Late last year I signed up for the chance to interview an author with Paul Williams Idea Sandbox. He uses bloggers in a structured way to help promote new work in the entrepreneurial and creative space. Last week I became part of Dan Roam's week of talking to bloggers about his first book - "The Back of the Napkin"
Dan is a passionate advocate of the idea that you can use pictures to really effectively communicate your message to others and that passion came across strongly in our chat which went on for just over an hour and a half :-)
His acknowledgement page
I started at the end - with one of the sweetest acknowledgement pages I have ever seen in a book. I know from authors friends that this is an important part of the process for them and not just a token gesture. Dan's shows that really well. He was working with a spreadsheet of the people he wanted to mention (212 of them - my writing underneath, not his!) and realised that he was not doing his intentions justice.
So he started to sketch them - and finished it after 3am. But just look at the way he has captured the individuals - it is a great example of his theory in practice. He explained that as he worked through the list he triggered his visual memory to capture the essence of each of them and found himself briefly being back with them for a second or two. 75% of the neurons that process senses in our brains are apparently working on our vision - and other human faces are the thing that we are best at capturing.
It should be noted that the people concerned who have relatively bland faces are people whom Dan has not yet met!
I asked Dan if the process and ideas that he writes about are as relevant to entrepreneurs in small businesses as they are to the multinational managers whom he consults with?
He said absolutely - because a small business has to work to differentiate itself this process gives them a positive edge. He described the process as follows (for doing a sales presentation):
- Prepare a full presentation as you usually would
- Throw it away!
- Now focus on the 2 or 3 things that are the most different, or most important to your audience in the presentation
- Prepare a series of drawings that reflect those 2 or 3 things.
Dan went onto explain why this works so effectively (my words coming up - for the scientific version buy the book!). He said that a normal document or presentation cuts out the audience - it usually gives them the end result of a thinking and decision making process and that is difficult for anyone to engage with.
His idea is that you story-board out that process in a couple of steps and start your presentation by using a flipchart or whiteboard to draw the opening stage. Then you move with your audience through the process - and a wonderful thing happens.
Your audience - traditionally being used to talked at - start to work with you. They interrupt and contribute, they debate. And by the time you get to the end of your presentation they have bought into your conclusion by being part of the process that got there.
6 visual tools
That is a simplified overview - Dan's book contains a number of structured approaches to make it manageable for anyone. Or everyone! He works with 6 different visual tools
- Multi-variable plots (the most challenging for me yet the most powerful)
Everyone can draw
Up front he addresses the key negative that a lot of people will throw up - but I cannot draw. And he shows how the use of a small number of pictures/elements (which everyone CAN draw) will be all you need in any circumstances. Also he emphasises two things:
- This does not work without preparation - you cannot just turn up to a meeting and sketch your way to success!
- Drawings/diagrams rarely work without explanatory text.
This approach needs guts - as does anything which means moving away from the normal way of doing things. For me the test will be the preparation of the executive summary for the dbTwang business plan - will I have the confidence to take Dan's process and apply it?
His website is excellent
A final word on this - take the time to have a look at Dan's website for the book - http://thebackofthenapkin.com. It is a extremely strong execution of a print concept and shows how an idea can be adopted simply and effectively for the internet. It is dominated by drawings (of course!) and summarises the book really well.
Thanks to Paul for the opportunity and to Dan for the time he gave me for this interview - we talked about a lot more than I got to cover above.
(FYI my sketches above are on recycled paper which is quite textural and so the scans show that up)
UPDATE - have at look at this FastCompany article to see some examples of Dan's work with businesses such as Peet's Coffee and Tea and Microsoft.