Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

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.


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I just finished reading The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need by Daniel Pink.  Not your run of the mill career guide.   Pink (the author of one of my recent favorite books A Whole New Mind), writes this career guide in the form of a manga.  The book took me about 1 hour to read, but don’t let that fool you–it’s packed with insightful lessons  (6 lesson to be exact).   

The story’s protagonist Johny Bunko is in  a dead-end job.  His boss sucks, his work is uninspiring, and his talents are not being utilized. Diana, a modern-day genie, appears after rubbing some chopsticks and sets Johnny straight with six quick lessons.   If you are not into fun books and don’t have an hour to spare, just turn to the last page for a list of the lessons.  But It’s a quick read, so I recommend  investing the hour or so to read from the beginning.

This is not a book about how to find a new job or even how to determine the optimal job for you.  It is a book about how to approach your career.  The first lesson, "There is no plan" helps frame the context for the rest of the lessons.  Basically, career plans are too simplistic and rarely stand up to the twists and turns of a career.  Accentuating one of the main premises of A Whole New Mind, Diana the Genie explains that the idea that we can plan out a career with any smidgen of accuracy is

…a fantasy.  The world changes. Ten Years from now your job might be in India.  Your industry might not even exist.

The other five lessons are equally insightful and fun.  Although I presume that  this book was written for those at the beginning of their career, the six lessons are very useful for those of us closer to the middle of our careers as well. 

Thanks for another insightful and useful book Daniel Pink!

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One of my cousins is graduating high school this month (yes, we are a generation apart), and I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy him The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman as a graduation present.  For me, the book was eye-opening, but for my cousin, it could help him make some important career decisions while he still has opportunities to explore.  I wish I read a book like this when I was his age!

This was the first book I had ever listened to on my MP3 player.  I downloaded it from audible.com, and I have to admit, I really liked the experience.  I listened to it on my Creative Zen Vision:M during my commute to and from work.  It took me about a month to listen to the 24 hours of reading.   The biggest problem with purchasing an audio book is that I do not have a tangible book with paper to refer to when writing this review.
Why I am buying this book for my cousin:

  1. To give him an idea of what types of skills will/may be important in the years ahead.  It’s not just about becoming an engineer, or a programmer, or lawyer.  It’s about understanding how to communicate, synthesize,  and innovate.  These are the types of things that will help him compete in the global job market.
  2. It will help him question some of the assumptions that he (probably) has regarding our (U.S.) role in the global economy.  My generation took/takes for granted that the U.S. is and will always be THE global force when it comes to economics, innovation, and education.  With the flat world we we have to suspend the above assumptions.
  3. He needs something to do over the summer–it’s not a short book.
  4. My Cousin is a smart musician type and is going to be studying in a fine arts department.  I think The World is Flat could really help him to see his talents and potential from a new perspective.

I think a take-away from the book is that this is an era of extreme opportunity, and we must take advantage of it.  If we do not take advantage of the opportunities, we will no longer enjoy the wealth and prosperity we have today.  Good luck, Cuz.

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The 4-Hour Workweek

I was intrigued by the title The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris when I saw it on Amazon.com last week, but after reading a review by David Seah I’m off to buy it now.   Thanks David!  I’ll post my thoughts after I’m done with the book…

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I’ve been listening to Seth Godin’s book Small is the New Big on the way to work for the last several mornings. The book is a compilation of some of his best blog posts, and there are some real gems! This morning I listened to a real short but totally useful post that can be applied when analyzing processes (or products or whatever). He says:

Figure what the always is. Then do something else.

In other words, identify your assumptions and suspend them. When analyzing processes, this is real important. It seems as though every interview, workshop, or discussion I have with a stakeholder includes mention of at least one thing that someone (or some system) always does. Sometimes these "always" items end up being vestiges of business rules or system limitation that no longer has relevance or value to the company. If they do not add value, get rid of them.
I’ve thought of a couple of ways to put this idea into action:

  1. In future workshops, I’m going to designate one part of the whiteboard (or flip-chart) as the "Always Space" . Anytime someone uses the word "always," I’m going to write it down in plain sight. I’ll dedicate some time toward the end of the workshop to revisit the "Always Space" to challenge participants to completely delete these "always" from the process. We may not always end up with feasible solutions from the exercise, but it will help participants to shift their perspective.
  2. When interviewing stakeholders, I’m going to keep my own "Always Space" in the margins of my notes. I’ll revisit them later on my own.

Thanks for the idea, Seth. I’m excited to give this a try…
If you want to read Seth’s original post it’s here.

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A very useful "outside-in" approach to changing processes is to focus on mitigating the risks associated with "Moments of Truth."   I was introduced to this concept by Steve Towers of BPMG.   Essentially, a Moment of Truth (MOT) occurs every time an organization interacts with a customer.  The term was originally coined by Jan Carlzon in his 1987 book titled Moments of Truth.   In his book, the former CEO of SAS explained that in 1986

…each of our 10 million customers came in contact with approximately five SAS employees, and this contact lasted an average of 15 seconds each time.  thus, SAS is "created" 50 million times a year, 15 seconds at a time.  These 50 million "moments of truth" are the moments that ultimately determine whether SAS will succeed or fail as a company.  They are the moments when we must prove to our customers that SAS is their best alternative.

This concept has really helped me as I analyze processes at my organization. In all of my projects I now try to identify and optimize as many MOTs as I can find.   By eliminating MOTs or at least minimizing their risks, processes become more focused on the value proposition for customers.
I found a great website called This is Broken that is dedicated to sharing broken Moments of Truth.  It is a forum for people to submit and discuss broken customer experiences.  The website does not call these broken interactions "Moments of Truth," but they are essentially the same things.  I found this website while I was watching this video of Seth Godin that also illustrates broken interactions between organizations and their customers.

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