- Wed, April 04 2012
- Filed under: Marketing essentials
I’m at the Nonprofit Technology Conference, where Dan Roam just spoke. Dan is famed for making complex ideas incredibly simple with back-of-the-napkin pictures. His new book is called Blah Blah Blah: What to Do When Words Don’t Work. It is an excellent book on how we can say more by saying less through visual communication.
He started out by talking about the good and bad of communication.
The good: A few years ago, he did a workshop at Boeing, where they were developing the Dreamliner. He learned the new airplane was incredibly complex and being built in 17 countries in 12 languages. He wondered, how is that possible? It turned out that they used a visual language, communicating in pictures. People asked questions in pictures, answered questions in pictures, and in the end it flies!
The bad: Dan worked with a Senate committee, and between the politics and the stacks of policies, he concluded no one understands what is coming out of Washington.
Dan believes that as this contrast shows, we can solve our problems with pictures. More than half our brain is devoted to processing vision, and yet we focus so much energy on becoming verbal. That’s fine, but it’s not enough. We need tools to take advantage of this part of our brain.
He says about 25% of people are “black pen” people who draw pictures to solve problems. About 50% of people are “yellow pen” people who can highlight a picture and suss out what is important. About 25% people are “red pen” people who see the pictures as oversimplified and like to point out nuances and missing facts. He urged “red pen” people to embrace pictures.
During his talk, Dan gave us a tool kit for visual problem-solving so we can do more “black pen” work. Here are his helpful rules:
1. The first step is drawing the problem. And whoever draws the best picture, gets the funding. One drawing by Arthur Laffer inspired supply-side economics, after all.
2. Our brain is good at focusing on small details, but it has the compensating ability to look at the bigger picture, which is activated by pictures.
3. That is why we need simple diagrams or pictures to explain what we mean. He talked about how he drew pictures of health care reform, which is incredibly complex. By communicating clearly, he got on Fox news, received hundreds of thousands of downloads and inspired a White House whiteboard. Further proof of rule #1 - whoever draws the picture gets the funding. He’s no expert on health care, but people think he is.
4. There are six ways we see. We do not solve an entire problem at once - we break them up in slices and solve them one by one.
Here is how you start!
Draw a picture of an idea: Don’t try to describe it all at once. Break it up into six pieces.
First, draw a smiley face that’s you. Second, draw a bigger circle that is your problem. Then something starts to happen - we can look at the two circles in front of us and have activated our visual processing system. We can start making our six slices of that problem.
Here’s an example (from this website, it’s by Paul Martin)
Slice 1: Write in the who and what (through portraits)
Slice 2: How much (through charts)
Slice 3: Where (like a map of an object or place)
Slice 4: When (timelines)
Slice 5: How (like a flow chart)
Slice 6: Why (visual equations)
This helps us break down our problems into visually represented pieces that people can process, according to how they process information. Draw a picture that puts together these different pieces and you have something that says a lot more than blah, blah, blah!