Visual Thinking for Problem Solving

This week I attended a business innovation conference hosted by COCABiz in St. Louis.  One of the keynotes, Dan Roam, author of The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, spoke on the topic of visual thinking. 


Essentially, Dan promotes the idea of communicating via images as opposed to words.  His contention is that the use of a few simple stick figures, lines, and arrows can enhance the speed of grasping and internalizing complex concepts and helps clearly define problems so they can be solved effectively. 


An excellent example of using visuals to convey complex concepts is the legendary (but true) story of the Laffer Curve – the premise behind supply-side economics – being drawn on a cocktail napkin. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the concept, it’s hard to deny the visual succinctly conveys a principle whose explanation otherwise requires a good deal of written text.


According to Dan, visual thinking is comprised of six categories, each of which employs a different type of illustration or drawing:

·         Simple stick figures or line-drawn faces to represent “who/what.”

·         Charts or graphs to communicate “how many.”

·         Maps or visual showing relationship to a landmark to illustrate “where.”

·         Timelines or Gant charts to portray progression or “when.”

·         Basic flowcharts to convey “how” or cause-and-effect relationships.

·         Equations to represent “why” or rationale.


While I’m not convinced there is one “right” approach, I do believe visual thinking could enhance and speed along the development and communication of innovative offerings, processes, and approaches.


For more detail about Dan’s presentation check out this article by Juan C. Dürsteler on Inf@Vis!  And for a robust example of visual thinking, take a look at Dan’s healthcare reform visuals, Healthcare Napkins All, on slideshare.  And if you're interested in downloading some of his visual thinking tools, click here.

Print | posted on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 8:56 AM


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