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

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  13,648 ratings  ·  355 reviews
A bold new way to tackle tough business problems—even if you draw like a second grader

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, and the picture made it easy to sell Southwes
Hardcover, 278 pages
Published March 13th 2008 by Portfolio Hardcover (first published 2008)
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Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
A third of the way through this book, I was afraid that it would be nothing more than another "here's how to present information graphically: you have hue, intensity, etc. to work with" beginner book on design. I've read several and they have completely failed to stick.

But now I'm 80% of the way through and I see this book is not that at all. Instead, it's a way of tackling difficult problems by creating the "picture worth a thousand words" that gets your point across. The author tells you to lo
Nov 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
There are two things I didn't really enjoy with this book. One isn't really the fault of the author as such, it's more my fault for reading it. I'm in a creative industry and read this as part of a industry bookclub I attend. I think I thought it would be more about methods of thinking visually and tips and techniques - turns out it much more aimed at management consultants and offers problems solving methods with a visual skew.

The second aspect that I didn't like was the convienience of it all
Sebah Al-Ali
Jul 17, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: summer-10
الكاتب كتابته سلسة جدا و ممتعة. و تنسيق الكتاب نفسه جذاب لا يتسم بالرتابة المملة التي يتصف بها القالب التقليدي للكتب. تعلمت الكثير، و أظن أن الأفكار التي وردت في الكتاب يكمن جمالها في قابلية تطبيقها في مختلف المجالات و الأمور. يمكن فهمها على أنها منظار عملي لمعالجة الظروف الحياتية، بشكل عام، من خلاله.

أعجبتني كثيرا فكرة أن أي مشكلة أو ظرف يمكن حلها من منظور "الست أسئلة": 1. من و ماذا. 2. كم. 3. متى. 4. أين. 5. كيف. 6. لمَ.
هي فكرة بسيطة إن تمعنا بها، لكن غالبا ما نغفل عن تطبيقها في حل المشكلات أو
Gene Babon
Jan 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: strategy
This book is my third and final candidate for best business book I read in 2009. The first two were:

Strengths-Based Leadership
Talent is Overrated

This book resonated with me because of my current role as technology instructor. I am challenged almost daily with presenting sometimes complex concepts to design students who sometimes respond that they don't understand by stating "I'm a visual person."

This book helped me appreciate the value of telling a story with pictures and how to ask the right qu
Mar 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
Yes, you should read this book. The content is excellent and useful. If you have any desire to be a better problem solver or a better communicator, then I believe you will find this book useful. Especially if you are in any sort of leadership role.

Stylistically, Dan writes as if he is speaking; a trait that seems to prevail among many author who are also speakers. That got in a way a few times, but it was a small annoyance.
Nov 07, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures” explores the power an image can yield as a conveyor of ideas or concepts. Although it was recommended to me as a friendly way to learn about modeling languages (a rather work related topic), its not at all a technical book. Instead it aims to convey its ideas to the general public, demystifying the use of our innate visual thinking. By a series of business stories the author describes how simple sketches over a napkin (or ...more
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biz
When a book encourages me to follow along by doing exercises or replicating the examples in the book I find it much more useful. The Back of the Napkin is one of these books. Basically any problem you can draw out on a small piece of paper. Roam takes you from the beginning - square one where to start - to the end - how to present your ideas in a presentation - both the pictures and words.

The best part of the book is that Roam establishes a process from start to finish. He demystifies visual th
Ben Love
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
I sat last week with an 18 page strategy document I’d created knowing I would be the only person who would actually read it (and only because I forced myself to). The first time I read the original version of this book, it was an ebook. I got the concepts, they stuck and it made a lot of sense.
This time around I bought a paper copy in the morning and spent five hours reading through it with my strategy document beside me. The result was a series of decks that broke down the primary concepts in d
Mar 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
The methods weren't applicable. Forcing them would be a waste of time on my part. What a disappointment.
Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I think if you have any experience in science, that this book is useless. It's hard for me to judge what audience it is useful for. I thought this would feature many examples like the famous Southwest Airlines napkin with relevant comments. Instead, for a book on using pictures to communicate, it is extremely wordy.

For better, beautiful books on visual display of complex information, I would consider first the works of Tufte:
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte
Jul 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This was an fantastic book and it should be required reading for anybody in business.

The subject is all about visual thinking (a very Lean concept) but it also provides a great framework for critical thinking. Mixing the two will provide outstanding results.

Immediate benefit I see from this book: SHORTER MEETINGS!

By making things visual, it will be easier to direct conversations to the issue SEEN in front of them (not just "stick to what I am talking about"). With visual thinking, you can have h
J. Edward
Aug 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Given how much time I spend at a whiteboard, I've often contemplated how to more effectively use that tool. A really well drawn diagram, particularly if it's accompanied by both a good analogy and a good example ends up hitting nearly all of the learning styles in a given room.

The Back of the Napkin was recommended to me as a really good book for how to improve whiteboard diagrams. That recommendation wasn't ill-founded. This approach gives a nicely structured system for how to diagram most comm
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A great read for those who are more visual in our communication with others. This book does attempt to give a guide of sorts of how one can communicate his or her ideas effectively. The ideas given are fresh, and I do find them directly applicable to those who are either more suited to these kind of communication media, or for those who wants to add a little zing to their presentation. But one aspect that I do find this book lacking is the seemingly technical details that it is trying to force o ...more
Susan Connell Biggs
Aug 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: work-related
Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas by Dan Roam is an easy read that helps us think about ways that pictures can help us solve problems. It might be helpful for those of us who like to use visual activities as inquiry tools. Since I'm a visual thinker who often turns to pictures to think things out, this helped me reflect on ways I can further refine my methods. I can imagine it would be helpful for those who don't turn to pictures first, to see how they can be a great way to ...more
Jeremy Beasley
Jun 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: design
This is a great book that teaches you how to frame problems and communicate them better visually.

The author goes beyond the "here's the top 3 things to do" lists that I'm accustomed to in most business productivity books. He pulls in various research which breaks down how we process and communicate information which will be a refresh for some and completely new to others.

I highly recommended this book for anyone who has to use their brain for a living...which would include everyone. :)
Sandro Mancuso
This is an OK book and can be read very quickly if you know how to speed read. I recommend it to people who need to develop high level consultancy skills. It helps you learn how to collect info, structure your thoughts and present business info in a visual form. As I’ve been working as a consultant for many years, the book didn’t give me any new insights and that’s why I gave it 3 stars.
Manuel Frias
Jul 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: visualization
This is for me the most inspiring book about visual thinking so far. Dan Roam doesn't only explain why we all should solve problems with pictures. He even explains how to do it in an engaging and, of course, visual way.
David McClendon, Sr
Jan 17, 2012 rated it liked it
I read The Back of the Napkin (Expanded Edition) on my Amazon Kindle Basic. While I love to read books on my Kindle, I would have to say that charts and most pictures are basically lost when using the Kindle. That being said, I have to say I enjoyed the book.

This book takes the reader on a little journey. Dan Roam shows us how he came up with the concept of using simple, basic, pictures drawn by hand to illustrate the concepts he was wishing to convey to his audiences.
Our author gives us severa
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
I didn't actually finished the book.

The book contains details of the framework that I think comes naturally to me. I have that ability to break things down and explain and the book concentrates on that a lot. So, if you have problem with that the book might help.

I expected that the book would show a lot of drawing strategies and examples. There are not that many.

The only thing I liked was the story in the beginning of the book.
Dec 26, 2009 rated it liked it
The concept of this book is teaching everyone -- not just artistic types -- to use images effectively for presentations and persuasion. I love the concept, and there were some awesome, quotable sections (I especially liked the difference between LOOKING and SEEING).

I think it's extremely difficult to cover this topic thoroughly and effectively in a book format. I would love to attend a live seminar by the author, as seeing him present the concepts in real time would give me a much better handle
Stephan Renkens
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
My appreciation for the book grew considerably towards the end. Dan Roam puts a consistent system in place and everything fits carefully together. This becomes very clear in the short last chapter on selling ideas with pictures. Reading just the last chapter is in my opinion not to be recommended, because I think that you then miss too much substance to get the point.

Obviously all material is well illustrated with nice pictures. I'm wondering whether Dan made them himself. In that case I'd say i
Cassie Buckner
May 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I thought this book could be organized in a better manner for easier understanding. However the central points of the book are better presented in workshop form than just simply reading about it for optimal retention.

Lots to think about. I have been the person with a great visual to present and not known where to begin to explain it effectively. I have also killed myself and other through bullet points where a chart might have been better. We need to use our god-given gifts of drawing. Heck, ca
Masako Lin
Had to read this for work so in this goes into my book count hahahah. While I think the concept is fantastic but the way it's presented (ironically) is bloated, very theoretical with hardly any practical examples or how-tos and far from simple. Still it's a good concept and I've been employing some of the techniques at work. I've been told Unfolding the Napkin (the workshop version of this book) is a far better read if you want to implement Visual Thinking in your work.
Jon Nguyen
Dec 02, 2009 rated it did not like it
Another business book that starts with a great idea in the first pages and then proceeds to beat it to death for the last 250+ pages. I thought it was going to be a useful resource on how to use visual thinking and drawing to attack problems, but it was actually not very helpful or informative.
Mar 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Dan Roam introduces interesting concepts, with scientifically inferred backing and shows how they can be applied. He gives a good guide to visual thinking process we go through naturally.

It will give a toolkit I will pull on when (visually) thinking through problems.
David Marr
Apr 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
About halfway through this. Definitely pick up if you have business ideas that need a boost in clarity/definition. This helps identify all the key pieces to making solid products and gives your imagination a kick in the butt.
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was surprised by how much I got out of this! Makes a lot of sense from my experience in science and the classroom.
Jeffrey L Barton
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very cool concepts for anyone. You need to read this book, it will help you convey what you need to say in a way everyone can understand.
Nov 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting read with compelling visual materials, although still a bit above the average read.
Hardly anybody can get good use out of the content unless has to break down complex business problems and give solutions to the clients every fortnight. Guess it is a nice read for people who want to try themselves in a business consulting. Even for them: read the book, forget everything and continue making presentations as good as you can.
As a habit excerpts I found amusing:
• The problems we face tod
Connor Stack
May 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: design, visualization
A business seminar in book form. It contains a couple ideas worth remembering, but it's pretty sparse on information. Good news is there's a lot of diagrams, making it easy to skim.

One piece I liked, was "The four cardinal rules for better looking":
1. Collect all the information you can
2. Lay it all out where you can look at it at once
3. Organize and find patterns
4. Cut out everything that's not important
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16 likes · 9 comments
“Any problem can be made clearer with a picture, and any picture can be created using the same set of tools and rules.” 11 likes
“Perhaps you’ve been in a similar situation: Asked at the last moment to cover for a colleague, you say yes only to realize that you’ve stepped into your worst nightmare. In this case, my colleague had to leave the office on a medical emergency and pleaded with me to cover for a speech he had to deliver the following day. I said yes, only to learn later that the speech was to take place in Sheffield, England (we were in New York), to an audience of educational experts appointed by the then-new British prime minister, Tony Blair. My colleague hadn’t told me what the topic was—something about the Internet—or where his materials (if there were any) were buried.” 0 likes
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