Whomever best describes the problem is the one most likely to solve it, and whomever draws the best picture gets the funding. That’s the way serial doodler Dan Roam sees it.
The author of Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don’t Work and The Back of the Napkin was the plenary speaker for the Nonprofit Technology Network’s (NTEN) annual Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) held recently in San Francisco, Calif.
“We can solve our problems with pictures, clarify our ideas,” said Roam. You don’t have to be a meticulous artist or use a complicated computer program to generate an image — as long as you get your point across. As far as Roam sees it, if you can draw a stick figure, you can draw. It’s more a matter of getting your point across than creating a masterpiece. “Can we be more compelling by saying less,” asked Roam. More than half of the human brain is built around processing vision but people are more often focused on learning syntax and grammar.
Approximately 25 percent of people are “black pen people,” those who can’t wait to draw arrows and circles on a white board. About half of people are “yellow pen people,” or the highlighters, those who prefer watching other people draw; they’re good at “sussing out what’s important.” And finally, another quarter of people are “red pen people,” because these other folks are oversimplifying the problem and missing the issue. “We red pen people have a great grasp of nuances and facts, but it’s torture to see this picture come out,” Roam said.
In his first example to prove “Whomever draws the best drawing gets the funding,” Roam pointed to Arthur Laffer and the Laffer Curve. Laffer was a conservative economist who was spending a lot of time during the 1970s with people in the Ford Administration. One night, while having drinks with two senior aides for then-President Gerald Ford, Laffer plotted his now famous curve, portraying how much money the government actually collects and how much it could bring in. The early back of the napkin version of the Laffer curve would go on to become the basis for Reaganomics and supply-side economics. “American economic policy for 30 years came from that napkin,” he said. The two aides with Laffer were Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney who later would serve in the George W. Bush administration. “Who says a sketch on a napkin doesn’t have power?” Roam presented the federal government’s 1,447-page healthcare reform bill as an example of his theory. “This is a document that no human being on Earth can read and comprehend,” he said. “What might happen if we tried with pictures?” So he tried it, creating a series of images and slides explaining the legislation in pictures. “By all rights, this should be the most boring PowerPoint ever. It should be,” Roam said, but it’s not. It was at one time the most downloaded presentation on SlideShare, at more than a half-million. Now there’s something called the White House White Board, usually around an economics issue that’s drawn out so people can understand it.
“Remember Rule 1: Whoever draws the picture gets the funding. Am I an expert on healthcare? No. The fact that I was able to draw a picture that clarified, all of a sudden I’m the expert.” To draw any idea, Roam suggested breaking down a problem in six ways:
- Who and what
- How much
- Where – like a map, in that it merely shows an overlay of ideas
- How – a combination of everything to this point, and a cause/effect deduction of what we think we’re seeing, kind of a flowchart
- Why – the equation. NPT