“When Words Don’t Work.” A Review of Blah Blah Blah By Dan Roam

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A fox, a hummingbird and two cave people named Oog and Aag. These are just some of the charmingly doodled characters Dan Roam uses to illustrate the dangerous tendency of words alone to befuddle and bore us, in his third book on the subject, Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don’t Work.

Warning, if you read on an iPad or Kindle like me, then you will miss the tiny lineup of the “players” of the opening of the book – including the fox, the cave people and even Einstein and Jon Stewart – as drawn by Roam. Because Kindle and it’s app for iPad always automatically start books on the first page of text.  You must tab backwards to see the cover and table of contents art. And I don’t know about you, but I always have to look at the cover art before I can begin. I know that goes against the saying “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” But I think it’s apropo, since this Blah Blah Blah is all about merging the verbal and the visual to create the truly vivid in our minds.

How We Forgot To See Forests
This book really explains how from the days of Oog and Aag we started to develop our need for words, but how today in a world of information overload we can’t afford to abandon using pictures and other visual means to solve and explain our ideas. We must find a balance between our fox and our hummingbird. And no, the fox and hummingbird are not like some kung fu thing, young grasshopper.  But they are a little yin and yang. They represent our verbal (sly foxy mind) and our visual (dazzling hummingbird mind) who together, help us see the forest and the trees in otherwise supercomplex or even snoozeable exchanges of ideas.

Fox / Hummingbird metaphor from Dan Roam's Blah Blah Blah

Un-Blah Your Brain. Balance Your Sly Fox and Your Pretty Bird.
Like in Roam’s other highly acclaimed books, The Back of The Napkin, (which I’ve read and put into practice) and Unfolding The Napkin, (which I haven’t unfolded… yet) there are lots of handrawn pictures and diagrams in Blah Blah Blah that visually and verbally (because Mr. Roam is a foxy-wordsmith as well) explain his theories of why the show-and-tell combo is still one of the most powerful ways for us to absorb, ponder and communicate ideas – and become double-minded thinkers.

Plus, he gives his reader smart and funny tools, like his Blah-meter for recognizing blah not only when you hear it, but when you’re dishing it. You see how public figures and celebrities are guilty or not in this fun game here. Because, as Roam puts it, no matter your profession or your talents or your big ol’ smart brain, we’re all “deep in the doo doo of blah-blah-blah.”

Unfortunately no doodle to illustrate that one. But you’re picturing it in your hummingbird mind right now aren’t you?

I plan to reference this book myself whenever I am:
1. Preparing for a first-time meeting with a client or collaborator
2. Creating visuals to go with a speaking topic
3. Uncovering the hidden elements of a brand I’m working on
4. Explaining a sticky homework concept to my seven-year old (and myself)

Tell us what examples of wordy blah-blah-blah really drive you crazy? Or leave you snoozing? Or better yet – when do you catch yourself dishing out the blah’s?


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