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The unique and compelling power of illustrating an idea

I have just read Toby Lester’s Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image.

The first of several dozen of passages caught my eye and I immediately thought of Dan Roam. More about him in a moment. First, the passage:

“Francesco [di Giorgio Martini, 1439-1502, Italy’s most renowned architect and companion of Leonardo] didn’t just state his church-body analogy [“Basilicas have the proportions of the human body”] and move on. He drew it too. That’s because, uncommonly for his time but in complete sympathy with Leonardo, he believed in the explanatory power of images. ‘Without a drawing,’ he explained in the epilogue of his Treatise, ‘one cannot express and clarify one’s ideas.'” (Page 8)

As you may already know, Dan Roam has written several bestselling books in which he provides a wealth of information, insights, exercises, and wisdom that can help almost anyone to master the basic skills of formulating and then clarifying much better (if not insanely great) ideas.  In the first “Napkin” book, Roam suggests to his reader that one of the best ways to answer a question, solve a problem, persuade others, or to achieve another goal is to express its essence. What the French characterize as a precís. For example, formulate it as a simple drawing. You may claim that you have no skills for drawing. That’s good news. Why? Roam asserts that less-sophisticated drawings have greater impact because those who see them can more easily identify with stick figures, for example, and focus more readily on the relationships suggested, such as between and among options to be considered, implications and consequences, and cause-and-effect relationships. Simple drawings accelerate both inductive and deductive reasoning.

Then in the second “Napkin” book, he reiterates three key points:

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.

What we have in Blah Blah Blah is a shift in focus from using simple drawings to express complicated concepts to a rigorous explanation of how to avoid or eliminate boredom in communication. More specifically, how to think more effectively about complexities, how to increase one’s understanding of them, how to increase others’ understanding of them when we explain them, and how to make learning about them more engaging. To a much greater extent than in the previous two books, Roam includes a full complement of tools and techniques by which the reader can (a) select information, insights, and suggestions that are most relevant to her or his specific needs and interests, then (b) apply them most effectively where they will have the greatest impact.

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Dan Roam is the author of the international bestsellers The Back of the Napkin (Expanded Edition): Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, Unfolding the Napkin: The Hands-On Method for Solving Complex Problems with Simple Pictures, and Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don’t Work. He is the founder of The Napkin Academy, the world’s first online visual-thinking training program: www.napkinacademy.com. Dan has helped leaders at Microsoft, Boeing, eBay, Kraft, Gap, IBM, the US Navy, the United States Senate, and the White House solve complex problems with simple pictures. He and his whiteboard have appeared on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and NPR. His “American Health Care on the Back of a Napkin” was voted by Business Week as the world’s best presentation of 2009.

Please click here to read the first interview of Dan.

Please click here to read the second interview.

Please click here to read the review of The Back of the Napkin.

Please click here to read the review of Unfolding the Napkin.

Please click here to read the review of Blah Blah Blah.

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