Chances are, you’ve had some really great ideas that you’ve created on whatever was handy...like the proverbial back of the napkin (odd phrase that: how many napkins have fronts?). Later, said ideas were transferred into other forms. But if you were in a situation where you and a few of your colleagues were sitting around drinking coffee, spitballing some problems, you may have taken out a pen and after some sketching and arrow-drawing and word-crossing-outing...voila! Dan Roam, founder and president of a management consulting firm (Digital Roam) has taken this back of the napkin to the extreme with his how-to on the subject, the (un)surprisingly titled The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures (Portfolio; $24.95).
Rather than a mere how-to-draw-stuff-on-a-serviette tome, Roam’s book is actually about visual thinking. He says the goal of that exercise is “to make the complex understandable by making it visible—not by making it simple.” Not that he’s against simplicity, because Simple (versus Elaborate) is one of the elements of a problem-solving approach he explains in the book. And one of his three rules of thumb is “Think Simple. The goal isn’t to be Rembrandt...” So far as I know, Rembrandt didn’t work on napkins.
Come to think of it, Roam is really a partisan of simple. Consider this, too: “Most business pictures are pizza: They need to be simple, easy to digest, and contain few enough ingredients that they don’t cause indigestion. These pizza pictures shouldn’t need a lot of explanation.” Of course, most napkins in pizza joints tend not to be the best surfaces for ideation and explanation due, in large part, to the oleaginous nature of pepperoni. But that’s another story.
Simply put, The Back of the Napkin can help drive your abilities not only to come up with fresh ideas, but provide you a simple (there it is, again), to-the-point-but-engaging means of communicating with your colleagues. And there’s a whole lot of value in that.—GSV