The fox and the hummingbird: new thinking from Dan Roam

There’s no VizThink conference this year, but a lot of the visual thinking crowd is at SxSW in Austin, Texas, right now, and I’ve been “virtually there” by following their tweets (status updates) on Twitter. Dan Roam spoke there today, and some of the comments about his talk, “Blah Blah Blah: Why Words Won’t Work” were:

  • One of the smartest guys I’ve heard speak.
  • This is probably the best presentation I’ve ever seen. Ever.
  • Hands down best preso I’ve attended so far.
  • He could be the smartest guy on the planet.
Interesting that a great speaker and presenter used a lot of visuals and was perceived to be very smart! Could it be that he’s onto something?
A lot of tweets repeated concepts that were familiar to me from his two excellent books, The Back of the Napkin and Unfolding the Napkin, but I was intrigued by some new ideas.
More and more people are familiar with the concept of left brain and right brain, and their different strengths. He’s got an updated version of that concept for distinguishing between our verbal mind and our visual mind. He likens the verbal mind to a fox – clever, linear, analyzing – and the visual mind to a hummingbird – spatial, spontaneous, and synthesizing.
I don’t know much about foxes or hummingbirds, but it will be interesting to see how he uses and develops this idea. Here’s a short YouTube video of each:

Another new mnemonic he introduced was “ViVID” thinking: Visual-Verbal Inter-Dependent thinking. Despite the title of his talk, Why Words Won’t Work, he’s not against words; he thinks we need to use both words and pictures in order to thoroughly explore and share ideas. “ViVID” encapsulates that idea brilliantly. There was even a suggestion that he’s working on a new book, to be titled Vivid Thinking.
Check out the original tweets by searching Twitter for the hashtag #whywordswontwork .
Dan is a great voice for visual thinking, and, thanks in large part to him, the business world and wider public are starting to wake up to its value. I’ll be watching Dan’s blog, and any other public appearances, for more.