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Look, See, Imagine and Show

By admin

These are the four steps in the visual thinking process according to Dan Roam, author of ‘The Back of the Napkin’. Entrepreneurs and small business owners are more often than not ideas people. We invest a fair amount of time thinking about ways to grow our businesses and find solutions to our challenges and the challenges facing others.

I don’t know about you, but my ‘light bulb moments’ often happen under the shower. I guess it’s because I am relaxed and my head is clear… and it’s the start of a new day. The conversations that follow often take place on the run, or in a restaurant. Then what often happens is that you grab a pen and proceed to sketch out the idea on a napkin.

Most of us are visual thinkers and when we attempt to explain our ideas we rely on pictures. Though many of us argue that we are not good at drawing, we nonetheless grab a pen and reach for some paper to sketch out our thoughts. Our immediate goal is to show the listener how the idea was ‘hatched’ and why we believe it will work.

In his book, Roam suggests that their is much more to this simple process of sketching our ideas on napkins than we may realise. He reveals its power by showing how we think and revealing the important role pictures play in our thinking. He also outlines a straightforward approach to more effective problem solving and selling ideas with pictures.

Visual Thinking is Something We Do Naturally

Roam also explains in his book what we are actually doing at each of the four steps of the visual thinking process:
• When we are looking, we are collecting and screening information to make an assessment of what we know;
• When we are seeing, we are selecting and clumping information to help us evaluate it and better understand the situation;
• When we are imagining, we are trying to identify what isn’t there and considering the implications that arise; and
• When we are showing, we are making it all clear and creating a picture of the situation as we understand it.

Roam utilises analogies very effectively throughout his book… making even complex concepts easy to understand. In the final chapter he summarises the entire process in just five pages using five simple ‘back of the napkin’ illustrations. I won’t attempt to explain the process, because its best illustrated on the back of a napkin as Roam does in the book.

Business problems can be solved using visual thinking coupled with the ability to transfer those ideas onto the back of a napkin in a way that will be easy to remember. One of the ways we can achieve success is by learning how to solve problems and sell ideas with pictures.

Have you solved a problem or sold an idea using a napkin?

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Categories : Personal Growth


  1. Glyna Humm says:

    Great post John! I can’t even draw stick people so I might have a problem with this exercise. haha I am a very visual person though and I can totally understand that ideas are better expressed if you can see something visual. And what is it about showers? I tell my husband that sometimes I think I should just work in the shower all day because that is where I get my best ideas:)
    Glyna Humm recently posted..Network Marketers – Are You Throwing Up On Your ProspectsMy ComLuv Profile

  2. That’s some good stuff to remember and apply.

    When I hear “napkin presentation” I think of network marketing. I think of people “sharing their faith.” But last spring I ran across a “napkin presentation” about the health care debate. I liked it so well, I put it on an accessible but obscure web page – I say obscure because I like to avoid politics and religion in my business. The only reason I bring this up – lo and behold, the presentation was created by … Dan Roam! I thought it was quite effective.

    By the way, I am completely with you on the generation of ideas while taking a shower. Oh, and mowing the lawn.
    Richard Goutal recently posted..Internet Marketing Leadership Myths 2 Newbie Leaders Can’t Be TrustedMy ComLuv Profile

  3. Hi John,

    I must say I’m with Glyna in that I personally can barely draw a stick person.

    But having said that, I learn and better understand ideas when they’re presented to me visually. I think the first time I ever heard of a napkin presentation was from Don Failla who wrote ‘The 45 Second Presentation That Will Change Your Life: The World’s Best-Selling Network Marketing Guide’.

    Thanks for introducing Dan’s book and for opening my mind to the concept of drawing my ideas!

    P.S. I just knew you were going to be an awesome blogger :)
    Michaelé Harrington recently posted..Next Generation Technology Reveals Potential To Double Online ConversionsMy ComLuv Profile

  4. I am probably the word’s worst at drawing. However, I love mind-mapping which you can do on a napkin as well. With mind-mapping you don’t need to be able to draw, it’s just writing down ideas in a sequential way. The visualization is what works.

    As Abraham Hicks (some famous teachers) say “Every physical thing we see now, was once a thought or an idea”
    Julieanne van Zyl recently posted..How Do We Overcome Our FearMy ComLuv Profile

  5. Don Enck says:

    Hi John,
    As with some of the others here, I don’t really draw that well and I don’t use the back of a napkin to make a point. However, I have had others show me their ideas on a napkin and it has been effective. Like you, I often get some of my best ideas under the head of the shower.

    It sounds like an interesting book and that the message is good. Thanks for sharing it with us.
    Don Enck recently posted..The Slight Edge and Online MarketingMy ComLuv Profile

  6. Hi John,
    I can’t say that I have used a napkin as such, but defiantely like to draw something out to demonstrate how it works. I like most people learn better when I can see images which is why this idea is so effective.
    Thanks for pointing out the benefits that are highlighted in this book.
    Deirdre Rutherford recently posted..3 Ways To Stop You Tube Surfing And Get People On to Your ListMy ComLuv Profile

  7. Hi John,
    I have used napkins more than once when showing someone a health concept related to my business. It’s funny how napkins are often the most convenient paper products available to do this kind of explaining, isn’t it?

    Thank you for sharing Dan Roam’s book with your readers. I am always intrigued with books about thinking, as I am definitely an idea person!

    Mary Lou
    Mary Lou Kayser recently posted..The Social NetworkMy ComLuv Profile

  8. Jodi Tripp says:

    I love this idea. Thanks for sharing. I am going to check out the book right now!

  9. Arlan Murata says:

    Hey John: Thanks for helping me think by sharing Dan Roam.

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