Just Picture It
Visualize an important business presentation. One where you are attempting to convey essential information to your audience. One for which you have spent months preparing.
While each of us probably pictured a different type of meeting, with variations in audience, location and purpose, it is likely that all the meetings pictured had at least one thing in common: a presentation loaded with graphs, charts and other elaborate visuals, many incorporated into a slick PowerPoint show.
Now imagine that same presentation. Only this time, you are not loaded down with glossy computer-generated charts and your PowerPoint program is sitting unused on your laptop. Instead, you are surrounded by whiteboards, and when the presentation begins, you pick up a marker and begin drawing your ideas for the audience. As the meeting progresses, you might even ask a few people to join you and add their own ideas to the pictures.
Crazy? Not according to Dan Roam, author of The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures. Roam touts the advantages of learning to utilize visual thinking through the use of hand-drawn pictures to get to the heart of complex matters and to identify the most effective way to present information. “Any problem can be made clearer with a picture,” he says, “and any picture can be created using the same set of tools and rules.”
But I Failed Art…
Roam recognizes that many business people are intimidated by his visual approach to solving problems. However, he is quick to point out that “solving problems with pictures has nothing to do with artistic training or talent.” Rather, it is about tapping into the power of visual thinking, something he asserts we already do every day.
According to Roam, we can learn to use our built-in biological tools (our eyes, our mind’s eye and our hand/eye coordination) to follow a four-step process of visual thinking (look, see, imagine and show). This process, when combined with the six major ways in which we see (who/what, how much, where, when, how and why), can then be used to analyze complex information and present that information in easy-to-grasp, vivid pictures.
And don’t worry about your lack of artistic talent. “People like seeing other people’s pictures,” says Roam. “In most presentation situations, audiences respond better to hand-drawn images (however crudely drawn) than to polished graphics.”
Drawing by Numbers
Roam presents a step-by-step method of harnessing the power of pictures. He walks through techniques for more effective looking, seeing and imagining, then moves on to choosing the appropriate pictures to draw when working with different types of information. He shows how drawing can be used to identify key concepts, then covers the most effective frameworks for presenting those concepts to others.
Roam shows the practical applications of his process through a “Visual Thinking MBA,” an example that illustrates how the system is applied in a real-life business scenario of a software company that must turn itself around before it loses significant market share. In this case study, Roam demonstrates how each aspect of his system can be applied, complete with a plethora of hand-drawn images for each concept.
While Roam presents his ideas in an entertaining, informative style, his approach can be a little long-winded. He takes too long describing how and why we visually process things, despite already including an appendix titled “The Science of Visual Thinking.” This proves frustrating, as it delays the reader from engaging with the process. However, Roam organizes his text clearly and readers can skip directly to the sections that most interest them without becoming lost.
There is also something oddly unsatisfying about walking through a visual thinking process that provides examples of how each concept can be presented rather than having you draw them yourself, but this is more a result of the less-interactive print medium than Roam’s process, which is intriguing and holds immense potential for changing the way the business world solves problems and sells concepts.