The Demise of PowerPoint?

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

– Benjamin Franklin

In the old days, the size of an organization was directly proportional to the volume of PowerPoint slides and presentations that it created. Beautiful graphics, limitless fonts, animations and multi-media galore. If you had a point to make, it gave you the power to make that point with pizzazz! Add in the ability to create PowerPoint Shows that automatically start when opened and you can even do away with the presenter!

Fast forward to today and large, successful enterprises like Amazon are realizing the limitations of PowerPoint and other forms of one-way presentation. In fact, Jeff Bezos, the Founder and CEO of Amazon banned PowerPoints from executive meetings. He replaced them with 30 minutes of silent reading of six-page narratives or stories followed by group discussion. Why limit it to just executive meetings? The rest of the company could surely benefit from this practice. And why limit the replacement for PowerPoint to just story reading? People have different learning styles.

The VARK Modalities (Fleming & Mills, 1992) refer to 4 different learning styles that make up the acronym:

  • Visual – seeing
  • Auditory – hearing
  • Reading/writing – reading and writing
  • Kinesthetic – doing

The Multiple Intelligences model (Gardner 1983) overlaps the VARK model with 8 intelligence-based learning styles:

  • Linguistic – “word smart”
  • Logical/Mathematical – “number/reasoning smart”
  • Spatial – “picture smart”
  • Body-Kinesthetic – “body smart”
  • Musical – “music smart”
  • Interpersonal – “people smart”
  • Intrapersonal – “self smart”
  • Naturalist – “nature smart”

Steve Jobs did some of his best thinking while going for long walks in nature. How do you learn best? By seeing, hearing, reading or doing? Alone or with others?

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward”

– Vernon Law

I and some wonderful colleagues recently had the honor of introducing the concept of Kanban to a large IT infrastructure group during a lunch-an-learn event. They were expecting to munch their sandwiches in the dark while watching and listening to a standard Kanban 101 deck and pitch. We could’ve obliged. We didn’t.

We wanted them to experience Kanban before they learned about it. Thanks to Mike Burrows, the inventor of a Kanban simulation game called Featureban, we had a great way to do this. The Featureban game simulates a cross-functional team responsible for developing and maintaining a supermarket website. The team uses a real Kanban system to coordinate and manage its work. It leverages multiple learning styles including spatial, kinesthetic and interpersonal. And best of all, it’s FUN!

When I’ve used Featureban before, it took about 90 minutes to run three iterations with no more than two to four teams of four to five members per team. For this lunch-and-learn event, we had to double down on both timing and size. We had less than 60 minutes to run Featureban with close to 100 participants! Here’s how we did it:

  • We reduced the instructions to the bare minimum – essentially a 1-pager per iteration.
  • We limited collaboration opportunities to the all-important iteration debriefs. We prepared backlog tasks for each team ahead of time.
  • We had the participants self-organize into teams of 8-10 members and then volunteer to be part of two sub-teams of 4 members each. Each sub-team played 1 iteration of the game. The rest of the team served as observers and debrief leaders.
  • Dealing with lunch and late arrivals was like herding bees. The late arrivals were asked to join teams as observers.
  • We had a facilitator for every two teams.

It was messy but people were really engaged and focused during both the game-play and debriefs. After playing the game and debriefing, we finished the event by introducing the Kanban practices and principles. You could see heads nodding with knowing glances – as if they had already lived the practices. And that was the point!

It was a great learning experience for everyone including us facilitators!

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