Why Words Don't Work
How does one go about writing on a panel entitled “Blah Blah Blah: Why Words Don’t Work”? Well, to apply recently learned knowledge, let me draw a picture of my problem:
Dan Roam, of Back of the Napkin fame, discussed how verbal thinking has limited our problem solving skills for the past couple of centuries.
“We’ve come to equate our intelligence with our ability to speak” said Roam. If a person can speak, and speak well, we assume they are intelligent and vice versa. Thus, according to Roam, education systems and social acceptance has been based largely on a measure of intelligence which is, in turn, based on verbal communication skills. All the while, visual communication skills go unnoticed and are subsequently left out of assessment exams such as the SAT, ACT, etc. and kept away from the public and political discourse.
The downfall here, is that not everyone is a verbal thinker.
Roam quotes Einstein: “I rarely think in words at all. My visual images have to be translated laboriously into conventional verbal and mathematical terms”
Not only are many people visual thinkers, but major limitations in strict verbal communication lie in the complexity of many of the topics discussed and debated in our society today, claims Roam. Roam used an example within politics as he explained, through a combination of visuals and verbal communication, the health care dilemma that our country currently faces. Roam questions how many people can truly understand a 1400 page document as complex as our health bill? Roam is baffled that our congress is expected to read the entire document and understand it fully, and that all of our political sessions are conducted in these verbal layouts.
Roam, with Dr. Tony Jones created “American Health Care: A 4-Napkin Explanation”, and visually explained the health care dilemma. This slide show was so effective that Fox News gave him a prime-time slot to present it to the United States.
According to Roam, within a week of posting this “educational, non-entertainment” topic, the site had 200,000 hits. This means people were voluntarily clicking on a link that would lead them to learn about and understand the health care system. Wow!
The health care system explanation was just one example of how effective the combination of verbal and visual communication can be when it comes to solving problems or explaining ideas.
Here is a visual/verbal summary of Roam’s conclusion:
Roam is realistic and understands that most people are not either strictly visual or verbal. Having limited appraisal of intelligence and keeping discourse in the verbal realm is just as bad as moving everything fully into the visual world.
However, if we can combine verbal and visual skills, we can be confident that the chances of understanding, explaining, and solving problems will be much more effective and thorough.
Now, if I can only convince my professors at Texas State that sketches and illustrations can be substituted for 10-page research papers, I will be set!