Must Read Book Review!!! The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam

Posted: October 31, 2012 in Books
Tags: , ,
Visual Thinking

The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam

The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures

Published: The Penguin Group, 2008

Visual thinking is an extraordinary powerful way to solve problems, and though it may appear to be something new, the fact is that we already know how to do it.”  Dan Roam

How do you convey business problems in a clear, concise manner that most people can understand?  The answer is simple, you DRAW IT !!! The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, by Dan Roam is much more than effectively using comical stick figures to demonstrative tasks. Instead, it provides a new and insightful way of looking at problems and simple, ready to use, mechanisms for finding solutions through the use of pictures, which Roam defines as visual thinking.

Roam, who is currently the President of Roam Inc, a management consultant firm, unknowingly at the time, streamlined the concept of visual thinking while onboard a train headed to Sheffield England. Since this was a last minute trip….literally, (his colleague who planned the trip had a medical emergency the day before his flight to England) Roam did not have a formal presentation planned, when the British team leader at breakfast asked if his PowerPoint presentation was good to go.  Going into to full panic mode, the British team leader told Dan the topic for discussion was “…..the role of the Internet in American education”. Roam, who is a ‘black pen’, described in chapter 2, took a pen from his pocket, grabbed a couple of napkins from the table and starting to demonstrate his knowledge of the topic by drawing on the back of the napkins. Hence, The Back of the Napkin was born.

The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas

Dan Roam

So what’s the book about?

Solving business problems visually.  By effectively using your Built-in Visual Tools: Your eyes, mind’s eyes and hands.

According to Dan, to be a great visual thinker, you only need three tools: your eyes, mind’s eyes and hands.  Couple these built-in visual tools with a few accessories like paper and pencil or a whiteboard and erasable markers and you will be ready to solve business problems that are picture perfect.  Roams’ goal for writing the book is to provide a new way of looking at problems and seeing solutions.  He accomplishes this goal by doing three things:

1. Defining the visual thinking process as a 4 Steps Process: LOOK, SEE, IMAGINE, SHOW

2. He cleverly outlines the 6 problems that businesses face:

  1. The Who/What problems: Challenges that relate to things and people
  2. The How much problems: Challenges that involve measuring and counting
  3. The When problems: Challenges that relate to scheduling and timing
  4. The Where problems: Challenges that relate to direction and how to fit together
  5. The How problems: Challenges that relate to how things influence one another
  6. The Why problems: Challenges that relate to seeing the big picture

3. Roam gives a method, SQVID, which succinctly allows you to bring your initial idea to fruition.


Click here to purchase The Back of the Napkin on Amazon.

Why I like the book:

The Back of the Napkin keeps true to the concept that pictures are just as powerful as words. The book is filled with simple, easy to understand illustrations that were used to help companies like Google and eBay solve real life problems.  Secondly, Dan recognizes that many people are not comfortable drawing and teaches that drawing or as he calls it showing, is the last step in the visual thinking process.

Learn more about other books by Dan Roam on his website

What’s wrong with the book?

When it comes to the fourth step in the visual thinking process, showing (drawing), Roam under estimates how uncomfortable most people are at explaining big ideas through pictures. Even if a person seamlessly moves through the first three steps of the visual thinking process, if he or she cannot graphically display his or her ideas then the notion that visual thinking is the best way to solve problems becomes a moot point.  More emphasis should be place on how the non-drawer can overcome this challenge.

Read Andrew Dlugan review of The Back of the Napkin

Where can you buy the book?

At the time of this post, the list price of the hardcover book is $19.77 on

I hope this review provided you with some clarity about The Back of the Napkin. Leave a comment, let me know what you think.

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  1. raygilray says:


    “Don’t tell the verbally what you can tell them visually” is one of the themes of the class.
    Your blog looks fantastic! Headline, photos, graphics, lists, mobile friendly, . . .
    Some other students are discussing “crowd sourced” solutions – this may be place to get talent cheap.

    What is a similar book? Is this of value to the other students? What do you think of PowerPoint presentations in general? In my breakfast club I do not permit PowerPoint slides, everything must be done face to face. Remember, I am the guy with the class full of slides.

    What about your “elevator pitch” – compressed into 20 seconds – what role does the visual have in this? Does this have application in your professional environment?

    Good start and this will benefit the other students.

    John Gilroy

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