Actions are Driven by What You See

Dan Roam has been expressing himself with visuals since he could hold a crayon. Today, an international bestselling author of seven books, Dan helps leaders solve complex problems through visual thinking. Even the most rudimentary scribbles can transcend language and help people understand one another, and as such, drawing is a highly effective leadership skill.

The ability to communicate visually will help you enroll your team into your ideas, your customers into your product or service, or your family into your garage expansion plan. As we learned in speaking with Dan, people take action based on what they see, so learning how to communicate with images is not only smart — it’s necessary.

We are bringing Dan to Minneapolis on Wednesday, September 26 to teach us how and why to get in touch with our inner scribblers. In anticipation of the upcoming event, we spoke with Dan about his journey to becoming a visual communicator, where he finds inspiration and what he says to the inevitable complaint, “but I can’t draw.”

What is your earliest memory of drawing?

My earliest memory of drawing is the incredible combination of the colors and smells of the 64-Box of Crayons. Wow. (See Dan drawing at age four in the above photo).

What were some steps in your journey to becoming Dan Roam, visual thinker and communicator?

Step 1) In 2nd Grade, I won an award for “best drawing in class.” It was a duck (pictured). I didn’t even know I was in a contest. So that was a lovely surprise!

Step 2) My first job was drawing maps for my mom’s city planning company in Montana (pictured below). I couldn’t believe they would give me money for doing what I was going to do anyway!

Step 3) I started a marketing communications company in Moscow, Russia many years ago. I didn’t speak a word of Russian at the time, but realized that if I drew when I talked, people could understand me pretty well. Presto: instant visual problem-solving!

Visual communicator Dan Roam draws maps at age 14

What inspires you?

Clarity. I love it when I’m thinking about something complicated and suddenly the visual pieces snap into place. It is a fantastic moment, and from that point on, things get easier. The same is true when working with a team. People talk and talk and talk, and then someone comes up with a map of the concept and the whole room snaps to attention. When we can all see the same picture, we are literally “all on the same page.”

Why are pictures such strong storytelling tools?

Three data points make the case for visual stories:

  1. Pictures are our oldest means of recording and sharing our thoughts, predating writing by 25,000 years.
  2. More of your brain is dedicated to processing vision than to any other thing that you do. In fact, more than half of all brain activity is consumed by vision.
  3. More of your actions are driven by what you see than by anything else — and as a process, vision is predictable!

Combine all these and you can see why visual stories are the best way to get your idea to stick.

What do you say to people who say, “but I can’t draw?”

Drawing isn’t an artistic process; it’s a thinking process. Forget about making a picture that looks “real,” and instead just get what’s in your head down on paper. Circles, boxes, arrows — these are all the drawing tools you need. (And you can learn to draw them all in about 30 seconds).

What is your superpower?

My superpower is tapping into our innate visual genius in order to find the simplicity on the other side of complexity. Look, see, imagine, and show — these are the steps of vision. With a little practice, anyone can do them!

What are you searching for?

I’m searching for the map that illuminates the universe.

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If you’re interested in communicating better and becoming more persuasive, we invite you to join us on Wednesday, September 26 at the Machine Shop in Minneapolis for our Hero Speaker Series event featuring Dan Roam. Purchase your tickets here.

See our upcoming events

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