Dan Roam: “Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don’t Work” | Talks at Google


[applause]>>Dan Roam: Thank you Stephan. I wanna thank
you all for coming. What Stephan said is right and it’s remarkable to me because as I was
driving down here earlier today I was thinking, “My gosh I can’t believe that it’s actually
been four years since I came to this room and gave a talk about my previous book.” And
I’m thinking, “From my perspective four years it’s gone by really fast, it doesn’t seem
like all that much has happened. I’ve written some more books, I’ve had a chance to talk
with a lot of people.” But then I was thinking, “My gosh in Google time four years is incredible.”
I mean think how much must have changed here. So when I came here four years ago I had a
very specific point that I wanted to make to people which was that we don’t draw enough
and we tend to not think very well because we don’t use our visual mind very well. So my first book was all about solving problems
with pictures and I realize now as the years have gone by that a lot of things have changed
in these last four years in terms of helping us think visually. There have been a lot of
books that have come out about visual problem solving, there’s been a lot of interest around
creating applications that people can use to help them articulate software that are
more visual, and there’s been a whole slew of tools that have been released online, many
of them belonging to you, that allow us to communicate using pictures a lot more effectively
than we could in the past. But I also realized that we’re not there yet. In these last four years we haven’t gotten
to the point where we’ve solved all of our problems. We still seem to have these challenges
ahead of us and what I really wanted to set out to do as I was working on this new book
was kind of double down and say, “If my first book was just about using pictures, what I
wanna talk with you about today, and what my new book is about, is using that combination
of words and pictures to make every idea that we have become incredibly clear.” Because
I think that the story I’d like to share with you is a pretty simple one. As I think about
the ideas that are out there, there are so many of them, and we now have so many different
channels by which people communicate their ideas to us, it all starts to sound after
a little while like this, just this endless wall of words of blah, blah, blah descending
upon us. It’s really difficult to begin to understand what are the ideas that we really
wanna pursue? What are the things that are really interesting to us? So what I want to share with you today is
this simple idea of can we move from a world that looks like that to a world where maybe
we can start to think about how we can communicate our ideas better by using fewer words? We’re
still going to use words but we’re going to help make those words become incredibly powerful
by introducing the idea of combining them with pictures. And so I think that the best way to start
out to make this real is I’d like to start out with kind of two different case studies
of organizations I’ve worked with over the last couple of years and they represent kind
of a spectrum to me. On one side an organization that has used pictures exceedingly well to
explore really complex ideas and now that’s the good side of the spectrum. And then on
the bad side of the spectrum an organization that hasn’t used pictures at all and communicates
miserably. So I’d like to start with the good one. On
the good side, a couple years ago I had a chance to go up to Seattle and work with a
number of the program managers that are overseeing the development of the new 787, the new Dreamliner,
arguably the most complex machine that has ever been made. And what they shared with
me is it’s even more complex than I had thought because the 787 is being built at the same
time in 17 different countries by people speaking 13 different languages. So for example, the fuselage section in the
front, everything that’s in light blue, is built in the United States. Everything that’s
in green, the main fuselage component, is being built in Italy. Everything that’s in
red is being built in Japan; everything that’s in yellow is being built in China, etcetera. So the question I had is how is it possible
for someone in say Shanghai, let’s say the person who’s working on the wing root, to
know how to build their component to within tolerances of in some cases millions of an
inch so that it perfectly lines up with the component being built by someone in Italy
and a component being built by someone in Japan? All the pieces get shipped back to
Seattle and they snap together and they fit. Well the thing that they showed me up at Seattle
is the reason they’re able to that is because everything, every aspect of the design, maintenance,
constructions, training, everything that has to do with that machine is communicated through
pictures; it’s as if they’ve replaced spoken language completely. And I’m not just talking
about really sophisticated computer aided design. I mean Boeing has had that for decades. What is interesting here is the creation of
a global network of a visual language so that if have a question about what am I supposed
to do I don’t need to read anything, I go online, I look at the picture and I see what
I’m supposed to do. And the really remarkable thing is that in the end it actually flies;
it works. So that’s a really good example, that’s the good end of the spectrum and I
promised you that I’d show you a bad end of the spectrum as well. So I wanna talk to you about an organization
where I think communication doesn’t work at all. Now I have had an opportunity to work
with the United States Senate and a number of different governmental organizations. And
the reality is people are incredibly smart, people are working very, very hard, but the
problem is that often, because it’s all about politics, the ideas that this guy is generating
he wants to make absolutely sure that this guy does not understand. “I wanna make sure
that you don’t know what I’m doing, it’s secret, this is my political agenda.” Well that’s
part of the problem. The other problem is that even when those
people agree on what they’re trying to do, the result of their work looks like that.
Think of how invested you have to be in this piece of policy or this idea to be willing
to drill all the way down through it to try to figure out what it’s really about. It doesn’t
work, it doesn’t fly, and in the end we end up with people who become really politically
agitated because they don’t know what it is that Washington is actually trying to say.
What is the solution? We don’t know. So what I wanna share with you is something
that is, I think is a tool that can help clarify this. How do we use the pictures and the words,
put them together? This is something that I call vivid thinking. Now vivid is a mnemonic.
Now I am one of those people, my memory just sucks, it’s not anywhere near as good as it
could be or as I’d like it to be so I rely on mnemonics and visual devices all the time
to help me remember things. So let me walk you through what vivid actually
stands for. So the V-I stands for visual; the V stands for verbal; and the I-D stands
for interdependent. So if we put that together what do we have? Visual, verbal, interdependent
thinking. That’s the kind of thinking I want us to have and then an idea will become truly
vivid. Now there’s a more vivid way to describe that.
So what it means is I’m no longer going to believe that you know what you’re talking
about if you can just talk about it. No matter how articulate you might be I’m not going
to believe you have fully explored your idea if you can only talk about it. Nor am I going
to believe that you have fully explored your idea if you can only draw it. Vivid thinking means that we will combine
both. And for some neurobiological reasons that we’ll talk about in a few minutes this
is the really critical factor. When we want out mind to light up on an idea, when we have
an idea and we wanna share it with someone, when we combine words and pictures, which
most of us have never been taught to do, it’s almost magic that happens the way it lights
up other people’s minds and our own. So what vivid thinking really is, for anybody
who has an opportunity to look through my book, vivid thinking in the end of the day
is a very simple set of tools that since most of us believe we are primarily verbal and
that’s what we’ve been taught in school, so our default thinking process for most of us
involves writing or speaking. What vivid does is it gives us a very simple set of tools
to overlay on top of those words and say, “If I had to create a visual to compliment
those words what would I do? Because I don’t know how to draw.” It tells us, vivid thinking
tells us exactly how to do that. The reason why this works, there are a couple
of unwritten rules about visual problem solving and vivid problem solving. And I wanna share
with you the most important one goes like this: whoever best describes the problem is
the person most likely to solve the problem. Now what I mean by that is if any of you are
in a position to assign budgets or to assign work to others, and I’m assuming many of you
are, if someone came running into your room and said, “Give me money, the sky is falling,
I’ll fix it,” you’re probably gonna say, “Not so fast.” But if the person came in and said,
“Look I’ve started to map out the problem and I’ve realized that when these people or
these constituents get together in this way there seems to be a series of consistent outcomes
and what I’d like to do is explore why this one always goes badly. Could you give me some
more money to explore it?” The fact is the person who has already begun
to map out the problem is the person who proves that they have the greatest grasp of it and
also is beginning to find what the solution is likely to be. So the really mercenary subtext
here, and this is true, is whoever draws the best picture gets the funding; absolutely
true rule number one, whoever draws he best picture gets the funding. We don’t see this
rule very often because we don’t draw very often, but every time somebody does they win. And I wanna show you the best example of this
ever, the best sort of back of the napkin, simple, visual idea ever. So we’re out here
in the Bay Area, let’s fly out here to Washington, ’cause as I’ve mentioned I had chance to work
with the Senate and the U.S. Navy, and some other organizations in D.C. And after one of my talks a guy came up to
me who was head of the new policy for the United States Senate for the Democratic side
of the Senate, and he said, “Dan, I have the perfect, simple picture back of the napkin
story for you from politics.” And he shared this picture and it goes back to 1974, so
we’re talking kind of ancient history now, when Ford, President Ford was in power. President Ford ran a very conservative, fiscally
conservative administration. There was a very popular economist at that time, his name was
Arthur Laffer, USC economist, very conservative in his views, who spent a lot of time in D.C.
doing consulting for the Ford Administration. So one night Arthur Laffer goes out to a bar
with two senior aides to President Ford, they go to a bar in Washington D.C. and they start
talking about taxation and monetary policy. And at one point Laffer pulls out the cocktail
napkin and he says, “Guys I have an idea. Do you mind if I draw a little picture for
you?” And the two guys he’s with said, “No, no go ahead.” So on his napkin Laffer draws
a very simple little x, y plot, something I’m sure all of us have done at one time or
another, and since they’re talking about taxation on the horizontal axis he maps out the percent
tax rate that the government is charging on our income from zero percent up to one hundred
percent. And on the vertical scale he maps out how much money does the government actually
collect in tax revenue from zero dollars up to lots and lots of dollars. And he says to
the guys that are there in the bar with him on this napkin he says, “Okay so if the government
charges us zero percent income tax how much is the government going to make? Zero.” And
then he said, “But think about this: if the government charges us one hundred percent
income tax, how much money is the government going to make? Also zero because no one will
work.” Think about that, if every single penny of
every dime of every dollar that you earn came in one pocket and you immediately had to pay
all of it back out in income tax, what would be the point of even working? You might as
well just forget about it, just go to the beach. So he drew on his napkin what actually seems
to happen is there must be some kind of a curve that goes like that. And at some point
isn’t it interesting that reducing the rate of taxation actually increases the amount
of money the government collects? Now the two guys who were with Laffer that
night in the bar thought that was pretty interesting; these are the two guys. They said, “Can we
take that napkin back to show it to President Ford? There is a fundamentally interesting
idea in that drawing.” He said, “Please take the napkin.” They took and they showed it to President
Ford who was very intrigued by the idea, he got it, he liked it. Ford passed that napkin
off to the Republican National Committee, who then passed that napkin off to the economics
team of a guy named Ronald Reagan who was thinking of running for President. And quite
literally that napkin sketch became the basis of Reaganomics. That is the first instance anywhere in the
public record of anybody ever talking about what became known as supply side economics.
The idea, when someone would come to President Reagan and they’d say, “Wait a minute in order
to increase taxable revenue, government revenue, you’re gonna decrease the rate of taxation
especially for the wealthy? What?” He would draw them out that picture and they’d say,
“Oh, I get it.” Now the interesting part about this story
is the two guys who were with Arthur Laffer that night in the bar are these two guys:
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Former Vice President Dick Cheney were
the two guys who were sitting in the bar that night with Arthur Laffer. It was those three
guys with that cocktail napkin who basically invented Reaganomics that night in that bar.
That became pretty much underlying American economic policy for most of the last 30 years
and we are still debating to this day is it a good idea or not? But here’s the question I have: who says a
simple little sketch on the back of napkin doesn’t have power? It has extraordinary power.
That’s what I was referring to when I was saying, “Whoever draws the best picture gets
the funding.” The person who comes up with the visual clarity of their idea always wins
for a very simple reason. We are of two minds, and I am not talking about left brain and
right brain thinking. Everybody’s familiar with the idea of right brain and left brain
thinking; one of our hemispheres is creative and one’s analytical. No, it is nowhere near
that simple. Now one thing we do know is that all, the
brains of all mammals, all mammal brains, have a bilobed neocortex, the part on the
top of the brain is split in half. But as far as we can tell right now, to the limit
that tests allow at this point, humans seem to be the only mammal in which it is true
the two hemispheres have evolved to have slightly different function. And now we are beginning
to realize what the difference between the two hemispheres of our brain really is and
it boils down to something like this: one half of our brain has evolved to become really
good at looking at the world in terms of little bits, pixels, little bits of focus. The other
half of our brain has evolved to become really good at being the glue that pulls them back
altogether. So there’s another way of looking at this
that says, “This part of our brain has evolved to be really good at focus.” Somewhere in
our evolutionary past it was very important for us to be able to scan the horizon and
see the one thing that we wanted to go get. But if we only focus on that we’re gonna be
attacked by something from behind us. So the other half of our brain evolves to be really
good at peripheral vision. Pretty fascinating what we’re starting to find is that half our
brain is really good at the focus and the other half is good at the larger picture.
That’s what we know. Another way to think about this, the way this
has further evolved, one way to diagram this out, looks something like this. One half of
our brain does want to see the world like that, little bits, letters, words, can I break
it down to its elemental pieces? The other part of our brain wants to say, “That’s not
what it’s about. It’s about the whole thing.” Now what’s interesting is both of these are
the same and yet of course both of these are completely different. Which one is right?
Is this the right description or is this the right description? Well the answer of course is that both of
them are the right description, but this is the only one that for most of us in most of
our education we are ever taught to develop. We’re given verbal syntax, we’re given verbal
grammar, we’re tested on our ability to write a five paragraph essay, our intelligence is
judged by our ability to be verbally articulate. When has ever anyone given us a tool, a serious,
I mean a real tool in the same way that we have grammar and syntax? When has ever anyone
given us a tool that helps us with that part? And yet actually this part is bigger than
that part; we are more visual than we are anything else. More of our brain is dedicated
to processing vision than any other thing that we do and it’s ironic to me that we haven’t
got tools to take advantage of that. So that’s what we’re gonna focus on now. And to kind of get us moving I’d like to do
a little test with you. Very simple, I’m going to show you four pictures. All of them are
going to look something like this and they just go in order, A, B, C, D. What I’d like
you to do is just look at the four pictures, I don’t want anybody to stress out this isn’t
some kind of test where we need to look for the hidden banana or something like that.
I just want you to look at these pictures and see if you can identify that there are
some things in the pictures. So this is picture A. Do we all agree that
there are some things in this picture? Okay so now I’m gonna go on to picture B for a
moment. This is picture B and I’m gonna go back and forth a few times. I don’t want anyone
to stress out, I want you to actually see the differences so I’m going back to A now.
This is A and this is B. I’m gonna back again, A and B. And let’s go back one more time and
this time as I go from A to B I want you to ask yourselves a question: how much time do
you think might have passed between A and B? How much time do you think might have passed?
Anybody?>>male #1: Seconds.>>Dan Roam? Seconds, some number of seconds.
Alright I think so. So now let’s continue. This is picture C. [pause] I can hear that many of you are seeing that
something else has happened. And now let’s go on to the last picture, picture D. [pause] And we can see that something else has happened. Now I’m gonna go back to C for a second and
I want you to ask yourselves the same question: between C and D how much time has passed from
this picture to this picture?>>male #2: Hours.>>Dan Roam: Hours. So the first transition took place in a number
of seconds and this transition took place in a number of hours and we’re pretty much
all in agreement with that. But here’s the really remarkable thing: we
did all of that without the need to rely on a single word to describe anything that we
were witnessing and yet every one of us saw almost exactly the same thing. If we were
to be debriefed later most of us would say we had witnessed exactly the same thing. It
didn’t require a single word to do it. Now we know that that’s the case but we don’t
think about it very much. And that’s what I wanna do for the rest of this time, take
advantage of building some tools to help us bridge the gap, to move from being good at
this part and knowing how to being better at that part and then how to apply it to our
own ideas. How can we make this relevant? So all of us, I mean my gosh in particular
all of you who work at Google, what are we really in? What business are we really, really
in? We’re in the business of ideas. And the trouble with most ideas is that they start
out kind of like this, this is like a pile of coal; they’re ugly, they’re undifferentiated,
they’re poorly defined, but like a pile of coal they have incredible potential. But jokingly people say, “What’s the worst
gift you can give to someone is a lump of coal,” because nobody wants to touch it. This
is exactly like our initial idea; we know in our mind that we’ve got the potential of
something great and often what happens is we go no further than this and we bring it
to our colleague or our boss or our investor what have you and say, “Fund me.” And people
are like, “No way. I’m not touchin’ that.” They don’t realize the potential is in it. So what we’re going to do with this vivid
thinking and the napkins and pens that I handed out to you, is I ‘d like to show you a tool,
a visual, verbal tool, that will help us take any idea from its undifferentiated, kind of
ugly, nasty starting point to becoming something that is so crystalline and so beautiful that
nobody ever wants to forget it. And the really interesting thing to me about
this metaphor is of course we recognize that these two piles are exactly the same thing;
a pile of coal and a diamond are exactly the same thing. Both of them are 100 percent carbon
and nothing else. [pause] [sound of setting pen on table] The problem is in order to get from this one
to this one we have to go through a process. And what I wanna help you do is figure out
what is the process we can go through to make our idea become like that. So here’s how we’re gonna do it: you have
your napkin. I want you to draw with me now. We’re gonna draw out that process, we’re gonna
draw out that tool. Now I hope everybody has something that you can rest your napkin on
’cause you take those ball point pens and you’re gonna dig through that napkin so you’re
gonna have to put something under otherwise you’re gonna end up drawing on your pants. So here’s what we do: when we want to draw
a problem solving picture we don’t panic, we don’t think, “Oh I don’t know how to draw.”
The first thing that we do is we just draw a little circle, literally in the upper left
hand corner of your napkin I’d like you to draw a little circle. And then that’s the
visual part, but now let’s activate both sides, let’s get the verbal part in there too. Give
it a name. What am I gonna call that circle? And I’d like you to call it me. [pause] And for a little bit of extra credit let’s
let the visual side of us take off, go ahead and make the me look a little bit like you. [pause] So we’ve gotten started now and now if we
drew one circle as our starting point what might be a logical next step? Well how ’bout
we draw another circle and let’s make another little one down in the lower left hand corner
and I’m gonna call this one my audience. [pause] And let’s make that one look a little bit
like someone to whom we’re always trying to explain our ideas. I’m gonna make it look
like my Mom ’cause I’m always trying to explain to my Mom what exactly it is that I do. So
go ahead, so now we’ve got these two and our mind is leaping forward to say, “Okay I’ve
got the two pieces me and my audience, that’s me, that’s my boss, this is me doing my perf,
that’s the person who’s gonna overlook my perf, whatever it is. To whom do I need to
show this? And then I’d like you to draw a big circle
in the middle. [pause] And this one I’d like you to call my idea. [pause] Now what we are going to do and we’re doing
it visually, we’re doing it vividly, we’re allowing our mind to relax because we can
continue to look at the picture even as we describe it. Something neurobiologically powerful
is happening by virtue of the fact that we can look at this picture as I describe it,
our mind actually relaxes because it doesn’t have to remember anything; it’s able to follow
along, it’s able to see what the words mean at the same time. So now let’s say we’ve got this idea. To just
explain our idea all at once is gonna be a bit like that pile of coal, it’s gonna be
largely undifferentiated. So what we’re going to do is we’re gonna break our idea down into
six different slices. Just like take that idea as if it was a pizza; we’re not gonna
force someone to eat the pizza all at once we’re gonna give it to ’em slice by slice.
I’d like you to divide that idea up into six slices. [pause] And what we’re gonna do for the rest of the
time here is label those six and step by step I’m gonna walk you through another mnemonic
device that is a nice tool to use when you’ve got your idea and it begins time to start
qualifying it and clarifying it. So here’s what I want you to do. In the six
slices I’d like you to write the following letters: F, O, R, E, S, T. And what does that
spell? [pause] Forest. It spells forest. That’s going to
be our mnemonic. It spells forest. Now why is that? Well number one ’cause it’s a mnemonic
that I can remember, number two it also helps us remember that when we want to clarify our
idea it takes work. The first pass on our idea is not the one we wanna show to someone
else, it’s not vivid yet. The trouble for most of us is we work in a really stressful
environment. Very often the environments in which we are working, and I know here at Google
you have done many, many things to try to alleviate this, but for a lot of the working,
the people that are out there working, we have to go into a brainstorming session, we’re
under continual pressure, there’s noise, there’s crashing, there’s lot of stuff going on around
us. The reason I like this idea of the forest
is because it reminds us that when it comes time to take our idea and make it vivid for
someone else it is worth finding the time, if only in our own mind, to find a kind of
a quiet place like a forest where we can spend some time making sure our idea is really vivid
before we start running around and sharing it with someone else. So here we go. We’re gonna work through all
six of these and we’re gonna do just a couple of minutes and an example for each one. And
I’d like you to follow along with me as I go. So what F stands for is form – [pause] and go ahead and draw a little box with that
and if you wanna go ahead and make it like a cube go ahead. F stands for the first thing
that we wanna find to make our idea vivid is we want to find the idea’s form. What is
its underlying shape? So that is the form of a bicycle. I don’t need to describe a bicycle
with words I can draw a picture and everybody can see what it is. Now that’s great if my
idea is a mechanical object, but what if my idea is more abstract? What if my idea is
a business idea, something that’s not as easy to draw as a bicycle? Often what happens is when we wanna describe
to someone the form of our business we write a business plan. But let’s be honest, how
many people actually wanna read that? Nobody is going to read that business plan. We’re
looking for the form of our idea in an encapsulated way that we can so someone else can see what
we’re talking about. Nobody’s gonna read that. Well what is that? Does anybody know what
that is? That’s a TV dinner tray. Now we all live in the Bay Area so of course
we have a lot more sophisticated tastes so we have a Bento box — [laughter] but it’s the same idea. We can understand
the form of our meal because everything fits into its own little zone, into its own little
box. Well now there is a really interested guy
out there who has created a way to create business models in a Bento box. Now what he’s
done, Alexander Osterwalder, brilliant book Business Model Generation, has used vivid
thinking as well as anybody ever could to say, “When I wanna communicate my business
idea to someone, what I do is I just divide business up into these nine different categories:
my partners, my products, my propositions, and all I need to do to build any business
is be able to populate each of those aspects, each of those different segments in my Bento
box and look for the relationships between them and I can start to describe any business
idea in a way that doesn’t require an entire business plan and is very dynamic and people
get.” So that’s what I mean, this is the form of business. We need to find the form of our
idea. O stands for only essentials. [pause] And let’s draw a little drop of water there. Now what I mean by that is that for an idea
to stick in someone else’s mind the first thing we wanna share with someone else is
the essence of the idea, that could be the form, but it’s the essence of it. What is
my idea in the end of the day really about? Now I have done some work with the Navy and
what was fascinating to me is there I was at the Naval War College and I was working
with a room of very smart people and they introduced me to a term called B.L.U.F., B-L-U-F.
Now I had never heard of this term before but what it means is that in the Armed Forces
in the Navy there is a standard. If you’re gonna deliver a message you remember B.L.U.F.
which stands for bottom line up front. If you wanna be heard you give the bottom line
up front; you do not come in with all the details. You figure out what the end point
is, you figure out what the essence of your idea is, you go in and you start your presentation
with that. Why would you do that? Because then it gives
your audience the opportunity to decide for themselves whether the rest of your idea is
worth their time or not. Rather than sitting through you having to go through a preamble
you say, “This is what it’s about. This is its essence.” And if that appeals to them
then they will give you all time in the world to go back through the details. I thought
that was pretty compelling. So I wanna give you an example. This is a
network diagram from one of our local Silicon Valley companies that describes their network
security model. This was an advertisement in a magazine and it was not a magazine for
people who are experts in computer technology. I don’t think that this is a very good explanation
of the essence of an idea of security. I was reading The Economist Magazine two months
ago and I saw an ad from Google. This was the ad that described Google’s security policy
in The Economist Magazine. I thought, “Brilliant. Talk about the bottom line up front.” If I’m
reading The Economist Magazine it’s highly unlikely that I am an expert in technology
security. What I’m interested in is what do I get from it? What is the benefit for me?
Talk about bottom line up front. Google’s verification process is two steps. First you
gotta get past the bear and then you have to escape from the snake pit. That’s what
security means to us. Now that’s intriguing. I’m interested in that company’s security
model; now I will go in and I will get into the details of it. Don’t give me that. I don’t know what that
means. Give me that. Plus it’s clever which helps a lot. Plus it shows F, the form of
the idea. R stands for recognizable. [pause] And let’s go ahead and draw something simple,
draw some water with the sun over it; an image that all of us can, genetically encoded to
recognize what that image is. What do I mean by recognizable? For our idea
to be vivid it has to be something that the moment someone looks at it they say, “Oh I
know what that is. I’ve seen that before.” When we show our idea to someone what we don’t
want to have happen in their mind is them to say, “What? I don’t know what that is.”
What we want them to say is, “I got it already, now give me more of the details.” So this is, they tell me, this is a map of
business strategy as it’s taught in some of our better business schools. Uh-huh. I run
a business; it doesn’t look anything like that. I don’t know what this is about. I am
not gonna take the time to read this. It may be visual but it is certainly not vivid. Businesses
to not look like that. Now what is this a picture of? This is a picture
of the ocean. We all know what that is. And you know something interesting sort of visceral
happens when we look at this, I don’t know about you, but I look at this image and I
say, “I recognize it. That’s the ocean, that’s what I see out there every single day. There’s
something intriguing about the possibilities of an ocean. What would happen if I was able
to sail out there, way out into a place where no one’s been before? What’s beyond that horizon?
I wanna go there.” The best selling business book in the last
five years is a book called Blue Ocean Strategy. And I will tell you, has anybody ever heard
of this book? Blue Ocean Strategy has absolutely nothing to do with the ocean, nothing whatsoever.
The original title for the book was about something like Maximizing Shareholder Value
to Leverage Synergies in the Competitive, Non-Competitive Landscape, etcetera; something
completely unmemorable to someone who’s not an expert. But what the authors did is they
said, “We think that the idea in this book can be made to be something that is instantly,
almost genetically recognizable. What are we talking about? The appeal of going out
into a blue ocean that is unexplored.” By making their book title Blue Ocean Strategy,
is this an absolutely better strategy book than any other strategy book that’s out there?
Well maybe, it’s a great book. But is it really that much better? What makes it become such
a great idea in our mind and so memorable is the fact that we recognize the image immediately. So I spend a lot of time with business books
and I was looking over what have been best selling business books of the last few years
and every one of them has a visual, recognizable aspect to the title. So does anyone wanna guess what this business
book might be? This was a business book called Switch; this one is called Drive; this one,
anyone wanna guess what that one might have been called, a very popular business book
three years ago driven entirely by a picture? Anybody ever heard of the book called The
Long Tail? This is Linchpin. Anybody wanna guess what that one might be? Made To Stick. [pause] Made to Stick. This is of course our
Blue Ocean Strategy. Anybody can you see what that is? Purple Cow about marketing. Anyone
know what this book might be?>>male #3: The Black Swan.>>Dan Roam: The Black Swan. Anyone guess what
that one might be?>>male #4: Tipping Point.>>Dan Roam: The Tipping Point. What do you
think this one is?>>male #5: The World is Flat.>>Dan Roam: The World is Flat. Anyone wanna
guess what that is?>>male #6: Blink.>>Dan Roam: Blink, exactly. Okay now think about is: this book and this
book were written by the Heath Brothers; massive best selling business book. This book and
this book were both written by Malcolm Gladwell; incredibly phenomenal best selling business
books. What is it, this is also Seth Gooden and Seth
Gooden over here. What is it that the leading idea people of the last 10 years, what is
it that Malcolm Gladwell, the Heath Brothers, and Seth Gooden know that hundreds of thousands
of other business authors seem not to? If you can make your idea a visually recognizable
idea it is something that will stick in people’s minds instantly and they will decide immediately
to follow up on it. That’s what I mean by making it recognizable. E stands for evolving. And what I’d like you
to do here let’s go ahead and draw a square that makes its way into a diamond; evolving.
A vivid idea, what I mean by this is, a vivid idea is one that starts out really clear,
yes it has great form, yes it’s only the essentials, yes it is recognizable, and on top of that
is it an idea that the person we’re showing it to can contribute something to it? The
idea is complete but it’s not finished. Now what I mean by that is, Leonardo da Vinci
way back in 1438 invented the first parachute. He didn’t actually build one but he drew it
in one of his notebooks. And Leonardo went really far because he actually specified how
big you would need to make a parachute, how much fabric you would need, etcetera; he came
up with all the quantitative measures. Now he never actually built the parachute. It
took 300 years, 300 years for a Frenchman Lenormand to actually review Leonardo’s original
drawings and go and build a parachute and jump off a tower outside of Paris and live;
took 300 years for someone to have the guts to do it and Sasha of course it was a Frenchman
who did it, right? So then another guy comes along a hundred years later and continues
to refine the parachute and we get up to the parachute that we have today. The point I wanna make is that the idea of
a parachute is vivid because the original part of the idea is something we understand
and we can continue to incrementally evolve that idea and it just gets better and better
because the original idea made such great sense. [pause] My favorite example of a business person who
is the greatest example of someone who could evolve an idea is a guy named Edwin Land. [pause] Edwin Land is the second most prolific, second
number of patents of any American ever. Thomas Edison was the first, Edwin Land is the second;
458 patents to his name. He was the inventor of the Polaroid sunglasses, he was the inventor
of the Polaroid camera, he was the inventor of the cameras that were held on the U-2 spy
planes that were flying over the Soviet Union during the Cold War, he invented incessantly. And what everyone who knew Edwin Land would
say is the way he worked is he would lock himself in a room; he would go without eating
for three of four days; he would be one of those people like Steve Jobs in a way, that
someone would have to bring food and remind them, “You’ve gotta get back, you can’t just
work on your product all the time.” But he would incessantly work on it, continuing to
refine it. And then he would come out with this thing that was almost perfect in its
form from the first go and people would look at it and say, “You are such a genius. Did
that just come out of nowhere?” No it came out of coming up with a good original idea
and incrementally evolving it, evolving it, evolving it. And that was the history really
of the Polaroid camera that for decades was this incredible success. Well even Edwin Land as brilliant as he was
could not have anticipated the arrival of the digital revolution which spelled the end
of Polaroid. So Polaroid sadly, such a great example of one time a great industrial company,
in about the year 2001 finally went bankrupt. [pause] Polaroid is back now, investors have gotten
together, started Polaroid again and you know who is the Chief Creative Officer of the new,
newly reborn Polaroid camera is Lady Gaga. She’s actually the Chief Creative Officer
of the new Polaroid. Talk about a company that is willing to evolve itself; that’s what
I mean by a vivid idea. We understand that the idea is good, how do we need to change
it to make sure that it stays topical? [pause] S stands for spans differences. [pause] And let’s go ahead and draw something that
looks like a balance; two circles that are balanced. Now what I mean by this is that
a vivid idea, one that other people are going to remember like that diamond, is one that
doesn’t just have one point of view; it doesn’t just say this, it doesn’t just say black or
white or right or left, it actually spans both. Now the best example I could come up with
for this was it has been a rule in automotive engineering forever to say that if you wanted
to design a car, right from the beginning you had to make a decision: was your car going
to be efficient or was it going to be powerful? Because inherent in the limitations of the
internal combustion engine was that binary distinction. And when you set out to design
a car the first thing as an engineer you had to decide is which one am I going for? And
for a hundred years that was the driving model behind cars. But that doesn’t make any sense; it makes
sense given the limitations but then a couple of other guys got together and realized the
problem with that distinction isn’t that that’s a valid distinction, it has to be one or the
other, the problem the engine that we’re using. What would happen if instead of saying we
have to make a car that’s efficient or powerful, what would we need to do to make a car that
is efficient and powerful? Well the first thing we’d have to do is come up with a different
engine. And so the Tesla is born and literally that was the thought process that the founders
of Tesla went through. You end up with a Tesla now that is more efficient than a Mini and
more powerful than a Hummer. The breakthrough wasn’t in saying, “Gee an electric engine
would be a great thing to put in a car.” The decision came from saying, “Almost all engineering
starts out by us making binary distinctions in putting out our initial spec. It’s either
going to be this or it’s going to be that. And those limitations are inherent in us moving
forward.” The brilliant, vivid ideas come from not being willing to accept the binary
distinction of this or that, but by saying, “What I wanna do is both. What do I need to
change in my thinking to do both?” That’s where you get a car, a breakthrough like the
Tesla; that is a truly vivid idea. And the last one: a vivid idea is targeted. [pause] Now what I mean by that is we’ve been talking
about, remember the first circle that we drew was me, and now we’ve been talking about our
idea, going through all of these different things, and for the most part in our sort
of forest we thought about, “Okay what’s the form of the idea? What would be its essentials?
How could I make it recognizable and yet still evolving? And how could I make it be both
this and that?” But that’s an exercise that we could largely do by our self or with our
team. And that’s great, that gets us partway there but there’s one piece that’s missing
which is the person that we have to show it to. Up to this point we’ve been working on our
own. Now the last piece is targeted. Let’s go ahead and draw a little target. And what
I mean by that is a vivid idea is one that recognizes who its audience is. And isn’t
pandering, it’s not tailored to that audience, but it says it recognizes that different people
are going to find something compelling, different things in my idea. Can I think through who’s
gonna look at it and what would make it most compelling to them? So my favorite example is: this is a cup of
coffee. And back in the old days, Grandpa’s time, they’d say, “I could buy that cup of
coffee for five cents.” And then when I was a kid you could buy it for 25 cents or maybe
for 45 cents. And then someone came along and said, “Wait a minute. This is an undifferentiated
commodity, it doesn’t target to anyone. It’s just one size fits all. What would happen
if we went out and realized that there are actually different people out there who might
react, want different things out of that cup of coffee? What would happen if we targeted
it and we refined it so you’ve got one version for this group and another version for that
groups and another version that that group?” And all of a sudden this thing that wasn’t
a commodity business at 35 cents a cup becomes a specialty business at $3.75 a cup because
it became targeted. And out of that comes the possibility of taking
one original idea and not thinking, “What are all the things I could do with this idea?”
But thinking, “Who are all the different people that might find this idea appealing and what
could I change in it incrementally to make it very appealing to each one?” And you end
up with from this we get an entire range of hundreds of different varieties all of which,
in the end of the day, make it more interesting, more engaging, and something more of us wanna
buy more of. [pause] That’s really the end of the prepared remarks
I have. I wanna wrap up with one kinda final quick bit of history. Where did we get to
this point? But what I’d really like you to do, if there’s
anything you could take away from this, take that little napkin drawing, and I mean this,
really think this through because it will work. You’ve got your idea or your team’s
idea and you have to convey it to someone else. Think through how could I give my idea
a form? If I had to draw a picture of my idea what would that picture look like? How could
I boil it down so that if I had to deliver my idea, bottom line up front, what would
be the bottom line that I would say first? How would I make my idea recognizable? What
kind of visual metaphor that people have seen before can I find for my idea? How can I make
sure that my idea is complete but it’s not finished, it’s got room for someone else to
add their part? How can I make sure that my idea spans both this and that, not just this
or that? And then in the end say, “And now that I’ve done all that, how can I figure
out who’s most interested in my idea and how would I need to tweak it to make it most interesting
for each one of those people?” And I promise you that if you do that, that
idea is gonna start to move from that coal, that lump of coal, to start to become that
diamond in your mind and in the mind of the people you’re showing it to. [pause] I’d like to conclude with just a couple of
minutes of why does any of this matter? [pause] Where did this come from? Well clearly at
some point in our past the fact that we are so visual, that we react so well to these
visual metaphors must be driven by the fact that we needed to see the thing that was out
there ready to hunt us down in order to get away from it. We weren’t talking about it,
we needed to see it. We’ve got a lot of visual processing to see it. But somehow over the
last 32,000 years we’ve started to shift; we’ve shifted a lot in fact. Here you have the 16,000 year history of how
we have gone from visual language to strictly verbal language at least in the West, at least
in the European languages. So the Caves of Lascaux people drew, drew a bull; 16,000 years
ago. Then 5,000 years ago if we move over the Egypt
you had hieroglyphics and someone’s drawing a bull that doesn’t look too different and
that meant bull. A bull was a very important part of the Egyptian economy, so you’d draw
a picture of a bull. But then someone also realized that some ideas
are too conceptual to be able to be easily represented, so let’s just draw a simpler
picture to start to mean something else. So the Phoenicians came sailing across to Egypt,
saw the hieroglyphic bull, copied the head of the bull and in Phoenician this was called
Alf, was the name of a calf. So they borrowed that symbol and said, “Let’s go ahead and
use that as the symbol for Alf.” And then over time the Phoenicians simplified
that symbol, but you can see that it’s still a bull. And then it was borrowed by, the Phoenicians
continued to evolve it and it becomes the letter Aleph, which becomes the first letter
in the Hebrew alphabet. Which then the Greeks borrow, turn one more
time, and it starts to become Alpha and then which we borrow and simply and make the letter
A. So here we have sort of 16,000 years history
of how we’ve gone from that symbol all the way to that symbol. Now it’s remarkable what
that has done for us because we know that our ability to think using this type of symbol
is incredibly fluid and flexible and powerful especially in the digital age. But the question I wanna leave you with is:
this is a wonderful timeline, but what have we lost along the way? Because now this has
become the way that we think and I’d just like to encourage us to remember we can also
think like that. And this one is more deeply encoded in what we’re going to react to and
understand. So — [pause] why does any of this matter to us? Because
what I’d like us to do is be able to use our visual thinking to help us avoid the incessant
blah, blah, blah that threatens to overwhelm us and help us make our own ideas become very
vivid. And with that I wanna thank you for your time.
I’m happy to stay if anybody has any questions. [applause] Thank you. [applause]