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Blah Blah Blah – Dan Roam March 7, 2012

Posted by karthikreddyv in Uncategorized.

Back in India, when I was growing up I was very interested in reading books like Amar chitra katha, Champak (equivalent to Dr. Seuss book in US). Of course, who wouldn’t like such books in their childhood? The popularity of such books was due to the ease of reading and clear communication. Taking cue from his own childhood’s incidents of how he came to love reading (due to Dr. Seuss books) Dan Roam in his latest book Blah Blah Blah addresses the issue of miscommunication.  Primary reason for miscommunication is usage of words as the only source to communicate.  As one transitions from childhood to adulthood we are trained to rely more on words and discard pictures. The over reliance on words has created an information deluge where we either know too much to make a choice or we are just surrounded by words and know nothing or we are unable to comprehend so much information.

Rejecting the idea of using long complicated words makes a person smart author has proposed “Vivid Thinking”. Vivid thinking is using visuals and words interdependently to express a complex idea. According to the author visual diagrams and words complement each other but neither of them is effective in conveying a complex idea individually. Recognizing the difficulty in going back to drawing pictures to express ideas author has provided three tools that can help visualize these ideas. First tool is the Blah-Blah meter, a device that helps us determine overuse, misuse or evil use of language. The second tool is “Vivid grammar”, a simple set of guidelines to avoid Blah Blah Blah. The third tool is a treasure map that shows an easy path to make ideas more vibrant and clear.

According to author, we live in a land of Blah Blah Blah where it is difficult to listen what it is worth listening to. Be it to others or to yourself. Through Vivid thinking author proposes a way out this land of vivid ideas called “Vivid FOREST” where words are combined with visuals to express ideas with context.  Vivid description of an abstract idea gives more clarity helping one get specific. Similar to a big forest and trees in it, vivid ideas are a big picture composed of lots of individual elements with unique attributes which are


  1. Vivid ideas have Form – giving form to an idea takes it from the abstract to concrete.
  2. Vivid ideas show Only the essentials – a vivid idea gets someone’s attention with the basics.
  3. Vivid ideas are Recognizable – vivid ideas look familiar. When you see a vivid idea you would think “I’ve seen this before”
  4. Vivid ideas address Evolving – vivid ideas are always works in progress.
  5. Vivid ideas have Span differences – vivid ideas show us one idea more clearly by showing us the opposite. Illustrating an idea’s limitations only makes the ideas stronger.
  6. Vivid ideas are Targeted – people notice things that are pointed personally towards them.

My initial impression of book was that the author is proposing the known idea of left brain which is analytical, right brain which is more visual and the necessity of using both sides of brain. However going through the book was entirely a different experience. Through well designed chapters, the author has provided a practical approach on how to think visually.  It had a very good sequence of presenting the idea. The book was like a map where you keep exploring thing to reach your goal. Author has practiced what he is preached in the book. Every idea is conveyed through combination of words and pictures. Author had very clear approach of introducing concepts in a step by step manner through visuals.

Using real examples like southwest airlines, Peet’s coffee, the author Dan Roam clearly showed how vivid thinking can achieve great results. However, it would have been great if he had taken a single case and applied the techniques to it along with the individual examples. I felt that author did a great job of giving good examples while explaining his concepts but there weren’t any illustrations that linked the step by step approach in the book. Each chapter in the book was step towards achieving clarity of idea and each contained great examples. But these examples were contained to the chapter. It would have been great if author had taken a single example and applied different concepts to it to show how vivid thinking helps.

Initially I wondered if the book was specific to English, relating words to pictures. However reading the book further I realized the ideas expressed by the author apply to any language. Any language is a structured way of describing a thing or an event which can be represented by pictures using the vivid grammar. I am a non native speaker of English. Using vivid grammar to my own native language I was able to visualize things that I described using words.

Overall, Blah Blah Blah is a great book. I suggest it to anyone who wants to communicate clearly. I concur with author that we are living in the land of Blah Blah Blah and we need a way out of this land into the vivid forest. This book really helps in guiding us through the vivid forest using simple tools.



1. jhpittman - March 11, 2012

Roam’s key message is to strive for clarity. Some media (visual) make that easier (although there is some room for ambiguity there, as well). The key issue is to scrub your argument down to a clear core. Storytelling can help us do that.

I think Roam’s message is a good one, but perhaps incomplete.

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