Visual thinking

I hear talk in the communication business around the increasing importance of the key “verbal”, given the growth of consumer communities, social media, word of mouth etc. Having worked in a category where the “visual” is banned in most countries, the key verbal was bread and butter for most marketers in the company. There are enough books on the topic ranging from ones written by academics (Robert Cialdini is a leading one in the area) to those written by people from the communications industry (copywriters and DM gurus). NLP, Linguistics, Psychology all come into play here.

But don’t count out the key “visual” yet!

It is perhaps going to conquer new frontiers and move up the value chain in organizations. As we become more inundated with data and information, the ability to elegantly visualise data, information, problem, situation and solutions is going to be a very important skill. And this is not about software and technology, as this quote from an article in Businessweek says  : “Ultimately, data visualization is more than complex software or the prettying up of spreadsheets. It’s not innovation for the sake of innovation. It’s about the most ancient of social rituals: storytelling. It’s about telling the story locked in the data differently, more engagingly, in a way that draws us in, makes our eyes open a little wider and our jaw drop ever so slightly. And as we process it, it can sometimes change our perspective altogether”

Personally, I largely think and communicate in words and frameworks filled with words. This never worried me when I was on the client side. Everyone was doing decks filled with words, charts and tables. After all, even McKinsey articles and decks are replete with templates, frameworks etc. This was “the” way to do it.  Sharp, analytical, conceptual, loaded with facts and words. They represent the best of right brain thinking.

All this changed, 6 months back when I discovered Dan Roam, his books and the concept of “Visual thinking”. Brilliant Right brain thinking to turn a complex problem, situation, information/data set, solution into an elegant left brain type expression. How cool is that ! Imagine how powerful this can be in any business situation, where you have to land your point with clarity and impact in a short span of time. Don’t we all have to, all the time?

In his 2nd book, “Unfolding the Napkin”, which is the companion workbook to the 1st book “The back of the Napkin”, Dan walks the reader page by page (of course in a visual manner) on how anyone can develop these skills. The highlight to me was a case where his company summarized a 100 slide presentation in 1-2 simple diagrams for a strategy meeting for the board of one of their clients. Simply brilliant! The book is worth it just for this case.

My professional goal for 2010 is to become a better visual thinker and communicator.  I am some distance away, considering I needed “words” to explain “visual” thinking.

Out with the 40 slide strategy set up in a pitch deck. Are you wondering what implications this has for the presentation software market? I am. Steve (Ballmer or Jobs), are you listening?

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2 responses to “Visual thinking

  1. I am going to buy this book 🙂 Even in office this will become a killer skill to sell my brand strategy/ plan to trade guys/ top management team within 15 min tim!!

  2. Good recommendation, Asit! I just got the book from Amazon, Kindle! No need to pay for shipping and handling and the book arrived my Kindle in 1 minute!

    Sometimes I wonder how ebook would change the competitive landscape of the publishing business.

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