Your Visual Thinking Toolkit

Any problem can be made clearer with a picture, and any picture can be made using the same simple set of tools and rules.

–       Dan Roam, The Back of the Napkin

Author, consultant, and visual thinker Dan Roam (The Back of the Napkin, Unfolding the Napkin, and Blah, Blah, Blah) argues that everyone is born with a talent for visual thinking, even those who swear they can’t draw.

Here are the main concepts as covered in his first book The Back of the Napkin and expanded on in the next two books. Using these simply powerful tools, he shows anyone how to clarify a problem or sell an idea by visually breaking it down using a simple set of visual thinking tools.

3 Basic Visual Thinking Tools

  • Our eyes
  • Our mind’s eye
  • Our hand-eye coordination

4 Steps of the Visual Thinking Process

  • Look
  • See
  • Imagine
  • Show

5 Questions to Help Open Your Mind’s Eye

  • Simple or Elaborate
  • Qualitative or quantitative
  • Vision or execution
  • Individual or comparison
  • Change or status quo

6 Ways We See and Show

  • Who/what – portrait
  • How much – chart
  • Where – map
  • When – timeline
  • How – flowchart
  • Why – plot

The Back of the Napkin proves that thinking with pictures can help you discover and develop new ideas, solve problems in unexpected ways, and dramatically improve your ability to share your insights. You will literally begin to see the world in a new way. Ven though the book has been available for several years, if you haven’t got one I encourage you to pick up a copy as soon as possible to fully understand, and implement, these powerful communication tools.

These tools have a new meaning to me as Vision Room Curator at Auxano. To help me better prepare for my new role, I’m starting school today: Dan Roam’s Napkin Academy, the first online school for visual thinking. I’ll be posting more about it later this week.

You should pick up a pen and join me!


The Unwritten Rules of Visual Thinking

We can solve our problems with pictures.

With that simple proposition, author and visual thinking consultant Dan Roam invites the reader to a four-day workshop on visual thinking in his book “Unfolding the Napkin.”

Central to his idea are the unwritten rules of visual thinking:

  1. Whoever is best able to describe the problem is the person most likely to solve it.
  2. We can’t solve a problem that overwhelms us. To understand what we’re seeing, we need to break it into bite-size pieces.
  3. Problems don’t get solved by the smartest or the fastest or the strongest; they get solved by the one who sees the possibilities.
  4. The more human your picture, the more human the response.

Sound too simplistic to be true? Maybe.

But I saw it begin to work last night in a client meeting involving a several million dollar project and a two-year brick wall.

I’m a believer.

Got problems? You need pictures!