The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures
by Dan Roam, Portfolio, 288 pages, $24.95, Hardcover, March 2008, ISBN 9781591841999
When one thinks of the skills needed to thrive in today's business environment, the ability to draw isn't usually high on the list. But, as Dan Roam persuasively suggests, visual thinking through the use of drawing is one of the most powerful tools for solving problems and selling ideas we have available to us. And selling ideas and problem-solving, I think we can all agree, are essential to business success.
Human beings are born with an immense talent for processing images, and Roam insists--even if you don't believe you're a visual person--that so long as "you [are] able to walk in [a] room without falling down," you can use this talent to address any issue. The great thing about this book, though, is that it doesn't exhaust itself preaching the benefits of visual thinking. Roam states his case simply and effectively, and then moves on to giving you "tools and rules" to think visually, laying out the steps to take (Look, See, Imagine, Show) and "the six ways of seeing."
The six ways of seeing are: who/what, how much, where, when, how, and why. These six ways of seeing are going to affect each part of the visual thinking process, from identifying the issue, to developing an idea, to expressing a solution. As Roam puts it, "For every one of the six ways of seeing, there is one corresponding way of showing. For each one of these six ways of showing, there is a single visual framework that serves as a starting point."
Roam discovered the power of all this after flying to England to cover for a colleague at the last minute. He was asked on the train, en route to a large conference of education experts in England, to run his PowerPoint by the British team leader. And there was the rub. He didn't have one. In fact, he wasn't quite sure yet what it was he'd be talking about. When he found out it was about the role of the Internet in American education, a topic he didn't know much about, he grabbed a pen and the nearest napkin and began sketching out how to build a useful website for that audience. So, instead of having a PowerPoint, Dan Roam redrew the napkin on a giant blackboard, explaining each step as he had on the train, and what could have been a boring 45 minute lecture turned into two hours of "inspired discussion."
This book is full of great stories like the one above, and will show that you don't need to be a great artist to master the art of problem-solving--but it sure helps to draw it out anyway.