Alright. Enough already. Of all the people I have been jealous of, Dan Roam is gunning for the top of the list:
- Dan wrote the book I always wanted to dang it!
- Dan has got endorsements from Business 2.0 gurus also named Dan--Pink & Heath!
- Dan has a swank Flash-animated website and way-clever blog!
- Dan lives in San Francisco!
Mostly, I resent the fact that Dan has been able to do the impossible:
Dan describes why visual learning is the best way to work with others to make stuff happen in a way that we can actually understand!
Keep reading for a brief book review and fun interview with the author who talks about the influence of Einstein, his fighter pilot dad, Optimizers vs. Disruptors, and the heroes of the Russian space program.
Principled Innovation Blog
Jeff De Cagna
Book Review: Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam
So, yeah. Um. I hate to admit it, but... Back of the Napkin is going to change the way I work.
Early in the book, Dan works to lower the threshold of "drawing" for traditional Left-Brainers ("Oh, no, no, no! Don't get me up at that whiteboard!").
The rest of the story, however, is about Dan's real-world application of simple right-brained techniques to do very business-like things, namely: to discover, to develop and to sell ideas.
Dan taught me a tremendous amount about how to appropriately integrate traditional process maps and diagrams into my own work as a graphic facilitator who works with clients trying to understand systems, manage complexity and make good decisions.
I now know how to use his SQVID framework of five easy questions for deciding which visual format to use for a particular client-oriented, napkin-based, visual, problem-solving scenario!
Get the book and Dan will make it all easy to understand!
A Virtual Interview with the Author
Since I am only part of Dan Roam's international virtual book tour, I tried to ask him three questions that have nothing to do with the book, but were aimed at digging into his messy id. Or at least to pry out some cool stories about working in Russia!
Q: When you are "doing your thing" what person from your past/present/future do you hope you don't disappoint?
DAN ROAM: There are two parts to "doing my thing" (using pictures to solve problems), and I'm inspired by different people for each.
First, there's the "inward" part: thinking up ideas, reflecting on them, and rolling them around in my mind's eye in an attempt to make something useful of them. This part always happens in non-business situations: in the shower, in bed at 4:00 in the morning, while driving -- moments when I'm not distracted by the realities of deadlines, meetings, and money.
The Inward Process Einstein's Compass
For me, this is invariably the time when the good ideas appear -- and when I have the time to really think them through. At the risk of sounding extraordinarily pretentious, I continually find myself at those times coming back to the story of Albert Einstein as a young boy. When Albert was four, he became ill and was bedridden. As a gift, his father gave him a compass which Albert gazed at for days. Amazed by the way the needle stayed stationary regardless of how he turned and tilted the compass, young Einstein became convinced that there were invisible yet fundamental forces at work, or as he put it years later: "Something behind things, something deeply hidden". As the story goes, he lay there in bed, turning that compass around and around in his mind until the first glimmerings of the "something deeply hidden" emerged.
I often think of that story as I roll an idea around in my head, hoping that at some point I too might get a glimmer of how the world -- and the way we see it -- works. (When it happens, I'll draw a picture of it, of course!)
The Outward Process: Fighter Pilots and Killer Ideas
Second comes the "outward" part of what I do: presenting ideas, sharing concepts, and sketching things out on the whiteboard while giving seminars or working with project teams. For me, this is also a time of discovery, but of a much more public and collaborative kind.
The person most often flying copilot in my mind during these times is my dad. He was a pilot in the Air Force who taught me to fly while I was still in High School.
After he left the service, he became an organizational development expert in the Federal government, touring the country leading seminars and facilitating workshops. At the time my brothers and I had no idea what he was doing ("OD??" Who gives a %&$#?) but years later I have finally come to understand the anxiety, stress, and absolute wonder that comes from seeing other people get excited by your ideas -- and then getting equally inspired by their ideas as well.
DAN ROAM: There are two kinds of people in business, and they mirror the two underlying business philosophies. On the one hand are the "optimizers"; on the other are the "disruptors". My greatest frustration is the near-bipolar inability of one approach to recognize the critical importance of the other.
Take Six-Sigma as an example of the former. This process optimization standard provides excellent tools for businesses to make everything they do as efficiently repeatable as possible, and to drive inconsistencies, uncertainty, and randomness out of their business. If you run an assembly line making widgets, that's a wonderful goal: more widgets made more cheaply at higher quality in less time. What's not to like?
Disrupt, Innovate, Optimize
Disruptive innovation is an example of the latter. Here the idea is to intentionally break the things that already work in order to discover better things. If you're in the business of creating breakthrough products that meet unknown customer needs (ipods, anyone?) what could be better than constantly searching for ways to do everything differently?
There we have it: the two fundamental philosophies of business. The problem is that most businesses pick one and then stick with it religiously. And as in most religions, the practitioners eventually come to believe that only their way is right.
So answer your question: the thing that bugs me the most about the way businesses look at what is practical vs. possible is the ground from which they start. Optimizers take it as an article of faith that anything can be made more efficient. Disruptors know equally fervently that the only way forward is to change everything. (Sounds a little like politics, doesn't it?)
What is "practical" matters most to an optimizer; what is "possible" matters to the disruptor. The greatest challenge is to get the optimizer to think more often in terms of "the possible", and the disruptor to think more often in terms of "the practical". Don't get me wrong: we don't want either to lose their fervent beliefs (from which great things do come) but to realize that sometimes the best way to be more optimal is to break a few things... and sometimes the way to be more disruptive is to spend a little more time looking at what already works.
Wow. Isaac Babel -- fascinating choice! Mine, too, would be about Russia, but from a very different time.
This is the easiest of your questions to answer, since I have for years known exactly which movie I'd like to produce -- and have in fact already written the screenplay!
Red Moon, Star City
To me, the greatest untold story of the past fifty years is that of the rise and fall of the Soviet space program. After all, the reason America went to the moon -- the crowning achievement of the Twentieth Century -- was because it looked like the Soviet Union would get there first. By being the first into space (Sputnik), the first to put a living creature in space (Laika), the first to put a man in space (Gagarin), the first to put a women in space (Tereshkova), the first to put two ships simultaneously into space (Vostok 3 & 4), the first to put three men into space (Voskhod 1), and the first to walk in space (Leonov), the Soviet space program looked unbeatable. Nobody in the Western world slept well under the threat of a "Red" moon.
While the American side of the story has been brilliantly told through "The Right Stuff", "Apollo 13", "From the Earth to the Moon", and most recently "In the Shadow of the Moon", not a single feature movie has been made to say anything about what was happening on the other side of the Iron Curtain -- which in many ways is an even more riveting story.
My screenplay is called "Star City". It tells the true story of the Russian "Right Stuff", following the borderline insane adventures of the original Soviet Cosmonaut Corps. Beginning with Yuri Gagarin's first flight in 1961 and ending six years later with the deadly crash of the Soyuz prototype moonship, "Star City" tells the amazing -- and often tragic -- story of some of the wildest technological achievements ever pulled off.