Monthly Archives: June 2008

Review of “Back of the Napkin”

In my last posting, I mentioned that I would scan a diagram from Dan’s book to illustrate how cluttered his virtual thinking sketches can become. Here is one. Tell me what you think.


An initial review of “The Back of the Napkin”

Dan Roam has written an interesting book on visual thinking. I had posted a video on some of his thinking on this blog. I read Dan’s book on the plane as I flew from Seattle to Virginia Beach. This is an initial impression of his book. There will be more postings to come.

The book starts off by showing how to draw simple diagrams to illustrate ideas and points. The concept is very elegant and SIMPLE. Remember: simplicity = beauty. Half way into the book, Dan presents an MBA-like case study by applying his virutal thinking concepts to “real life” situation. This is where things start to go awry. His simple (and beautiful) diagrams in the case study evolve into some hand sketched diagrams that look like some organization charts from the federal government. And we all know how bad that can look. His diagrams are worse than those awful PowerPoint slides we see in Coca Cola’s presentation.

So instead of a bunch of PowerPoint bullet points, he ends up with a bunch of diagrams. When I get back to my office, I will scan a few examples of his virtual thinking diagrams and post them here.

One of my readers complained that I mixed typed text with hand sketches in my virtual thinking sldies. To go along this line of thinking, Dan should have written his entire book by hand. By the way, some of his sketches are so small that you almost have to have a magnifying glass to read. This is due to the fact that the fonts are small and the book measures about 4 by 4 inches instead of the usual size.

My take of this book? It is a mixture of simple elegance and awful clusters of almost unreadable diagrams. More later. Any comments from anyone? 

If people are turned off by clusters of bullet points (and they are), why would it be different with clusters of diagrams?

The problem started many years ago …..

Company executives started replacing reports with PowerPoint presentations (loaded with bullet points) over 15 years ago. The executives would speak at length on each bullet points. That was fine albeit half the audience would be in a coma.

The REAL problem came when the PowerPoint slides were passed on down to the lower level staff for implementation. There were no backup documentations. No detailed analysis. Nada. These lower level people never attended the executive meeting and never heard the presentation. All they had was a bunch of bullet points and that’s where everything started to go wrong: misunderstanding, misinterpretation, miscommunication, hallucination….etc.

Millions of dollars of mistakes have been made because of this problem.