Box of Crayons Blog


Dan Roam Draws His Way to the Truth

I first interviewed my guest today, Dan Roam, about five years ago. He is the author of several books on the power of drawing; his latest is Draw to Win: A Crash Course on How to Lead, Sell, and Innovate with Your Visual MindIt covers all sorts of things, from flying to dyslexia. The main takeaway is that drawing can be a useful everyday business tool to help you have more impact in the work you do — you can use drawing to sell more effectively, to train more effectively and to innovate more effectively.

I think you’ll enjoy this interview, as we dig into:

  • How drawing can be a powerful tool to map out your thinking.
  • The intricacies of the brain.
  • Why you should draw your vision statement.
  • The art of drawing your destination.
  • Finding truth through drawing.

Be sure to check out Dan’s website,, and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Roam.

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Full Transcript

Michael:           A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say. I’m not sure who they are, but that’s the saying. And that means this should be a really short podcast, but in fact it’s not because it turns out that my guest today, Dan Roam, who is the author of four, now five books on the power of drawing, is a talker. And this is an awesome conversation. It covers all sorts of things from flying to dyslexia. But all of them in the context of his new book, and the book is called, Draw to Win: A Crash Course on how to Lead, Sell, and Innovate with your Visual Mind.

And, when I was chatting to Dan about this, kind of before we hit the record button, he was like, “Ah, yeah, in some ways it’s like my greatest hits.”

And, I was like, “You know I’ve read this book, I’ve read your other books. It doesn’t feel like a greatest hits book to me.” It feels like the kind of distillation of a bunch of things that he’s learned over the last six or seven years of producing a book regularly, teaching thousands of people how to use drawing as a useful everyday business tool to help you have more impact in the work that you do. And in fact, one of the things he does in the book is he makes a really strong connection, so that you have chapters on how you use drawing to lead more effectively; how you use drawing to sell more effectively; how you use drawing to train more effectively; how you use drawing to innovate more effectively. So, this is a great conversation. As I say, Dan is a talker. So, there’s a lot of me listening, there’s a little bit of monologuing, which is just fine. But I think you’ll enjoy this conversation with Dan Roam. He’s been a guest on our podcast before, but now he’s talking about his new book, Draw to Win: A Crash Course on how to Lead, Sell, and Innovate with your Visual Mind.

Right, Dan, I’ve given everybody the big intro, talked about how much I loved your various books. And we’re here to talk about Draw to Win: A Crash Course on how to Lead, Sell, and Innovate with your Visual Mind. It’s like the distillation of all the good stuff that’s come before, and I really love this book. But I think we need to define terms from the start. So, when we’re talking about drawing, draw to win, what do we even mean by drawing? I mean, what does that mean to you?

Dan:                 Michael, I am so glad you started with that question because almost nobody ever asks it. In fact, on the contrary, what people tend to say when I’m doing my training or I’m at a corporate event and I say we’re going to draw is most everyone says, “Ah, no, can’t do it. Can’t draw.”

Michael:           Right.

Dan:                 “We want to hear you talk but no we’re not going to draw, we’re too afraid.” Or whatever, “We don’t know how to draw.” So, when I talk about drawing, I really want to clarify, and get rid of this illusion that we have, that when I talk about drawing, we need to be drawing like Leonardo da Vinci would have drawn, or like Michelangelo would have drawn. Not at all. I think of drawing not as an artistic process, but drawing as a thinking process. Nobody cares, in my world, in our visual thinking world, the quality of the drawing that you’ve made. What we care about is the quality of the thinking that your simple boxes, and circles, and arrows, and stick figures bring to light. That’s what I’m really after.

It’s a process of thinking, and the visual tools, the drawing simply gives you another mechanism to record and map out your thinking in a way where you can really see it for yourself and ask, not, “Is this a great drawing?” But ask, “Is this an accurate reflection of what I was thinking about? Have I accounted for everything? And, do I begin to see perhaps some holes that might have existed in my written communication, or my more verbally based logic.” It’s very easy when we’re just talking, or writing, to work ourselves into positions that feel like they are closed and questions have been answered, when often there are simply holes there that we’ve just masked.

And, I—you know, there is a great Le Corbusier quote …

Michael:           Well I love this quote.

Dan:                 You know, famous.

Michael:           (Indiscernible) quoted back to you, but you’re way ahead of me. Which is like, “I prefer drawing to talking, drawing is faster and leaves less room for lies.” And I’m like …

Dan:                 Exactly.

Michael:           Oh, nailed it. That’s perfect.

Dan:                 Well, and so, Michael, to answer your simple question, “What do I mean by drawing, clarification of terms?” I would like to make a parallel, that when I’m talking about drawing, it’s kind of equivalent to casual conversations that you have with your friends. You don’t have to be beautifully articulate. You don’t have to have all of your thoughts lined up. You don’t have to pontificate, or have all the answers. But the drawing is simply an act of, kind of working through an idea by taking a piece of paper and a pen, or, to be fair, a digital tablet or an IPad, or whatever technology you prefer, and just kind of pushing shapes around on the page until you say, “Yeah, that does actually make sense. I now am able to clarify a little bit more what was in my own mind.”

And, Michael, at the risk of maybe going on too long I’d like to give you an example of a really interesting experience I had, actually yesterday. Simon Sinek, who is the author of Start with Why, who is a fantastic guy and an incredible author. Start with Why is a great book.

Michael:           It is.

Dan:                 And, he’s got a new book out right now, Together is Better. And Simon was—I live in San Francisco, so Simon happened to be passing through Palo Alto, just an hour south of me. And we agreed that, you know, let’s get together. And so, I went down there and I took a video camera, and I said, “Simon, I have an idea. Your book, although it is beautifully illustrated, is really a book of kind of simple clear thoughts on leadership. Would you do a little drawing exercise with me where I—together, we take a sheet of paper and draw out what some of these quotes truly mean?”

Michael:           Right.

Dan:                 And we did that for about half an hour. And, what was amazing was Simon’s reaction. I mean, he’s literally the guy who wrote his book. And (inaudible) these quotes, and he kept saying, “Holy Smoke.” He draws, he’s a visual type person.

Michael:           Yeah, he is.

Dan:                 But, a little bit more guided emphasis from my part by saying, “No, no, you’re not allowed to just talk it through, let’s actually imagine this.”

The drawing that we did, he kept saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m now seeing new thoughts about what I actually meant. Oh, and the emphasis of this particular quote, for example, I thought it was point A but now I’m actually seeing it’s this intersection of point B.”

So, Michael, long answer. But, it really works and that’s what I mean by drawing.

Michael:            I can see the second edition of that book being co-authored, with Simon and Dan Roam; with drawings to illustrate that piece. And, you know it’s interesting, I heard once that—somebody once said “Strategy is a visual act.” Because with strategy you’re really trying to figure out what’s the destination, what’s the landscape between us and that destination, and what are the paths to get there. And, an insight that actually people with dyslexia, so people who maybe not as adapt using words, actually there’s a disproportionate number of people who are senior or CEOs, kind of, have a visionary role in an organization. Because they are—their strength is in visualization rather than in verbiage. And, I don’t know if you’ve ever come across that before?

Dan:                 Oh my gosh, constantly. And, Michael, I’m assuming, since I know that you have read everything. And I mean that in—I really do think that. There was an article that appeared in the New York Times, it’s probably three years ago now, and it was called the, “The Upside of Dyslexia.”

And the article was there, written kind of as a counterpoint, I suppose, of Malcolm Gladwell’s book at the time, which was …

Michael:           Was that the David and Goliath one?

Dan:                 David and Goliath, yes. Where he had gone into talking a little bit about some of the benefits of dyslexia. And, what this article was talking about is a measurably—depending on what type of diagnosis of dyslexia a person might have. Because it can mean many different things.

Michael:           That’s true.

Dan:                 And if we just break down the word itself, it’s a terrible word. There is no way I’m ever going to be able to spell the word, dyslexia. That’s just torture by the verbal people …

Michael:           That’s irony, yeah.

Dan:                 And the visual people to call it that. But all it means is difficulty learning to read. And there are multiple diagnoses as to why that might be so. But, one of the most common diagnoses is, if you think about the two hemispheres of the brain, and we’re not going to go into right brain and left brain thinking because most of it sadly is hogwash.

Michael:           Exactly.

Dan:                 But there are some critical pieces that are important. And one of those that seems to be neurobiologically, neuromechanically, cognitively true is that the two hemispheres of the brain do appear (indiscernible) to have optimized, from a visual perspective, in two slightly different ways. And one hemisphere of the brain, which, I’ve got to do my math, is going to be the left hemisphere of the brain controlling the right side of the body …

Michael:           Yeah.

Dan:                 … appears from a visual perspective to have adapted, to have evolved to be a little bit better at looking at small things in great detail with a tremendous amount of focus for a very long period of time without distraction.

Michael:           Interesting.

Dan:                 And the other hemisphere, so the left hemisphere controlling the—I’m sorry the right hemisphere controlling the left side of the body appears to have adopted to see, to really try to process the bigger picture. So, in order for us to have a written language, and now we’re going to shift over into the verbal side, you need to have both hemispheres because one, from the visual side is recognizing the detail of a letter; a “B” or a “C” or a Chinese pictogram, or an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic. It takes a lot of optimized visual acuity to look at that particular shape and take the time that is necessary to discern it from other similar shapes. And that is very much a left-brain, right-sided activity. And in order to read you need to be able to do that. And, in particular, if you think about, you know, our Latin letters, and imagine a lower case—just imagine this in your mind’s eye, a lower case “d,” a lower case “b,” and then a lower case “p,” and a lower case “q”; they are all exactly the same shape, they are a loop with a line on one side.

The only difference is which way are they flopped?

Michael:           Yep.

Dan:                 And if someone has measurably shown the type of dyslexia that is driven by slightly less ability to do that great long-term focus on a small shape … those four letters are going to look pretty much the same to you. What’s the—a “d” and a “b,” they’re just opposite (indiscernible), one’s left, one’s right, what difference does that make?  “p” and “q,” just the same thing up and down. But, people who have—this is from that article, people who have that diagnosis of dyslexia have a measurably better peripheral vision. They are the people who are then loaded a bit more to that other hemisphere, the one that has optimized not to look at the little detail in the center of the visual field, but to be tuned to the broader picture that’s going on around the edges of the visual field. And those are the people who are good, to your point, strategists, visionaries; that’s Richard Branson, that’s Charles Schwab.

That’s, you know, the people who are—who recognize the whole far better than those of us who might be so focused on the pieces. And, I love what you’re sharing because, I’m going to run with it just for a moment more, or two, and say, “Yes.” Interestingly, I would say that 75% of the consulting work that I’ve done over the last ten years is working with senior strategy people at large organizations who are trying to develop the long-term vision for the business. And not in terms of developing a vision statement. Vision statements are hogwash.

Michael:           Yeah.

Dan:                 I don’t care about maximizing synergies to leverage …

Michael:           Blah blah blah blah blah.

Dan:                 (indiscernible)

Michael:           Yeah, it’s like—those are empty words, right?

Dan:                 They’re empty words. Well, there is a picture behind them, but what I like to do is say, “It’s called a vision statement. Draw the picture.”

Michael:           Yeah, let’s see the vision, and then let’s see what this statement is.

Dan:                 Exactly. But these are not those people. These are the people who are saying, “Look, this is what our business does. This is historically what we’ve done. This is what we think we’re going to be doing in the future. This is what we think the market space looks like. This is the market space in which our business grew up and was successful. Here’s how we see that market space shifting. And, as we look into that vision, where do we see the role of our company, as we try to thrive into that future?”

So, those are the types of strategies. And those people, they’re all visual, they are all back of the napkin, whiteboard, flip-chart people. And, many of them, interestingly enough—and I’m thinking of Michael Porter as well.

Come from either—this is interesting—come from either a sports background, someone who is—takes the ball and very rapidly has very good sense of situational awareness …

Where are the people coming at me? Where do I need to send the ball? Where is my team going to be? So, I find that a lot of people who come from a sports background are ironically—this is strange, a lot of people who have aviation in their background.

Michael:           Right. Right.

Dan:                 Who were pilots, or come from families of pilots. And, it’s amazing, Michael Porter, Richard Branson.  There’s—it’s a consistent theme. And I think part of what it is—and I have, I come from a flying family.

Michael:           That’s true.

Dan:                 Michael, I don’t know if …

Michael:           In the book you talk about your dad being a pilot.

Dan:                 Oh, right. Right.

Michael:           And a trainer. Right.

Dan:                 And so, I think there is an overlap there. Because if you think about what’s required to fly a plane, it’s a very visually intensive process, of course.

And, you know, imagine—well here’s an interesting thought. So, in the human brain, by weight, about one-third of our brain is dedicated to processing vision, another third is dedicated to processing vision in conjunction with other sensory inputs, which leaves about a third of our brain left over for everything else that we do.

So, you know, if you average it out, probably close to half of our brain just in sheer neurological numbers is focused on vision. But think about this, an eagle, a bird, a hawk, 90% of its brain is focused on vision.

And I’m thinking isn’t that an interesting—I’ve never actually put these pieces together until we started talking now, Michael. But isn’t it interesting that to move in three-dimensional space at speed … requires a lot of vision? And isn’t that what our strategy people are trying to do? Navigate multi-dimensional space into the future and figure out what is the right path through it. And, it helps to be dyslexic.

Michael:           Brilliant. Alright, Dan, we have these three questions we ask in the middle of an interview just to mix it up a little bit. Same three questions every time. So, here’s the very first one: What’s the crossroads you came to, what’s the big decision that you made, this way or that way, that’s made all the difference for you?

Dan:                 Okay. The first one that jumps to mind, because we’ve been talking about books and writing, was I was sitting in my office at a consulting company and I was not happy. I was not getting along well with some of the business development people, even though I was on the business development team. We just had very different approaches to how do you prepare for a presentation. And, I liked to really prepare, and really think into what I thought was the client’s challenge, and come with, not solutions, but lots of drawings and sketches. And I was in profound disagreement with my leadership, and I was not happy. And it was at the same time that I had been working on a draft for a book, The Back of the Napkin.

And I had a lunch with—right around that time, with a literary agent, a guy here in San Francisco, who was introduced to me through a friend. And he said to me—I gave him the proposal for what ended up becoming The Back of the Napkin. And Ted said to me, “There’s real potential here but it’s going to require a commitment on your part to write this book. I think you can do it based on the outline you’ve shown and this sample work, but, you know, you’re going to have to make a decision because if you want to do this book it’s a pretty solid commitment.” And, I think, Michael, the point is the crossroads was I’m sitting there thinking, “Just moved to San Francisco, I have two children, we’ve just bought a house, we’re fairly leveraged, financially, but I’ve got this opportunity. I can stay in this consulting job that I’m just not happy with the people.”

Or I could—time to take the plunge. And I called my wife and we had recently sold our home in New York so we had a little bit of money in the bank. And I said to her—she knew that I was not happy at that job. And I said to her, “It looks like the book is an option. If I were to quit my job today, how long would we have financially to survive before we were literally broke?”

And she said, “I can’t answer you, I’ll get back to you in 15 minutes.” And she called me back in 15 minutes and she says, “Okay, if we’re frugal we can probably go six to seven months. So, quit, walk.”

Michael:           Awesome.

Dan:                 Nothing is worth being that unhappy especially when you see an opportunity that’s right there in hand. Take it. So, that would have been the crossroads moment. Because that then got me the time and the space to write The Back of the Napkin, which changed …

Michael:           Which launched your career.

Dan:                 Exactly. It was that moment.

Michael:           That’s fantastic. Great story. Love it. Second question: Whose work has influenced your work? And, you know, it could be writers, it could be drawers, it could be artists, but it could just be people in your life, mentors, coaches, role models who’ve shown up. So, I’m curious, whose work has influenced your work?

Dan:                 Well, an easy answer, and a true answer, would be my dad. And I’m not going to spend much time on him now because I actually talk about him in my book.

Michael:           You do.

Dan:                 He was a pilot. He is a pilot and a teacher as well. And I learned a lot on how to be a good communicator from spending a lot of time in a very small plane with him, you know, watching him train people. And then having him train me to fly, too. So, yeah, kind of—I’m really happy with that influence. But more tactically, I think, or more applicable to my work in visualization, I will cite three people. Edward Tufte, who is really the godfather of data visualization through his magnificent series of books. So, Professor Emeritus of, I believe, politics out of Yale. And, many people know Dr. Tufte. He’s not, to be fair, the nicest man. But what’s great about him is he was really the first person to make legitimate in the business world the idea that pictures and visualizations have a place.

And I just fell in love with those books the first time I read them. In parallel, then, a couple years after that I ran across a guy named Dave Gray. And, Michael, you may know Dave. Dave Gray who authored Gamestorming

Michael:           Oh, of course.

Dan:                 And has a new book out now called, Liminal Thinking. So, Dave and I met remotely because Dave was the first person I’d seen who, in a business world, was able to—he formed a little company called XPLANE, which still is going today. It’s got quite a little interesting history, his consulting company. But, the first person I’d ever seen who had the guts, and the will, and the success in setting up a consulting company that strictly drew pictures. Because nobody had done that before. And I found that profoundly inspiring, and have pursued Dave, and now we’ve become very good friends, and share a lot of war stories on what works and what doesn’t. And try to help each other out, and keep very much in touch.

Michael:           Great.

Dan:                 And then there’s a third name, though. And this is the one that really, at the greatest remove, is probably the greatest source of inspiration for me, and it’s J. K. Rowling.

Michael:           Ah, nice. Who you also mention in the book.

Dan:                 Yeah. And the more that I’ve learned about her, the more I have come to appreciate she’s not a writer of children’s stories. I mean she is, and the most successful author in history, fine. But what she’s really about is the human mind, and how do we treat ourselves, and how do we treat each other through good and through bad. So, that’s incredible. And I’ve—you know, each new book and each new series that she writes about is another take on understanding human psychology, which I really like. But even more importantly, when I realized that she drew everything, which is kind of the big secret …it just blew my mind. You know, this author drew everything; the maps of Hogwarts, timelines indicating how did the roles of these characters intersect through these very complex plotlines, actual sketches of all the characters, you know, what does Hagrid look like. You want to know what Hagrid looks like? Go online and look up J. K. Rowling’s drawings and you’re going to see what the original Hagrid looks like.

Michael:           Oh, that’s awesome.

Dan:                 She drew all these things. And I find that—back to our earlier conversation about, you know, dyslexics who become so good through visuals. Well, here is someone who is clearly not dyslexic, at all.

Michael:           Right. Right.

Dan:                 And yet, is still profoundly visual and draws everything. And, to be fair, the drawings are not all that great. They’re—you know, you say, “I could draw that better.” Doesn’t matter.

Michael:           Yeah, exactly. You may be missing the point.

Dan:                 Doesn’t matter. Yeah, exactly. Those drawings are extraordinarily valuable because those were the genesis and the support of being able to create those stories.

Michael:          Yeah, perfect. Alright, third and final question. Loved those answers. You know, Box of Crayons, we talk about helping people do less good work and more great work. Good work, kind of your job description, your everyday getting stuff done. But great work is the kind of the point where you step out to the edge of yourself. It’s the kind of work that has more impact. The work that has more meaning. So, how do you see your great work at the moment, Dan?

Dan:                 I love teaching, and I didn’t know that was going to happen. I always thought I loved drawing and loved figuring things out and building models of systems. And that’s true, it’s still true. But the real impact I’m now starting to have is seeing other people’s eyes light up when they say, “Wait a minute, I can do that.” And I’m not just talking about training in organizations. Because that’s fun and it’s always really good for the spirit to see, you know, a forty-something executive …

Michael:           Yeah.

Dan:                 … say, “Thank you for giving me permission …”

Michael:           Right.

Dan:                 … “In my boss’s eyes, to do what I’ve always wanted to do anyway.” And, that’s great.

But what I’ve tried to do a little bit more is realize that there are powerful tools here and they need to get into the hands of our teachers, and our students, and kids. And, I have two kids, I mentioned, and they’re very visual. And in large part that’s because we have lots of white boards at home, and we draw everything.

And I know when I see a lot of kids struggling, and I see scores in standardized tests just going awry, and, so much—so many kids who are just checking out of school because the way that we have a tendency to teach doesn’t align with the way that they would naturally process information. When you introduce pictures back into the curriculum in a structured way and an insightful way, you see eyes light up again. And you say, “Yeah, you know what, it’s okay, I want you to draw your answer.” And then people light up, and I just love it. And, I think that’s important.

Michael:          Yeah, that’s perfect. Dan, all great answers. Let’s get back to the interview. So, let me carry on this conversation with leadership. Because I think this is one of those things that I love about this book. You know, I loved Back of the Napkin when it came out. It really, kind of, made sense in terms of here’s how you can draw. If you can draw a line, and you can draw a circle, you can draw. Let me show you how. And I can also see, particularly in light of this new book coming out, how you could have read that and gone, “Well that’s great but—okay but, when and where and how and why would I pursue that?” And what you’ve done in this book is—you know, the heart of the book is actually saying, “Look, this is going to help you lead, this is going to help you sell, this is going to help you innovate, this is going to help you train.” All kind of critical business competencies to thrive in this world. And one of those chapters, “To Lead, Draw your Destination,” I thought was really compelling. So, I wanted to talk about that. And, you know, in the book you actually set out, a kind of—I think it’s six or seven different quests that we can go on to, kind of, carry on this journey. And each of those quests, I guess, has a different destination. And as you say in the chapter heading, “To Lead, Draw your Destination.” So, maybe, could you take us through what these quests are, and how they might show up visually?

Dan:                 Absolutely. So—and it, kind of—my new favorite techno-speak word, it kind of pivots off of our previous conversation, doesn’t it?

Michael:           Right. Yeah.

Dan:                 In the sense that leadership, I think, has, of course, many, many, many, many attributes. The one that I’m particularly interested in is this idea that people will follow you for a while just because of charisma, or you’re a very convincing person.

Michael:           Or sheer bloody curiosity as to where the hell you’re going.

Dan:                 Or curiosity, or what have you. But if you don’t pretty soon quite literally show your people where you’re going, what is the destination, you’re going to lose them. And this just jumps to mind now, have you—I don’t know if you (indiscernible) a huge fan, they kind of went overboard, so to speak. But do you remember The Pirates of the Caribbean movies?

Did you ever watch those, with Johnny Depp?

Michael:           Absolutely. My ambition is to be Johnny Depp when I grow up.

Dan:                 Well, there you go. Well I’m sure—you know, the first 15 of those movies were kind of fun.

Michael:           That’s right.

Dan:                 The remaining 96…

Michael:           Yeah, they lost the plot of it. Yeah.

Dan:                 Well, there’s one—I guess, I can’t remember, second movie, third movie, where Johnny Depp manages to take command of his ship again. What was it called? The Black

Michael:           The Black Ghost, or the something. Or the Black …

Dan:                 Yeah, exactly. So, he gets the Black Ghost again, and he’s finally got his crew …

Michael:           The Black Pearl. The Black Pearl.

Dan:                 The Black Pearl.

Michael:           Right.

Dan:                 I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. So, the point being if you want to be a leader, I think, it’s very important to have a lot of attributes. But one of them is the ability to literally draw a picture of where you’re going. And that is always going to be a quest.

And we tend not to think about it very much. And I don’t want to go too far into, kind of, hero’s journey territory …

Michael:           Yeah.

Dan:                 … and Joseph Campbell, because it’s been kind of done to death. Even though we know it’s—there’s a very powerful notion of having a mission to guide us. But what I did was I went a little bit to the side of that and I said, “If you boil down the great stories that we love, whether they’re in movies, or whether they’re in myth, or whether they’re from Joseph Campbell, or from other places, you just, kind of, do come up with the same eternal set of quests.”

And, you know, it’s not a stretch to say that most of us in business are trying to attain one of those things, or many of them as well. And, some of the quests—we won’t have to read them all off.

Michael:           Yeah.

Dan:                 But, I think, probably one of the most famous, and maybe one of the original ones, because if you just go back to The Odyssey, it’s just the idea of getting home. I just—or Apollo 13. You know, I will bend the universe to my will just so I can get back home.  And be with my family, and be where I’m comfortable. And that is certainly a quest of, frankly, of many people in business. I want to replicate the business that I grew up in. Or, you know, what business makes me feel comfortable? I want to make that happen. So that’s one of our quests. And if you say to people, you know, after a diaspora, you know, or “We’re looking for our homeland. Let’s just go home.” That’s an enormous driver for leadership. Moses. Let’s go home.

Michael:           Right. Right.

Dan:                 You know, you can get casts of thousands to follow you. You can part seas if you just say “My vision is to get home.” So that’s one of them. Another one, perhaps, more, easier to, kind of, feel on a day-to-day basis is “I just want to win the prize.” You know, “I just want the gold medal.”

And so, our business—we just want to win market share. And that’s fine. You know, if that’s what the leader says. You know, our goal right now is to attain 35% market share in this growing market, a very enviable strategic goal. Sure.

Michael:          And then there are other ones that are really interesting, I think, you know. And, I love—one of the things you do well in the book is actually, kind of, bring these quests, which can feel a bit academic perhaps or theoretical, into life. So, you know that whole—you know, one of the quests is being reborn. And you draw the Starbucks example, when Howard Schultz went, “We’ve got to shut everything down.” And spend, what is it, a day, training everybody in, kind of, the new Starbucks before, kind of, opening up. And that in itself just became this powerful symbol. I remember how much press it got about—“Our destination is to reinvent what we’re like as an organization.” And, of course, one of the ones that really resonates for me is the slay the dragon one. Because, for me, as I think about the work we’re doing in coaching, I’m like, we need to completely disrupt the old idea of what coaching is, about being a, kind of, weird touchy-feely HR thing. We’ve got to make it, kind of, accessible to everybody, to understand it’s a powerful tool. But we’ve got to break the old model before people can see the new model. So, as I read this piece around slaying the dragon I’m like, “That’s our quest here at Box of Crayons at the moment.”

Dan:                 And I would agree. That is one of my favorites as well. I mean, all of these quests we all do in varying degrees all of the time. Assuming that we’re on, kind of—when we’re at the points in our life when we’re on a mission, we’re on a vision, we’re on a quest, it could be any one of these or all of them. And I agree with you that slaying the dragon is probably my favorite as well. And in my case, my dragon would be similar to your own. About people’s misunderstanding of coaching, perhaps in your case. Mine is perhaps that idea that we started this conversation with, that, “I can’t draw, and because I can’t draw, I’m not visual.” No, no, no. This dragon of fear of drawing stops us from using half, if not more than that, of our capacity to think.

And this is where so many of our business challenges, and organizational, and frankly, political challenges comes from. Is we think we’ve solved the problem because we’ve talked our way through it.

Michael:           Right.

Dan:                 But we’re missing two-thirds of the pieces of the problem, those that are not readily obvious, that only become clear when you draw the pieces on a piece of paper and try to connect them. And then that inability of a drawing to lie that we were talking about earlier comes to the fore because I cannot make these—you know, I could talk and say, “A square is a circle.” I could say, “Hey, Michael, green is red.” “Yes is no.” I mean, didn’t George Orwell spend a whole book doing exactly that?

Michael:           I believe he did. Yeah.

Dan:                 But if I took a pen and I said, “Actually, let me draw those out.” They’re not. And I—and you can see that they are not. And, you know, it’s funny because I had a drawing professor back when I was in university. Hardy Hanson was his name. And probably one of the best art professors I ever had. And Hardy used to tell this story about, you know, kind of the dominance of our verbal mind to the degree that there are just an endless number of jokes and movies and slapsticks and things like this where we believe so much more strongly what we hear than what we actually see in front of us.

Michael:           Right.

Dan:                 Well, what are you going to believe? Me or what you see? Well, open your eyes and believe what you are seeing because most of the time that’s going to be more truthful for you than what someone is saying.

Michael:           Dan, we have barely scratched the surface of this book, you know, there’s so much in it. You know, I wanted to talk about the chapter about the starting with the who, about why being people-centric in your drawing is so important. You know, part of background is in the world of innovation so I wanted to talk about how the way you can draw can flip the world upside down with that. But we don’t have time. So people are just going to have to track down this book. So if they want to find out more about you or about The Napkin Academy or about this book, where can they find you in the world?

Dan:                 I’m easy to find. I’m,, D-A-N R-O-A-M, one word, dot com. And if anyone wants to drop me an email, I try my very best to answer all of them. It’s And Michael, thank you for mentioning something called The Napkin Academy. This is my online visual thinking training academy. It’s been four and a half years in development now, launched about four and a half years ago. It is all of the lessons from all of my books done in very simple (indiscernible) academy style, video format where I boot up the machine, I start the course, I start talking, and I start drawing at the same time, and record all of it. And they’re fun. They’re light hearted and I’ve gotten quite good at doing them. And then I opened it up, and we have now about 3500 students from around the world. I checked, from—I think it’s about 37 different countries.

Michael:           Fantastic.

Dan:                 We have people who come in, and it is a paid service, to be up front.  But many of the videos are available for free. And it’s a fun and dynamic community. We get together online once every three weeks. I do a new 15 minute lesson on some part of something, either from a book, or something that’s intriguing. Then we open up the microphones. We share each other’s drawings. Again, we have this password-protected archival area where people upload their homework and their drawings to.

Michael:           Yeah.

Dan:                 We share them. We share the screen so we’re doing live drawing together. And then all that’s recorded and then that becomes the next lesson. And it’s a lot of fun, so if anybody wants to try it a little bit more just to see what it’s like I encourage people to take a look at And thank you for letting me mention it.

Michael:           Yeah, my pleasure, Dan. Dan, it’s been great to talk to you as it always is. This is our second or our third Great Work Podcast. So, thank you, Dan. It’s been a pleasure.

Dan:                 Michael, always fun. Thank you.

One Response to Dan Roam Draws His Way to the Truth

  • Jordi Rodriguez Campano

    Fantastic lesson. Thank you Michael and Dan. I really apreciate your teachings and thank you very much for sharing it.

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