Closing the Innovation Blindspot with a Visual Story

August 8, 2019

In our “Closing the Innovation Blindspot” Master Class, bestselling author Dan Roam shared best practices for telling your innovation story using visual storytelling. Other topics of discussion included: 

  • The science of human vision — and how to hijack it to make your own story unforgettable.
  • The skill of rapid visual storytelling to drive innovation adoption.
  • How to use the Visual Decoder to quickly explain almost anything.

Roam is the author of the the books, The Back of the Napkin, Show & Tell, and Draw to Win. He is also the founder of The Napkin Academy, an online visual-thinking training program. Roam has worked with business leaders at companies including Microsoft, Boeing, eBay, Kraft, Gap, and more. 

“[O]ne third of all of the neurons you have in your brain are there to just help you process vision. More of your brain is dedicated to processing vision than any other thing that you do,” Roam explained during the webinar. “The longer you give people something to look at…the longer people will give you more of their brain. You want to drive adoption? … Draw stuff. … [S]how people why your innovation matters to them.”

Case Study:

During the webinar, Roam pointed to other influential thinkers — including Sigmund Freud, Steve Jobs, inventor Hedy Lamarr, and Toru Iwatani, creator of Pacman — who used drawing to better express their ideas. He also delved deep into the role visual representation played for, a startup that builds artificial intelligence solutions for its customers.  

Roam recounted when the company’s vice president of marketing showed him the original pitch deck for — a standard PowerPoint deck with traditional graphs and charts. 

“[W]e brought the executive team in and we said, ‘… Let’s draw it out,'” Roam said. “We started to draw lots of ideas, without the pressure of trying to make beautiful pictures, but just trying to think visually. What is going on in Noodle’s system that is innovative and different from anybody else’s artificial intelligence system?” 

According to Roam, the exercise encouraged people to simplify the complexity of Noodle’s AI and tell the machine learning story more efficiently. The initial sketches from the event were then given to a designer. The resulting images, Roam says, became integral to the company’s next round of pitches, helping the company raise $35 million in Series B capital.

The Visual Decoder 

During the call, Roam described how to build a tool he calls the Visual Decoder. The decoder begins with a sheet of paper folded into a pamphlet. The activity is designed to be completed in 10 minutes to create a visual story of any innovative idea.

The cover of the pamphlet has the name of the initiative and the subject matter it tackles.

“On the inside, you’re going to have four panels,” Roam says. “In the first one, you’re going to say, who is my innovation about? Who are the people that are involved?” The other panels address where the innovation has to happen, the trends that are affecting the business, and when the innovation should take place. 

“Then on the back back cover, we’re going to have big takeaways otherwise known as why,” Roam said.

Homework: Tell Your Story 

At the end of the webinar, Roam left attendees with an assignment: make a Visual Decoder for one of their initiatives. 

“[D]raw those four or five pictures to help you explain it to yourself. … Share it with a colleague, … someone you work with all the time, or maybe someone who you haven’t seen in a long time,” he said. “See if you [can explain your initiative] in two minutes or less by showing them your visual decoder. Get them to say, ‘Oh my gosh, I understand what you’re trying to do. I get it, I get it.'” 

Roam recommended that viewers use the Visual Decoder at least once a week, updating the drawings to reflect evolutions in your project.

Want to hear more from Dan Roam? He’ll be part of our Impact 2019 event this October in San Francisco.