Better decisons, one napkin at a time

A photo of Dan Roam, autorho fo the Back of the Napkin, standing on stage in front of a presentationImagine if we could solve the world’s problems using a simple technique that truly comes from the back of a napkin.

That’s exactly what Dan Roam promises to help people with. He’s got a big vision: show people how to run meetings more productively and generate tangible results.

Speaking in April at the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) in San Francisco, which I participated in via an online mini-version of the event, meeting evangelist and raconteur Mr Roam shared his simple method to improve how meetings are run.

It’s simple. So simple, that it seems cheeky he has become a sought after speaker and run a business using napkins.

The core idea is this: use simple diagrams and pictures to help explain and discuss ‘problems’ or explore opportunities. That’s it.

I actually see this happening naturally when someone grabs a pen and strolls purposefully to the whiteboard to start sketching up excruciating bad line drawings. Or reaching for any scrap of paper. The writing is typically very messy. The pictures are crude. Ahem, yes that’s often me, when I’m not sitting with the other meeting participants groaning in agony.

Well, Mr Loam says if only this napkin drawing approach was more widely used, and poor drawers (so-called visual thinkers) received the credit they deserve. And maybe a few waverers were drawn into action.

His talks, like the one at the NTC, suite of books, and now an online Napkin Academy, seek to upskill people in understanding the power of drawing to solve complex problems. There’s a bit of psychology, a whiff of hype and lots of confidence buildings for poor, angst-ridden drawers and wannabes.

I’m still tossing up whether to enroll in the Napkin Academy as a cadet. Access to a series of videos for a year costs NZD$53 (on today’s tumbling exchange rate).

It’s tempting to join the napkin waving ranks. Yet I hesitate. Surely we can intuitively find the right way to use diagrams, models and pictures without having our hand held?

This is part one in a meeting series. Quite by accident in the past month or so I’ve fallen into talking about making meetings more productive, so I’m going to write about this stuff.

Photo credit: anitakhart