Improve Communication: Think Visually

October 19, 2011

blah blah blah

Book Review
Blah Blah Blah: What to Do When Words Don’t Work.
By Dan Roam.
Portfolio/Penguin Books, 2011.  350 p.

Nothing helps us see a vague idea more clearly than trying to draw it out.

Dan Roam is all about clear communication, and his two previous books make that very clear.

His previous two books, The Back of the Napkin and  Unfolding the Napkin: The Hands-On Method for Solving Complex Problems with Simple Pictures, also demonstrate how we do ourselves a disservice by limiting our communication to words.

This book expands on his central idea that we can, and should, communicate much more clearly by drawing simple pictures to help us clarify our message.

Throughout eons of human development, Roam says, our ability to think has evolved along two different paths. One path specialized in seeing the world as lots of little pieces (Roam’s fox character, clever, witty, and linear), while the other path specialized in looking at the world as a whole (Roam’s hummingbird character, quick, exuberant, and spatial).

Only in the past 5,000 years did we begin the gradual shift to writing words. Now that we find ourselves facing some of the most difficult challenges of all time, we suddenly realize that “we’ve lost half our mind.”

With simple and very clear illustrations, he demonstrates how we can “get our visual mind back” by combining our our piece-by-piece (fox) and all-at-once (hummingbird) views.

In words and pictures, Roam illustrates Einstein’s theory of relativity, the evolution of Starbuck’s coffee from Peet’s, Bernie Madoff’s investment scams, Coca-Cola’s marketing of VitaminWater, the history of the SAT test, and the development of communication from cave wall paintings to the alphabet.

Characters who make informative appearances include Leno and Conan, The Medicis and the Rothschilds, Abraham Maslow, Leonardo da Vinci, Edwin Land, and Dmitri Mendeleyev.

When Roam began The Back of the Napkin about five years ago, he started by asking, “If simple visuals are so powerful, why don’t more people use them?” Then he later realized his starting question was only half-right. The question isn’t “Why don’t more people think with pictures?,” because we DO think in pictures, all the time. The real question is, “Why have we forgotten that?” Blah Blah Blah is his answer.

As in The Back of the Napkin, Roam offers tools to make it easier for us to think about and share complex ideas. The Napkin tools focused almost entirely on the pictorial, but the tools in this book show us how to combine our visual and verbal minds.

One fundamental premise of this book is that we don’t need all the customary blah-blah-blah to get our message across. Regardless of what we want to say, we can make any idea clear and compelling, both to our audience and to ourselves. By learning to engage both our verbal mind and our visual mind we can improve any piece of communication.

Every good idea can be made clearer,  every missing idea can be found, and every misleading or fraudulent idea can be exposed.