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Showing 1-10 of 139 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 243 reviews
on April 3, 2010
Like many books, "Back of the Napkin" seems to have begun with a brilliant very short concept that someone (correctly) thought would sell like hotcakes if padded out into a full-length book. The author really does present significant insights, but the irony is that they would have been best summarized literally on the back of a napkin, rather than dragging them out into full book form. So it reads like a 300-slide PowerPoint presentation advocating brevity.

The sequel, "Unfolding the Napkin" (which I also read) is better thought out, serves more as a method, and contains more visual examples - but it still rehashes pretty much the same material as the first book in order to make its point, so reading both books was redundant in my opinion.
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on July 31, 2016
I recently read a book (The three value conversations) that outlined approaches to showing people/organisations (your customers) value by creating, elevating and then capturing it. It delved into the world of powerpoint presentations and how we cannot have effective conversations. Our audience essentially takes in the start of the presentation and some part of the end; the middle is essentially forgotten.

Back of the Napkin is the "how" and "why" of communicating with your customer, team or prospect. As the title suggests it is a very visual book with many images, acronyms and approaches on how to draw and have a conversation versus death by powerpoint. By traversing through the 6 "W" questions (i.e. What, Who, When, Why, Where and How), Dan Roam provides a stock set of templates on how to visualise this to provide impact in your conversation. Very well worth a read!

Three key takeaways from the book:
1. People like seeing other people’s pictures. In most presentation situations, audiences respond better to hand-drawn images (however crudely drawn) than to polished graphics; as long as you're credible that is
2. Look, see, imagine and show is the four step process to getting visual. You don't need to be a phenomenal drawer because there are templated approaches for any situation
3. Visual thinking is where it is at. We need to take advantage of our innate ability to see both with our eyes and our mind's eyes.
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on December 29, 2011
Using the principles of the book - keep it short. The book has 3 basic premises: (a) the RIGHT picture is worth a thousand words and (b) there are only a few basic picture types. Match the right picture to the right situation and you have powerful communications that can make the sale before losing the audience. The book does show you how to do this, and how to think about it. However, the book overthinks itself and could be better for following its own advice!

Longer, more traditional review.

Based perhaps on the simplicity of the title, some reviewers have expressed disappointment that this book does not provide a simple silver bullet than can turn chaos into strategic plans and market dominance, all in the space of a paper napkin. True, it does not do that. What it does provide is a bundle of silver bullets that attack specific problem types -- and then a whole bundle of "user's manuals", one for each type of bullet and each way you could use it, and that does create levels of complexity that defy the original premise.

The book sets up the basic frameworks (the types of story that need to be told and the ways in which those can be depicted). The author then creates a matrix (codex) of those combinations - well, OK, we can live with that ... But then we add another level of elaboration for each of the axes of the matrix. That is where it gets pretty complicated in there. To some extent one wonders whether this extra throw-weight comes from an effort to create a "serious" book rather than "powerful business presentations for dummies". The parcel of extra pages actually are useful once you get past the point of saying "well, yeah" to the basic premises, and once you wade through them carefully and long enough. Of course that is the anti-thesis of the original idea! That could put you off the whole project, but it would also be a mistake.

The book's themes and illustrations will definitely help you think about what message you are trying to sell to whom. In narrowing down your presentation to a few proven themes you will definitely force yourself to separate the essence from the "cool graphics" or the "tons to words to convince you that I really have spent a lot of time thinking about this". The truth is that if you have not convinced someone of your position, saying more of the same thing isn't going to convince them either; you need to say something that appeals to their understanding of the world. For the most part, a briefing is supposed to be short (hence "brief"), not a battle of attrition. You want a head-nod because people agree with you, not because they are going to sleep. The approaches laid out in this book will help you get positive buy-in rather than sleepy acquiescence, and in the end that will have lasting impacts.

Buy it, use it. Use the principles and frameworks. As you get familiar with them, the additional drill-downs will become clearer.
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on June 18, 2017
I took about a month and a half to convert a PowerPoint presentation into hand-drawn, anthropomorphized illustrations using "Back of the Napkin" (BOTN) tools.

Fair amount of work, but wonderful, wonderful insights into how to "say" what I was trying to "say" in my slick PowerPoint slides. The book and tools hold your hand into much greater understanding and appreciation of how people think and receive information - and how thinking through the situation/opportunity/challenge using the BOTN methodology makes things clearer to both presenter and presentee.
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on August 14, 2012
I was looking all over for a book on how to use a whiteboard more effectively.
I've found that in my workplace in silicon valley, everyone appreciates people who can use the whiteboard effectively to demonstrate ideas, track status or discuss problems. Interviews, meetings, trainings, demonstrations - you can express yourself so much better if you use a whiteboard. But information with some basic guidelines and a framework on how to draw was hard to come by - and almost all the folks I've worked with are no better at drawing or explaining themselves visually than I am.

Then coincidently around the same, Dan Roam was invited in to give an hour long lecture at my company. I was quite fascinated when I watched the lecture- this guy really knew how to do it! As soon as I learned that he had books out there, i bought em all and I'm now half way through the first one.

I really really like the way the book is structured and the examples he's used. Like any new skill one learns, you have to make it a point to practice - even copy the diagrams in the first few chapters that he uses to get you used to drawing.

The layout and design of this book is very well done. You do feel like you're reading a book written by someone with a design background. The material is very lucid, non-academic and the examples are compelling.

Will add more to the review once I've completed the book.
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on November 11, 2013
This is a book about using graphic illustrations to communicate. It has scores of illustrations, most of them simple, many of them cute, all of them hand-drawn. The author wants to teach us how to use graphics and his copious use of graphics helps make the point. Unfortunately, however, the illustrations are printed in a book format that is too small. The physical size of the printed pages is 6 1/2 x 7 with wide margins whereas a more typical page size (a book grabbed at random from a stack on my desk) is 6 x 9. Everything about this book is too small, including the type font. The difficulty in reading the illustrations, many of which have short words and/or numbers packed into a small area around the graphic elements, distracts greatly from the flow of information. It actually had the effect on me of undermining the core idea of the book, that I should be communicating more through graphics. I propose rule #1 for graphic communications; graphics have to be easy to see and read if they are to have impact. The publisher (Penguin Group) and the author should be ashamed of themselves. The physical format they chose is oxymoronic relative to the subject matter and greatly diminishes the value of this book as a learning tool.
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on February 6, 2013
One of the reasons this book appealed to me (before I read it) was that it seemed to be promoting simplicity.

How to simplify things using pictures.

Because of this I had expected a very simple book. I figured each chapter would be 1, 2, 3 -DONE.

Not quite...

I was reminded that many times authors are pushed to "fluff" a book up as much as possible before a big publishing house will except it. These things never bothered me until I started reading books that were written for kindle-- where no fluff was added.

That being said, I never finished the book-- stopped about halfway through.

Quite honestly I became bored.

What I did read was well written and very thorough. If this is a topic that interests you, you'll probably enjoy your time with this book.
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on March 31, 2009
The Back of the Napkin had a great impact on the way I think and solve problems. In fact the only two business books I can say had more of an impact on my thoughts and actions are "How to Make Friends and Influence People" and "Made to Stick". So why only three stars?

The execution of the book leaves a lot to be desired. Most of the influence this book had on me wasn't actually reading it, but watching all the fantastic videos that explain the concepts on [..]. It's not too often the promotion of a book can have much more impact than the book itself. I have implemented many of the concepts and couldn't be happier, but here are some issues with the book:

- Too small - if you are going to focus a topic around pictures they need to be bigger than tiny thumbnails - terrible usability.
- Illustrations that actually make understanding more difficult. The best example is the authors use of pictures of hands with fingers to represent simple number like 3. 3 is significantly easier to recognize than a drawing of fingers.
- Terrible acronyms. If you are going to use an acronym throughout the book it should be somewhat easy to remember or at least read. SQVID might be one of the most discordant acronyms I've ever seen, and I laughed out loud when I saw that S stood for simple and D stood for Delta (change). Really SQVID is about as useless of acronym as possible. There is nothing that makes it "stick" and there sure isn't anything simple about SQVID.

It is still well worth the read, but I hope the author will try to make some of these ideas a little more "sticky" in the next edition. In the meantime visit his website and watch everything on there - it will definitely stick better.
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on March 17, 2014
I'm going to have to read it again to be able to put it into use, but I'm confident I can because I have a project to apply it to in the works. If you're just reading it to capture theory without applying it, my guess is it won't sink in.

Dan Roam starts simply enough, almost patronizingly simple. Then the complexities of advanced application kick in. And it's not limited to conveying information visually - there's also an aspect of using pictures to solve the problems your facing by working through them in logically visual ways.

This book has varying depths for the different intelligence levels of its readers. I'm sure I won't get all the benefits that wiser practitioners will get, but it won't be a result of my innate lack of drawing ability.
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on February 6, 2013
I know that I have always been a visual thinking type of person. I *see* problems and solutions in my head as pictures. But until I got this book, it was merely something I just understood about myself; "yes, I'm more of a visual type of person" and that is that. Just a self observation such as my right arm is stronger than my left arm.

Then I got this book and it helped me better understand what it means to be a visual thinker but, more importantly, how to leverage and even strengthen those innate skills. As a result, I am more excited to tackle problems and solution description as ways to sharpen these skills. The more I practice, the better I get.

Value of this stuff extends wat beyond corporate board/conference rooms. The techniques are relevant in all aspects of life including home-life. This has expanded my thinking, solution and communication skills and is, therefor, worth more than the price of the book.
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