Dan Roam’s “Back of a Napkin” approach to visual thinking (and how I bought the book).

Dan Roam’s “The Back of the Napkin” book about visual thinking is a novel approach to problem solving (and deserves a blog post all of its own)

Informative blog too.

However, I thought it worth examining how I went from not knowing a thing about Dan Roam at midday on Saturday, to understanding a lot more about him and buying his book nearly 11 hours later – as well as finding out a few other interesting things along the way.

Here’s the text based version of events (the diagram above is my own pen and paper effort based on Roam’s tips).

1. My wife buys a copy of The Guardian on Saturday. Leaves me the Sport, Money and Work sections.

2. I look at the front page of the Work Section. Feature entitled “Sketch It Out”. I read about Dan Roam’s book The Back of The Napkin – all about visual thinking and how to use drawing as a highly efficient aid to problem solving (Key message: you don’t need to be able to draw). Note: Guardian offers book to readers for £14.99 – I decide to do more research before committing to buying – and will certainly check Amazon first before buying.

3. Intrigued, I decide later that evening to Google Dan Roam. Top result is for Digital Roam, his own company. Spend a few mins looking at website – then check out his blog. Some very interesting posts

4. Download some PDFs of his visual thinking toolkit – Napkin Tools.

5. Watch Youtube video of Dan Roam presenting to Google staff.

6. Subscribe to Dan Roam’s RSS Feed

6. Decide to buy book (£9.99). Go to Amazon.co.uk to purchase. End up buying another book – Garr Reynolds Presentation Zen – purely on the back of Amazon recommendations (and because I was in book buying mood).

7. Via Dan Roam’s blog, go to Hans Rosling’s Gapminder.org and Ted.com video – now that’s how to present data!

You may think this is an extraordinary effort to decide whether or not to buy a book. But it is only when you detail all the various elements that went into this particular buying process that you begin to understand some of complexity of PR and marketing today.

And Dan Roam and Garr Reynolds both got a book sale out of me – although the routes to each one were very different. And Hans Rosling’s work was a revelation. What a wonderful world we live in.


  1. Wow Andrew — this is a great post. It is an amazing (and amazingly clear) view into the real process that real readers go through to really buy a book.

    You’ll be happy to know that I sent it to my publisher, publicist, agent, and everybody else I know in publishing as a reminder of all the bits we need to push on and maintain to attract a potential buyer.

    I’ve blogged your blog myself, thus bringing this into a disconcertingly full loop. There’s something very twenty-first century about all this, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. 🙂


    – Dan Roam
    Author of “The Back of the Napkin”


  2. Andrew Bruce Smith says:

    Dan – appreciate your comments (and for the reciprocal blog post and link forwarding!), There is indeed something rather wild in reading about an author, buying his book and then having direct contact with the author within a few days.

    I guess at the end of the day what are really “selling” is a whole conceptual methodology and framework – the book is simply one aspect of a whole ecosystem that incorporates your company website, blog, YouTube, etc – it is an increasingly complex world we live – but perhaps thanks to your book, the humble pen and paper may well prove our saviour 😉


  3. Thank you for this informative post on Dan Roam and The Back of the Napkin. I have been looking for useful information relating to this book that I can share with other entrepreneurs. I have added your post to a directory on The Back of the Napkin.

    I hope your blog will inspire others to read the book and to get to work solving the problems of the world.

    Shallie Bey
    Smarter Small Business Blog


  4. This has been one of my BEST-OF books for 2008. I love your visual for purchasing Dan Roam’s book. I keep striving to use the techniques i learned! Keep up the fantastic work!



  1. […] posted yesterday about Dan Roam’s book The Back of the Napkin. Overnight, he picks up a Google Alert about my blog post and in turn, comments – and posts a very […]


  2. […] – I’m not saying print media is completely irrelevant. That’s patent nonsense – and my own recent experience bears out the role it can play in a purchase decision. However, to automatically assume that print is the most influential medium is more an act of faith […]


  3. […] subscribe to an author’s RSS feeds, read the Amazon reviews, and then click to buy (or not). Andrew Bruce Smith described it perfectly in his blog about how he decided to buy Dan Roam’s BACK OF THE NAPKIN […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: