What Color is Your Pen?

According to author Dan Roam (The Napkin Academy) there are three kinds of visual thinkers:

  • people who can’t wait to start drawing (the Black Pen people)
  • those who are happy to add to someone else’s work (the Yellow Pen people)
  • those who question it all – right up to the moment they pick up the Red Pen and redraw it all.

Which are you?

Hand me the pen! Black pen people show no hesitation in putting the first marks on an empty page. They come across as immediate believers in the power of pictures as a problem-solving tool, and have little concern about their drawing skills – regardless of how primitive their illustrations may turn out to be. They jump at the chance to approach the whiteboard and draw images to describe what they’re thinking. They enjoy visual metaphors and analogies for their ideas, and show great confidence in drawing simple images, both to summarize their ideas and then help work through those ideas.

I can’t draw, but… Yellow Pen people (or highlighters) are often very good at identifying the most important or interesting aspects of what someone else has drawn. These are the people who are happy to watch someone else working at the whiteboard – and after a few minutes will begin to make insightful comments – but who need to be gently prodded to stand and approach the board in order to add to it. Once at the board and with pen tentatively in hand, they always begin by saying “I can’t draw, but…” and then proceed to create conceptual masterworks. These people tend to be more verbal, usually incorporate more words and labels into their sketches, and are more likely to make comparisons to ideas that require supporting verbal descriptions.

I’m not visual Red Pen people are those least comfortable with the use of pictures in a problem-solving context – at least at first. They tend to be quiet while others are sketching away, and when they can be coaxed to comment, most often initially suggest a minor corrections of something already there. Quite often, the Red Pens have the most detailed grasp of the problem at hand – they just need to be coaxed into sharing it. When many images and ideas have been captured on the whiteboard, the Red Pen people will finally take a deep breath, reluctantly pick up the pen, and move to the board – where they redraw everything, often coming up with the clearest picture of them all.

Roam’s conclusion of these different types of people?

Regardless of visual thinking confidence or pen-color preference, everybody already has good visual thinking skills, and everybody can easily improve those skills. Visual thinking is an extraordinarily powerful way to solve problems, and though it may appear to be something new, the fact is that we already know how to do it.

What color is your pen?

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There’s Nothing Wrong with Words…

…what’s wrong is that they’re not enough.

I’m currently enrolled in, and taking online, The Napkin Academy from visual communicator Dan Roam.

Why?

  1. There is no more powerful way to discover a new idea than to draw a simple picture
  2. There is no faster way to develop and test an idea than to draw a simple picture
  3. There is no more effective way to share an idea with other people than to draw a simple picture

In a typical organization – including ChurchWorld – there is a whole gang of smart people so overwhelmed by verbal data that they’re hard pressed to know what to pay attention to.

The words and data are overwhelming.

That’s where pictures come in. Whether drawing them, looking at them, or talking about them, pictures add enormously to our ability to think, to remember, and most importantly, to do.

I’m really benefitting from being a part of The Napkin Academy – and you can too.

It’s time to put down the mouse and pick up a pen…

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!

The Power of the Humble Napkin

Any problem can be made clearer with a picture, and any picture can be made using the same simple set of tools and rules. (The Back of the Napkin, Dan Roam)

When Herb Kelleher was brainstorming about how to beat the traditional hub-and-spoke airlines, he grabbed a bar napkin and a pen. Three dots to represent Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Three arrows to show direct flights.

Problem solved.

The napkin sketch made it easy to sell Southwest Airlines to investors and customers – and the rest is history.

Sitting in Hardees yesterday eating a late lunch, I couldn’t help but notice the napkin dispenser.

What will you create today?

Want to know more about visual thinking?

Think Visual

Your Visual Thinking Toolkit

The Art of Visualization

Whiteboard For Skeptics

According to author Dan Roam (The Back of the Napkin, Unfolding the Napkin, and Blah, Blah, Blah), there are three kinds of visual thinkers: people who can’t wait to start drawing (the Black Pen people); those who are happy to add to someone else’s work (the Yellow Pen people); and those who question it all – right up to the moment they pick up the Red Pen and redraw it all.

Hand me the pen! Black pen people show no hesitation in putting the first marks on an empty page. They come across as immediate believers in the power of pictures as a problem-solving tool, and have little concern about their drawing skills – regardless of how primitive their illustrations may turn out to be. They jump at the chance to approach the whiteboard and draw images to describe what they’re thinking. They enjoy visual metaphors and analogies for their ideas, and show great confidence in drawing simple images, both to summarize their ideas and then help work through those ideas.

I can’t draw, but… Yellow Pen people (or highlighters) are often very good at identifying the most important or interesting aspects of what someone else has drawn. These are the people who are happy to watch someone else working at the whiteboard – and after a few minutes will begin to make insightful comments – but who need to be gently prodded to stand and approach the board in order to add to it. Once at the board and with pen tentatively in hand, they always begin by saying “I can’t draw, but…” and then proceed to create conceptual masterworks. These people tend to be more verbal, usually incorporate more words and labels into their sketches, and are more likely to make comparisons to ideas that require supporting verbal descriptions.

I’m not visual Red Pen people are those least comfortable with the use of pictures in a problem-solving context – at least at first. They tend to be quiet while others are sketching away, and when they can be coaxed to comment, most often initially suggest a minor corrections of something already there. Quite often, the Red Pens have the most detailed grasp of the problem at hand – they just need to be coaxed into sharing it. When many images and ideas have been captured on the whiteboard, the Red Pen people will finally take a deep breath, reluctantly pick up the pen, and move to the board – where they redraw everything, often coming up with the clearest picture of them all.
Roam’s conclusion of these different types of people?

Regardless of visual thinking confidence or pen-color preference, everybody already has good visual thinking skills, and everybody can easily improve those skills. Visual thinking is an extraordinarily powerful way to solve problems, and though it may appear to be something new, the fact is that we already know how to do it.

What color is your pen?