analysis. This is a serious failing within the entire intelligence community. We are great at collecting data and producing information (and getting better at it each day.) But we are doing so at the expense of knowledge and assessment.


  2. In my 21 yrs of USAF time all I have found PP good for is giving the General’s Exec something to “bleed over” before briefing the General.
    Sadly too many of the senior officers these days only care about the background colors and the font type & size used in the briefing.
    “A tasker briefed is a tasker completed.”

  3. Edward Tufte’s famous essay “The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint” applies here. Keep in mind that PP was designed to create a slick marketing pitch, not to pass information. I use it in speeches and briefings, but I use it the way I used to employ a blackboard–posting the organization of the information along with necessary mnemonics. One ad in the 90’s called Powerpoint a “no brainer” business tool. I rest my case. The real information is always somehow between the bullets.