Monday, November 29, 2010

The Back of the Napkin, by Dan Roam

The Back of the Napkin, by Dan Roam

I first came across a pre-programmed whiteboard process as a tool at Borland; the sales department there had a start-to-finish agenda that took a customer through the value proposition of the product line. While the tools weren’t great, the pitch itself was very effective. The Back of the Napkin shows not only how effective visual storytelling can be, but describes a framework for creating your own show-and-tell projects.

The basic tenet of the book is that any problem can be made clearer with a picture. “The real goal of visual thinking is to make the complex understandable by making it visible—not by making it simple.” Roam then proceeds to prove his thesis, demonstrate how to distill ideas into a simple set of pictures, show how different types of pictures are effective for different types of questions, and how to bring it all together into an effective persuasive pitch. Early on there is a short quiz to help determine if you are already a visual person or not (I’m in the middle) and then suggestions about in what order to read the book accordingly. “If you’re a Red Pen person (not visual) and not convinced of the analytic power of pictures, you might want to start with part III )The Visual Thinking MBA) in order to see pictures at work in solving a business problem. If you’re a Yellow Pen person...” I quite liked this as it recognizes that different people learn in different ways, which also happens to echo the lessons in creating a visual framework as well.

The most valuable lesson for me was discovering the template for focusing an idea: SQVID. SQVID stands for Simple, Quality, Vision, Individual attributes, and Delta (change). Dividing a problem into these areas and creating a simple set of sketches for each category helps “force your mind’s eye to look at your idea from many sides in a structured and repeatable way.” I’ve used this a few times since finding this book and it is extremely useful. This idea of forced focus reminds me a lot of Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, a technique I use in many agile retrospectives, which is probably why it resonated so strongly.

Simple to follow and easy to read, The Back of the Napkin is an effective book that does an excellent job not only explaining why visual thinking is so powerful, but how it can be used in everyday life.

First Sentence:
What’s the most daunting business problem you can picture?

No comments:

Search This Blog