Time to unplug PowerPoint

Can a corporate piece of software change the culture of an organisation. It happened in 1983 when Mitch Kapor developed Lotus 1-2-3 for the IBM PC, the PC’s first killer application. Aldus Pagemaker revolutionised desktop publishing. Email on the global internet revolutionised global business communications.

These days there are a handful of de facto technology standards that define not only the corporate desktop IT environment, but also the way people are expected to use these tools as part of their day-to-day work.

Office productivity is synonymous with Microsoft. While there are several alternatives, it remains the first choice among government and major corporations. Through its iterations MS Office has defined a protocol through which businesses exchange information, crunch numbers and share information. No business strategy is complete without a full PowerPoint slide deck.

Peter Jensen, chief of digital innovation at Moleskine, the maker of paper notebooks, believes that far too often it is misused. “There is a very real sense that the presentation is a corporate document, and must be perfect in every way. Everything needs to be super perfect.” Moleskine was set up in 1997 as a business that wanted to rekindle the creative spirit, by emulating the rough notes and sketches great artists and writers like Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and Bruce Chatwinmade made in their notepads.

Diane Chaleff, the G-Suite lead in the office of the CTO in Google cloud, believes traditional office productivity tools limit creativity and ideation. “Traditional technologies enforce a pattern of behaviour, which requires you to complete something.” This formality often means people share ideas much later and the feedback received is usually irrelevant, according to Chaleff. “You’ve wasted time creating the perfect presentation.” She says  work colleagues then see something that looks polished and complete. Their initial reaction is ‘this must be approved’.

The corporate standard templates, fonts, logos, layout and colours hide the core idea, which may never actually get discussed. Rather than being used as a tool in public speaking to present information, the PowerPoint slide deck is almost always used as a corporate reference document.

Google’s rival offering does pretty much the same thing. Both Microsoft Office 365 and G-Suite offer collaboration and tools to encourage new working practices. But G-Suite was invented by Google, not Microsoft. Chaleff claims this is enough, for people in business to break from the past and traditional office productivity, to try a new, more collaborative approach to work.

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