The Art Of Vivid Thinking

This post contains my personal notes from the book ” Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don’t Work by Dan Roam“.

1. What is Vivid thinking?

VIVID = Visual + verbal + interdependent

When we create vivid ideas we do the following:

  1. We create it using words and pictures.
  2. It contains words and pictures.
  3. We can explain it to any audience using words and pictures.

2. How to identify non-vivid thinking?

This vivid thinking is an antidote to blah-blah-blah which stands for complexity, misunderstanding and boredom. To think vividly it is necessary to identify blah-blah-blah, so that we can transform it into vivid thinking. To do that we use the blah-blah meter:

The blah-blahmeter

  • If the idea is clear and simple and we have clarified everything, vivid thinking will have already made everything crystal clear and we do not have to do anything.
  • If the idea is boring or complicated because the intent is to illuminate, vivid thinking will unclutter and sharpen.
  • If the idea is foggy, befuddling or missing details because the intent is to obfuscate, vivid thinking will discover and develop the idea’s essence.
  • If the idea is misleading or rotten because the intent is to divert, vivid thinking will debunk and dispel the falsity.

3. How to think vividly?

To actually do this we need to remember that we have a visual mind and a verbal mind and we need to use both to create vivid thinking. So how do we do that:

  • When we say a word, we need to draw a picture( and vice versa)
  • If we do not know what picture to draw, we use vivid grammar to show us the way.
  • We use the seven vivid essentials to make any idea more vivid.

Then we would balance both the visual and the verbal mind and that would be great.

The visual mind and the verbal mind

4. How to draw pictures for vivid thinking?

We use vivid grammar to help us to draw our pictures:

  • Vivid GrammarWhen you hear a noun, you draw a portrait.
  • When you hear an adjective of quantity, you draw a chart.( size or amount)
  • When you hear a preposition, you draw a map.( position or location)
  • When you hear tense, you draw a timeline.( when things happen)
  • When you hear a complex verb, you draw a flow chart.(how)
  • When you hear a complex sentence, you draw a multivariable plot.(why)

Regarding portraits:

  • Nobody cares how good our pictures look.
  • Of all visual grammar, only portraits are tricky to draw.
  • In a pinch, we can substitute ” word in a circle” for most portraits.

5. What are the essentials of a vivid idea?

The essentials of a vivid ideaVivid ideas are expressed with words and pictures. The essentials can be remembered with the mnemonic FOREST

O=Only the essentials
S=Span differences

F= Form. Use the six vivid quick tricks and determine the idea’s form:

  • If you hear a name, draw a portrait.
  • If you hear a number, draw a chart.
  • If you hear a list of objects, draw a map.
  • If you hear a history, draw a timeline.
  • If you hear a stew of facts draw a multivariable plot.
  • If you hear a sequence, draw a flowchart.

O= Only the essentials.

  • State the bottom line upfront.
  • If you have to do this well, you need to know what is it really about, and why should anyone really care.
  • Begin your idea with every useful insight you can think of.
  • Distill your idea down to its essence.
  • Expand your idea back up to include the details.

R = Recognizable.

  • Identify where you have seen your idea before and express that.
  • Utilize a visual metaphor from nature to represent your idea.
  • Utilize a visual metaphor from the built world to represent your idea.

E= Evolving

  • You use the verbal-visual waddle( alternating between thinking in words and thinking in pictures) to clarify your idea and its essential meaning.
  • Once you have done that, you allow enough space in the idea for various options that different people may choose and still implement or agree with your idea.
  • So your idea has both inner evolution( from yourself) and outer evolution( the way your idea changes expression as a result of involvement from other people).

S=Span differences

  • Look for the opposites to the idea.
  • To do that, find the form of the idea. Pick any essential element and draw its opposite. Draw a picture that accounts for both.
  • In this way, you would have explored and (included as necessary) the opposites of your idea.


Use the vivid LENS and target your presentation accordingly.

L= Leadership level( leader vs doer)
E= Expertise level(expert vs newbie)
N= Numeracy level( numeric vs emotional)
S= Sympathy level( sympathetic versus antagonistic)

  • A leader wants to see where we are going. Create a portrait or a map.
  • A doer wants to see how we are going to get there. Create a timeline or a flowchart.
  • An expert wants more complexity. Create a more elaborate presentation.
  • A newbie wants more simplicity. Create simplest possible explanations.
  • A numeric person wants quantities. Create a chart.
  • An emotional person wants feelings. Create a portrait.
  • A sympathetic person wants to support me. Use a vivid explanation to push ideas even further.
  • An antagonistic person wants me to fail. Use a vivid explanation to show them that I know their concerns and I include them in my idea.

6. How to put vivid thinking to work daily?

  1. Use the vivid checklist by using the blah-blah meter, vivid grammar and the vivid forest.
  2. Run the vivid tools back wards ( forest, grammar and blah-blah meter) before you present it to others.
  3. Create “Who Maps” for books, reports and presentations
  4. Draw out a premeeting picture of what we want to share.
  5. Become double minded( use your verbal and visual mind)
  6. Make vivid the first step of a viral idea.
  7. Appoint your chief simplicity officer (CSO). Run every idea through the vivid forest, vivid grammar and blah-blahmeter before it leaves the house.
  8. Believe in your humming bird ( the visual mind)

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