At some point in most consulting engagements, someone will ask, “Is everyone else as screwed up as we are?” The answer, of course, is yes. Most consultants’ business opportunities are created by their clients’ inability to solve (or communicate) vexing problems or challenges.
And now there’s a deceptively simple business book that can help you become less dependent upon consultants’ help, if you learn how to apply visual thinking to problem solving and group communications.
This book is written especially for people like me and you who think they can’t draw. It focuses on helping you see differently, explore and think things through visually, and then convey the insights you develop by this visual thinking technique.
In its own way, this is a practical guide for people who want to “Think Different.”
Besides its charming stick-figure sketches, the secret to The Back of the Napkin is its simple but powerful framework and the explanations on how to apply this framework to real-world problems:
- “seeing” problems in terms of the classic 6 W’s: who, what, when, where, how and why;
- exploring what’s most important to understand and then convey — for you as problem solvers, and for your audience (or the people you’re trying to convince) — via 5 key dimensions the author calls “SQVID”;
- discovering insights or fresh alternatives through the patterns that emerge from your visual combinations;
- and then applying the best communications approach given the audience and your objectives.
As evidence for the power of his framework, the book’s author, Dan Roam, cites scientific research that reveals the brain is “hard-wired” for fast processing in response to the 6 W’s, when information is conveyed visually.
As an antidote to “death by PowerPoint,” I highly recommend The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, by Dan Roam.
Have Markers, Will Travel
When you’ve mastered the visual thinking framework laid out in Dan Roam’s book, all you need for client presentations is a set of markers and a surface to draw on. (The surface depends on the size of the team you’re interacting with: a napkin or piece of paper works fine in small meetings, a whiteboard or easel pad for larger groups.)
For situations that require PowerPoint (or Apple’s Keynote), the author recommends scanning hand-drawn sketches and inserting those graphics into your slide deck. He’s not suggesting you stop using PowerPoint, but instead learn how to visualize and convey important problems using his framework:
When we think about the more elaborate and insightful pictures required to show complex interactions of when, where, how, and why, the point isn’t to replace all the words; the point is to use a picture to replace those words that are more effectively conveyed, understood, and remembered visually.
Making Your Point
For best results, Roam recommends thinking through what should be drawn on the whiteboard before others arrive, and how to stage elements to be added later. He’s learned through experience that sometimes the best communications occur when you take people through an abbreviated tour of your visual thinking journey.
People who master visual thinking will find themselves in great demand in the business world or in situations involving multiple stakeholders and lots of complexity or ambiguity.
And as American schools fail more and more to teach students how to think critically and communicate clearly, books like Back of the Napkin have something important to offer.