The title and simple cover art of Dan Roam’s new book The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures drew me right in (pun intended). My drawing skills are in a word–bad, and I thought, "If this book can help me to to draw like that, I want to read it."
Well, the book didn’t transform me into an artist. In fact, it probably had no effect on my (in)ability to draw even the simplest of stick figures. An abundance of drawing books exist to help the average person become a better drawer. Roam’s book, however, focused on using drawings (even the most rudimentary of drawings) to help solve problems. So, even though I did not come away a better drawer, I did learn how to use drawing as a tool.
The Back of the Napkin combines three frameworks to create a powerful problem-solving and communication tool. The three frameworks are:
- SQUID (or SQVIΔ): A series of questions to help clarify and direct focus on an idea. SQUID is a mnemonic for
Simple vs. Elaborate
Quality vs. Quantity
Vision vs. Execution
Individual Attributes vs. Comparison
Delta (Δ) or Change vs. Status Quo
Each of these continuums can be communicated using a set of pictures. Roam spends some time explaining how best to communicate each of the dimensions above.
- Visual Thinking Frameworks: A group of six drawing types and what they communicate. They are tightly connected to the six types of questions: Who/What, How Much, Where, When, How, and Why. A Timeline, for example, best answers "when?"
- "The Visual Thinking Codex": This framework puts everything together. Roam describes it as "a master list of problem solving pictures." It takes the SQUID Questioning and Overlays it with the Visual Thinking Framework. An example: Answering the question of "What?" using a Simple (the ‘S’ from SQUID) focus would be different than answering the same question using a focus on change (the ‘D’ from SQUID).
This Codex is not complicated, yet it provides a usable framework for analyzing any problem. Almost a third of the book is dedicated to running through a real-life example of how to use the Codex. Roam’s description of his approach combined with the case study provides a usable decision making tool that can easily be used after reading The Back of the Napkin.
Bottom Line: I closed the book with more courage to use drawings and a better understanding of how to use them to solve and communicate problems.