Dan Roam
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Draw to Win is a quick handbook on how humans are visual thinkers, the value of visual communicating in the business world, and how to become effective at it.


People are visual thinkers. Pictures help people learn. And hand-drawn pictures make people smile.

We’re generating more data than ever and the data is overwhelmingly visual.

Drawing pictures (flow charts, diagrams, etc) is crucial to communicating business ideas effectively, thus crucial to growing your business.

“Just as writing is the recording mechanism of verbal thinking, drawing is the recording mechanism of visual thinking.”

Drawing is not hard and being visual does not depend on drawing.

Drawings are composed of basic shapes: circles, squares, triangles, lines, and arrows. Arrange them correctly and you’ll have effective visuals.

You can start drawing without needing to draw.

  1. Sketch a sequence of events. Map a process.
  2. Carve the arc: connect different ideas by clustering them. (Think post-its on a wall)
  3. Emoticons

Drawing is thinking. Try a “business break lines” exercise.

Image credit: Draw to Win by Dan Roam

“Stop thinking about drawing as an artistic process. Drawing is a thinking process. If you want to think more clearly about an idea, draw it.”

Whoever draws the best picture wins. Effective visuals have a way of implanting themselves in your mind. The most effective one will be most memorable.

The author drew 2008’s famous “American Health Care: A 4-Napkin Explanation” Aside: it’s a phenomenal explanation of healthcare and worth checking out.

Lots of famous examples of visual ideas: the formation of Southwest Airlines; President Ford, Arthur Laffer, and the Laffer Curve; J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter story timeline; Sigmund Freud and the human subconscious; and more.

Not everyone is an artist, but everyone is visual.

The best way to start drawing is to start drawing.

Use simple shapes: circle, square, triangle, star, lines, arrows, and blobs.

“In fact, once you’ve started drawing, the hardest thing is stopping. That’s the power of our visual mind; once on a roll, watch out: Ideas are going to flow. This simplest of triggers—a circle with a name—is all you need to kick your visual mind into gear. And if you do get stuck, you can always reignite your visual mind by spicing up your picture with new shapes, new arrows, and new labels.”

You can draw objects and people by combining squares, circles, and triangles.

You can draw a chart by stacking rectangles or slicing up a circle.

The six essential business pictures: objects and people, charts, maps, timelines, flowcharts, and equations.

Image credit: Draw to Win by Dan Roam

Draw things in components. Don’t try to draw something big and complex at once.

“Instead, start by drawing just part of your idea. Using one of the simple building-block shapes, sketch out a single element and give it a name. Then ask yourself, “What might come next?” Draw out that second part and give it a name as well. Keep going.”

On one hand you have analytical or reductionist drawings, where an idea is a collection of distinct parts. On the other side is gestalt drawing, where the whole idea is captured as one seamless object.

Gestalt drawings are rarely useful for working the problem.

“Things that make drawing hard: impatience; wondering what to draw; worrying about what’s next; editing as you go; a blank sheet; “art”.

“Things that make drawing easy: curiosity; starting with a circle; letting your hand go; drawing now, editing later; making marks on the page; “just do it”.

The majority of your brain is dedicated to visual work—up to 2/3 of your total brain activity.

“More of your brain is occupied with seeing than with anything else, and your brain consumes more energy than anything else in your body. As far as your body is concerned, seeing is measure for measure the most important thing you do.”

How to keep the eye engaged:

  1. Mark up words as you talk
  2. Draw or show a picture as you talk
  3. Make sure your picture aligns with the words
  4. Keep pictures simple and focused
  5. If a picture or idea is complex, draw it step by step

”The idea is this: If you want to understand or explain something, you can be certain that you’re covering all the essentials if you include the original Five Ws: who, what, when, where, why, plus a sixth called “how much.”

To show “who”, use a portrait (circle). To show “how much”, use a chart. To show “where”, use a map. To show “when” use a timeline. To show “how” and “why”, use flowcharts and equations.

Image credit: Draw to Win by Dan Roam

Whenever possible, have a character in your drawings. Show people who is involved in your idea.

“If you want to engage your audience’s mind, show them people. If you want to engage their heart, show them themselves. Show them where they fit into your idea.”

When people see that they fit into your idea, they’ll pay rapt attention.

Pareidolia: your visual mind’s attempt to see patterns in things that aren’t alike. This is why you see faces in everything (like the front of a car).

Drawing people is easy.

Image credit: Draw to Win by Dan Roam

These look goofy and that’s okay. That makes people smile.

Interesting aside: apparently many movie stars have unusually large heads.

“Many of the great Hollywood stars—Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, even Marilyn Monroe—had outsize heads. For some reason the camera compensates for the disparity by making their features stand out, thus causing them to appear more attractive on-screen.” — Merv Griffin

Vision statements are painting a picture. Literally or rhetorically, they are necessary because they can align people behind a bigger goal.

“A vision statement should be a statement of a destination and purpose, of course, but it must also function as a short story (a very short story) that captivates the audience’s whole being: ears, eyes, mind, and heart. There is a simple way to do this, and two thousand years ago Aristotle already had it figured out: For a story to capture someone’s interest, it must have a hero, the hero must have a conflict, and that conflict must be a singular.”

When people see what you are asking them to do, they are far more able and willing to do it.

There are seven types of quests. Your business or team vision should fit one of the quests.

  1. Trying to get back home
  2. Striving to win the prize
  3. Seeking to exact revenge for a previous humiliation
  4. Fighting to slay the dragon
  5. Working to be reborn as a better person
  6. Laboring to climb the mountain
  7. Searching for true love

These are the core quests in almost all stories we tell.

Stories are crucial to selling as well. Paint a portrait of “before” and “after”, where the catalyst for change is what you are selling.

75-25 rule for drawings when selling: draw 75% of it in advance, but 25% during the pitch. A great way to engage the audience.

Draw in meetings. Pictures increase awareness, add beautiful to business, and improve clarity and comprehension.

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