Patrick's Reviews > The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures

The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam
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's review
May 29, 15

bookshelves: business, facilitation, consulting
Read in April, 2009

Title: The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures
Author: Dan Roam
Category: Thinking Framework/Brainstorming
Audience: Anyone who has to solve problems or convince others of their

In The Back of the Napkin, Dan Roam takes us step-by-step through Discovering Ideas, Developing Ideas, and Selling Ideas using a visual thinking framework. He identifies the Four Steps of Visual Thinking, describes the Six Ways of Seeing, provides a set of contrasting ways of visualizing (called SQVID), and finally provides a Visual Thinking Codex, complete with a handy chart to tell you what types of diagrams can help you solve different problems. He ties all of this back to the neuroscience of our brains' visual processing mechanisms, and shows us how we can piggyback on our natural proclivity for sorting through visual information to help us find and explain solutions in an easy manner.

Back of the Napkin starts out by explaining to us the Four Steps of Visual Thinking. These are:
* Looking - gathering information and data
* Seeing - sorting through our data; finding the important bits and discarding
the unimportant ones
* Imagining - Playing with ways of visualizing the data to discover insights
* Showing - Explaining your data and insights to others.

To tackle the first two steps, we're introduced to the Six Ways of Seeing. They might look familiar, but the order in which they're presented is important:
* Who/What
* How many
* Where
* When
* How
* Why
By thinking about problems in terms of those six related viewpoints, we mimic the way our brain visualizes the world, which allows us to bring clarity to problems.

Our next step is the SQVID. SQVID stands for Simple, Quality, Vision,
Individual, and Delta, however these five attributes are actually intended to contrast with another five:
Simple vs. Elaborate
Quality vs. Quantity
Vision vs. Execution
Individual attributes vs. Comparison
Delta (change) vs. Status Quo
Each one of these helps us tweak our diagrams to our intended audience by
showing the items that are most important or that they most care about.

Finally, Roam puts all of this together into what he calls the "Visual Thinking Codex". He provides a table with the SQVID along the top, and the Six Ways of Seeing along the side, and by figuring out what we need to show and who we're showing it to, his table gives us the perfect style of diagram to present our ideas.

In the middle section of the book is a large case study putting all of the early information together to give a feel how the diagrams and frameworks can be used to solve business problems.

The very last section is a pair of chapters on how to use these visual thinking aids to sell your ideas. The main point here is simply that when presenting it's best to redraw your diagrams so your audience can follow along with you and therefore come to the same conclusions that you reached.

I really liked this book. It was a quick read, but it really made sense and introduced me to new ways of thinking through problems. Many technologists are biased toward visual or kinesthetic thinking, and having a visual thinking framework really allows us to tap into that. I'm not sure I'm going to remember the "proper" order of any of the lists, and I certainly won't remember everything in the Visual Thinking Codex, so this seems like the type of book that I'll need to reference a few times until I'm very experienced using the framework. I might put together a laminated card with some of the key points to help me along.

I recommend this book for anyone looking for new ways of thinking through
problems, or new ways of presenting information visually.

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