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Pau Min Wong on Back of the Napkin September 23, 2009

Posted by Pau Min Wong in Back of the Napkin, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
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Having worked in consulting for several years, the process of selecting appropriate tools to visualize and present volumes of data in a simple and communicable way became a natural part of daily work. I stopped thinking hard about it and relied mostly on existing templates, previously used visuals and slides. However, reading Dan Roam’s “Back of Napkin” provided me with two fresh insights.

Firstly, Dan extends the usage of visualization beyond the typical presentation and communication process, and instead made it central to the problem-solving process itself. He proposes that any business issue can be broken down into 6 basic questions: Who/what, How much, When, Where, How and Why. Using these 6 lenses, we can then decide on the most appropriate visual tool that best represents the information we have, helping us to look beyond the numbers, see and recognize trends and imagine the underlying forces at work. This eventually leads us to either a set of deeper probing questions, or a likely solution for the issue at hand.

Secondly, Dan provided a simple yet elegant and structured framework to encapsulate the entire visual thinking and presenting process. The same six lenses that we have used to inspect problems can also be used to project the solutions and ideas. Adding to that, Dan introduces the SQVID technique that guides us through the delicate tradeoffs involved in customizing visuals to the needs of specific audience groups.

I must admit that Dan’s framework is not a ‘cure all’ solution. It merely provides a guideline, a starting point for us to think on our feet (or rather hands), throw some ideas in the air (drawing board in this case) and kickstart the discussion. Getting to the right solution still requires application of the inquisitive mind, collection of past experiences, strong analytics, all of which cannot be replaced simply by a visual thinking framework.

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