Visual-Thinking Leader, Dan Roam, on Pictures in Business

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Dan Roam, visual-thinking leader

Visual-thinking leader, Dan Roam is the founder and president of Digital Roam Inc., a management-consulting firm that uses visual thinking to solve complex problems for such clients as Google, Boeing, eBay, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, Wells Fargo, the U.S. Navy, and the United States Senate.

Dan Roam and his whiteboard have appeared on CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, Fox News, NPR, and at the White House. He is also the author of the international bestseller The Back of the Napkin, the most popular visual-thinking business book of all time. Fast Company, BusinessWeek, and The Times of London named The Back of the Napkin the #1 creativity and innovation book of the year.

After delivering the closing keynote address at the International Forum of Visual Practitioners 20th Annual Conference on July 17, 2015, Dan Roam graciously agreed to the following interview where he explains why pictures are vital to business.

Why are pictures powerful business tools?

Business problems are becoming increasingly complex, and the speed at which we need to answer them is increasing. Pictures are a very, very powerful way to help us both clarify the complexity and accelerate our understanding because our visual mind is so rapid and so able to visually parse complexity and find the patterns within it. All of those things are very hard to do with words. It is hard to look at a complex idea expressed verbally and really see what it means. It is very difficult to take it apart, but if we can see it in a picture, it is very easy.

How do pictures illuminate business truth?

As an author, I love words, but I have come to realize that the way we are taught to use them is often very much intended to obfuscate rather than clarify, and if you think about corporate speak and business speak and the way most business people have been trained to speak to each other, it is rarely focused on actual clarity. It is more often some kind of kabuki theater where something is stated to mean something else. We are actually encouraged in business a lot of times to do that, but we all know that the truth is not there. The truth is the thing that is not being said.

Le Corbusier said, “I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies.” He was talking about architecture, but the same applies even more to business. The picture is a forcing mechanism to truth because inconsistencies that are easy to deliver in words are very difficult to deliver in a picture. A picture helps you validate what the words were, and if the words are not very truthful, the picture will surface that.

Why should pictures matter to businesses?

Close to 50% of our entire brain capacity is focused on vision. Our brain consumes more energy than any other organ in our body. You put those two together and it tells you that vision is hyper critical to our survival. As humans, we are essentially visual creatures. We have lots of other senses, but central to all of them is the power of vision. Pictures enable us to take advantage of that. It would be foolish for anybody who has a message to deliver not to take advantage of that capacity for visual understanding.

You can learn more about Dan Roam’s work at www.danroam.com. To learn more about professionals who can help you work visually, visit www.ifvp.org.

Visual created by Alli McKee of Blot, Inc. at the International Forum of Visual Practitioners’ 20th Annual Conference from Dan Roam’s keynote address.