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Dan Roam, the author of popular books “The Back of the Napkin” and “Unfolding the Napkin”, has written a new book with a message that one must fuse our linear wordy based thought process with pictures/images/visuals to comprehend things in a better way. Well, this message is not something new. Presentations with visuals catch our attention rather than the boring bullet point slides. To some extent my book summaries might also be boring as they are merely words, although I try to put in some visuals to make it interesting.

This book has three parts. The first part talks about the fact that we are drowning in blah-blah-blahs and in the process losing our clarity of thought. The second part of the book talks about vivid thinking, a jazzy word for using visual and verbal thought process to get to the message/ideas that we ought to understand and the stuff we ought to filter out as noise.

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The author uses an analogy of Fox and Hummingbird to distinguish between visual and verbal skills necessary to think. Fox is linear, analytic, patient, clever and smug( representing our verbal mind). Hummingbird is spatial, spontaneous, synthesizer and easily gets distracted (representing our visual mind). This book argues for a balance between Fox and Hummingbird traits.

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Why should we care about developing these skills? Well, there is a lot of blah-blah that we get to hear in our lives, be it in corporate presentations, conference calls, customer meetings etc. and most of the times the idea is either complicated, missing or outright misleading. The intent of blah-blah-blah could also be obfuscate or deviate from the original intent. Hence it is imperative to understand the right message from all the blah-blah-blah, and that is where these Fox and Hummingbird skills are useful.

We have all been drilled with Fox Skills/ Verbal skills right from our childhood. However Hummingbird skills have not been taught consciously to most of us and hence we develop a phobia to use visual skills/ images/drawings to understand things. It is merely a phobia, says the author, and tries to offer a framework, i.e visual grammar,to get going on developing these skills. The framework has 6 elemental pictures

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  • Portraits are visual representation of nouns and pronouns ( WHO and WHAT )
  • Charts are visual representation of quantity ( HOW MANY)
  • Maps are visual representation of preposition and conjunctions ( WHERE )
  • Timelines are visual representation of tense ( WHEN )
  • Flowcharts are visual representation of complex verbs( HOW )
  • Multivariable plots are visual representation of complex objects – Synthesis of all the above elements answering WHY

The last part of the book shows the reader a way to see the forest from the trees by distilling 7 attributes of a vivid idea. It uses an acronym FOREST to show the essential attributes of an idea. F == form, O == Only the Essentials, R == Recognizable, E == Evolving, S == Span Differences, T == Targeted.

Whether you believe in this structured framework or not, this book will make you realize that visual imagery is imperative for better understanding of the ideas you get to read/write/talk in the verbal/wordy world.

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