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The Back of the Napkin:
Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures


"The premise behind Roam's book is simple: anybody with a pen and a scrap of paper can use visual thinking to work through complex business ideas.

Management consultant and lecturer Roam begins with a "watershed moment": asked, at the last minute, to give a talk to top government officials, he sketched a diagram on a napkin.

The clarity and power of that image allowed him to communicate directly with his audience.

From this starting point, Roam has developed a remarkably comprehensive system of ideas.

Everything in the book is broken down into steps, providing the reader with "tools and rules" to facilitate picture making.

There are the four steps of visual thinking, the six ways of seeing and the "SQVID"– a clumsy acronym for a "full brain visual work out" designed to focus ideas.

Roam occasionally overcomplicates; an extended case study takes up a full third of the book and contains an overload of images that belie the book's central message of simplicity.

Nonetheless, for forward-thinking management types, there is enough content in these pages to drive many a brainstorming session.


—Publisher's Weekly

"As painful as it is for any writer to admit, a picture *is* sometimes worth a thousand words. That's why I learned so much from this book. With style and wit, Dan Roam has provided a smart, practical primer on the power of visual thinking."

—Daniel H. Pink, author of A Whole New Mind

"Inspiring! It teaches you a new way of thinking in a few hours -- what more could you ask from a book?"

—Dan Heath, author of Made to Stick

"This book is a must read for managers and business leaders. Visual thinking frees your mind to solve problems in unique and effective ways."

—Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures

"If you observe the way people read or listen to things in the early 21st century, you realize that there aren't many of us left with a linear attention span. Visual information is much more interesting than verbal information. So if you want to make a point, do it with images, pictures or graphics. . . . Dan Roam is the first visual consultant for businesses that I've worked with. His approach is faster for the customer. And the message sticks."

—Roger Black, Media design leader, Author of Websites That Work

"Simplicity. This is Dan Roam's message in The Back Of The Napkin. We all dread business meetings with their mountains of documents and the endless bulleted power points. Roam cuts through all that to demonstrate how the use of simple drawings -- executed while the audience watches -- communicate infinitely better than those complex presentations. Is a picture truly worth a thousand words? Having told us how to communicate with pictures, Roam rounds out his message by explaining that "We don't show an insight-inspiring picture because it saves a thousand words; we show it because it elicits the thousand words that make the greatest difference." And that is communication that works."

—Bill Yenne, author of Guinness: The 250 Year Quest for the Perfect Pint




The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures
  • Part 1 Introductions
    • A Whole New Way of Looking at Business
      • "I'm Not at Visual Person"
      • Visual Thinking in Four Lessons
      • Where All This Came from ...
    • Which Problems, Which Pictures, And Who is "We"?
      • What I Hope You Get from This Book
      • Problems? What Problems?
        • The Six Problem "Clumps" (The 6 W's)
      • Problem Example Number One: Daphne and the Information Overload
      • Picture: What Pictures?
      • The Hand is Mighter Than The Mouse
      • Black Pen, Yellow Pen, Red Pen: Who Is "We"?
      • Your Pen is What Color?
        • "Which Color Is Your Pen?" Self-Assessment
        • Take away's
      • How to Use This Book
        • 1. A four-step process
        • 2. Three built-in tools to improve
        • 3. Six ways of seeing
        • Summary
    • A Gamble We Can't Lose: The Four Step of Visual Thinking
      • Texam Hold'em : The Table Stakes of Visual Thinking
      • The Process of Visual Thinking
        • The Visual Thinking Process, Step by Step
          • Looking
          • Seeing
          • Imagining
          • Showing
      • It's Not Always Linear, Actually
  • Part 2 Discovering Ideas
    • No Thanks, Just Looking
      • How We Look
      • Which Way Is Up?
      • How to Look Better: Four Rules to Live By
        • Rule 1: Collect everythng possible up front
          • Too Much to Look At
          • Not Enough to Look At
        • Rule 2: Lay it all out where you can look at it
          • The Garage-Sale Principle: How Do We Even Know What We've Got?
            • Where Can We Put Everything So That We Can Look at It?
        • Rule 3: Estable the underlying information coordinates
          • Fine, but How Can We Look at an Idea?
        • Rule 4: Practice visual triage
          • What Do We Look at First?
            • Precognitive Visual Triage
    • The Six Ways of Seeing
      • Seeing the Whole Picture
      • The Bird-Dog Drill
        • 1. Picture someone you know who makes you feel good.
        • 2. Picture your favorite dog.
        • 3. Picture someone pushing a baby carriage.
        • 4. Picture a bird.
        • 5. Picture an outdoor place where there is a bench you can sit on. Sit on it.
        • 6. See your full scene.
      • The Six Ways We See
        • 1. We Saw Objects--The Who and The What
        • 2. We Saw Quantities--The How Many and How Much
        • 3 We Saw Position in Space--The Where
        • 4. We Saw Position in Time--The When
        • 5. We Saw Influence And Cause And Effect--The How
        • 6. We Saw All Of This Come Together and 'Knew' Something About Our Scene--The Why
        • Back to the Bird
      • Putting the Six Ways to Work
      • The Chocolate War
      • The Chocolate Training Process as Seen According to the 6W's
      • Preview of Coming Attractions: Get Ready for the Six Ways of Showing
    • The SQVID : A Practical Lesson in Applied Imagination
      • The Many Ways to Slice an Apple
      • Enter the SQVID : The Full-Brain Visual Workout
      • Dissecting the SQVID
      • The SQVID Is Brain Food For the Whole Brain
      • The SQVID in Action
        • Question 1: Simple or Elaborate
        • Question 2: Quality or Quantity
        • Question 3: Vision or Execution?
        • Question 4: Individual or a Comparison
        • Question 5: The Way Things are Versus The Way They Could Be
      • Whiteboard Workshop: Taking The SQVID For A Walk
        • 1. Pick an idea.
        • 2. Draw a circle and give it a name.
        • 3. Create your SQVID pages.
        • 4. Fill out Your SQVID .
      • What is Happening
    • Frameworks for Showing
      • Where the Rubber Meets the Road
      • The Three Steps of Showing
        • 1. Select the right framework.
        • 2. Use the framework to create our picture.
        • 3. Present and explain our picture.
      • Seeing Becomes Showing
      • Implications For Visual Thinking
      • What Defines a Showing Framework?
      • How Do We Use A Showing Framework?
      • Mapping it All Together: The Visual Thinking Codex
      • A Note on Combination Frameworks
  • Part 3 Developing Ideas
    • Showing And The Visual Thinking MBA
      • Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Pens
      • The Visual Thinking MBA: Putting it All to Work
      • The Case Study Scenario
      • A Note On The Pictures We'll Be Creating
    • Pictures That Solve a Who/What Problem
      • The Customer Crisis
      • Portraits: General Rules of Thumb
    • Pictures That Solve A How Much Problem
      • The Customer Crisis, Now with Numbers
      • Charts: General Rules of Thumb
        • 1. It's the data that matters, so let it show.
        • 2. Pick the simplest model to make your point
        • 3. If you start with one model, stay with one model
        • Back to SAX Inc.
        • Pie Fight
    • Pictures that Solve the Where Problem
      • Moving Out Across the Map
      • Maps: General Rules of Thumb
        • 1. Everything has a geography
        • 2. North is a state of mind
        • 3. Look beyond the obvious hierarchy
      • Back to Sax Inc.
    • Pictures That Solve a When Problem
      • One Step at a Time
      • Review: A Timeline Shows When
      • Timelines: General Rules of Thumb
        • 1. Time is a one-way street
        • 2. Repeating timelines create life cycles
        • 3. Round versus linear
      • Back to Sax
    • Pictures That Solve A How Problem
      • How Can We Fix This?
      • Review: A Flowchart Shows How
      • Back to Stax
    • Pictures That Solve A Why Problem
      • Why Spend the Money
      • Review: A Multiple-Variable Plot Shows Why
      • Multiple-Variable Plots: General Rules of Thumb
      • Back to SAX Inc.
  • Part 4 Selling Ideas
    • Everything I Know About Business I Learned in Show-And-Tell
      • Tenth graders don't think they can draw
      • How not to present a problem-solving picture
      • Look, See, Imagine, Show: The Four Steps of Selling an Idea with a Picture
        • Start looking aloud
        • Keep seeing aloud
        • Continue by imagining aloud
        • Close by showing aloud
      • Sometimes a Pizza is Enough, Sometimes it's Not
    • Drawing Conclusions
      • Visual Thinking: The Take-Anywhere Problem-Solving Toolkit
      • Three-Four-Five-Six: The Visual Thinking Swill Army Knife
  • Appendix A The Science of Visual Thinking
    • Russian Roulette
    • How We See, Part 1: The Vision Pathways
      • The Old Pathway
      • The New Pathways
    • How We See, Part 2: Right Brain Versus Left Brain
    • How We See, Part 3: The Things We Don't Know
  • Appendix B Resources for Visual Thinkers
    • Software
    • Books
      • Creative Problem Solving
      • Neurobiology and Vision Science
      • Visual Exercise and Insights for Non-Artists (And Artists, Too, Of Course!)
      • Other Notes on Sources
  • Index


“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic”. — Peter Drucker

The shift from manual workers who do as they are being told — either by the task or by the boss — to knowledge workers who have to manage themselves ↓ profoundly challenges social structure

Managing Oneself is a REVOLUTION in human affairs.” … “It also requires an almost 180-degree change in the knowledge workers’ thoughts and actions from what most of us—even of the younger generation—still take for granted as the way to think and the way to act.” …

… “Managing Oneself is based on the very opposite realities: Workers are likely to outlive organizations (and therefore, employers can’t be depended on for designing your life), and the knowledge worker has mobility.” ← in a context




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