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Hannah Davies on Back of the Napkin September 30, 2009

Posted by Hannah Davies in Back of the Napkin.
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“Visual thinking is an extraordinarily powerful way to solve problems, and though it may appear to be something new, the fact is that we already know how to do it.”

Comforting words indeed to someone as drawing-illiterate as me! The whole idea behind this book is that not only is it more effective to convey ideas and solve problems using pictures rather than words, it’s also easier. OK… I have to confess to more than a little skepticism when I started this book. I could happily buy the first bit. But, really – easier to draw than write? Yeah, right…

This book did not, by any stretch of the (un-visual) imagination, provide an epiphany of creative discovery. To be honest, I really can’t see it even changing my business presentations from the traditional PowerPoint deck to a new, funky back-of-the-napkin style (I am an MBA student, after all). What it did do, though, was provide a really interesting, useful, simple framework for tackling and communicating about problems from different perspectives, which I can definitely see myself using in both a business and non-business context.

The basic premise is that you should use three in-built tools to solve problems: our eyes, our mind’s eye or imagination, and our hand-eye coordination. Using this process helps us to really ‘see’ all aspects of a problem in a more holistic way, which makes it easier for us to find the right solution. The book takes you through a step-by-step process to doing this effectively, using six fundamental questions to guide the ‘seeing’ process (see the toolbox on the Wiki for a summary of the process). It also gives examples, techniques and lots of practice problems to help you get started. Plus, as you’d expect, it’s full of great illustrations!

Visual thinking is not something that feels familiar or easy (the main reason I chose the book). And whilst the Back of the Napkin hasn’t magically turned me into a great artist or superb visual thinker, it does offer a very simple, intuitive and clear framework to follow which I believe, with plenty of practice, really will help me to improve my problem-solving and presenting skills. I’d definitely recommend it.

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