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Visual Thinking A reading list for people interested in managing more effectively by crafting better ideas & explanations, and by designing & delivering better experiences.

The questions below get posed and then discussed in my bilingual Entrepreneurship course. They reflect the need in increasingly diverse, global business settings to communicate visually in order to achieve better management outcomes.

If you cannot measure it, how can you manage it? — Peter Drucker

If you cannot draw it, how can you explain it? — David Owens

If you cannot explain it, how can you ask your colleagues to help you manage it? — SMH


Design Thinking and Visual Thinking are not the same!

Design thinking is a method for problem solving…. Visual Thinking is a set of tools for making intangible or complex ideas visible.” – Dave Gray

The reading list below contains books that I recommend to students who want to deepen their understanding of how to leverage visual thinking explanations to manage more effectively, particularly across cultures.  I think that the approaches described in these books are democratizing and improving management, and they belong in the tool kit of every global leader.


SKETCHING AT WORK: A Guide to Visual Problem Solving and Communication is a guide to Visual Problem Solving and Collaboration for managers, consultants, sales professionals, trainers and facilitators. The visual guides on this page should be required reading for MBAs.

Visualizations that Really Work – HBR: “Now visual communication is a must-have skill for all managers, because more and more often, it’s the only way to make sense of the work they do.”

Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers: “This book — by the founder of XPlane — includes more than 80 games to help you break down barriers, communicate better, and generate new ideas, insights, and strategies.”

  • XPLANE also offers a free download: Visual Thinking Sketch Notes
  • Dave Gray, founder of XPLANE, has co-authored an approach to mapping cultures which is also useful for people managing across cultures: The Culture Map

The key concepts in Dan Roam’s book, The Back of the Napkin (Expanded Edition): Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, are viscerally known through many of the explainer videos Dan has done.

Google Ventures has created the Design Sprint to address problems visually. Their technique is described in greater detail in their book Sprint.

The Art of Explanation: Making your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand is written by Lee LeFever, the same person who co-founded Common Craft, the original “explainer video” company.

The Art of Opportunity: How to Build Growth and Ventures Through Strategic Innovation and Visual Thinking: “The visual frameworks presented in The Art of Opportunity merge business design thinking and strategic innovation to help you change your growth paradigm. You’ll learn creative and practical methods for identifying and exploring growth opportunities.”

X: The Experience When Business Meets Design: “Bestselling author Brian Solis shares why great products are no longer good enough to win with customers and why creative marketing and delightful customer service too are not enough to succeed. In X, he shares why the future of business is experiential and how to create and cultivate meaningful experiences.”


Finally, a greater familiarity with Profit Models and Business Models will help inform your visual thinking efforts. For a quick read, consider this article: Beacons for Business Model Innovation. It has a great list of Profit Models which you can use as a reference.

For a primer on Business Models, The Business Model Navigator: 55 Models That Will Revolutionise Your Business is quite helpful. “The brains behind The Business Model Navigator have discovered that just 55 business models are responsible for 90% of the world’s most successful businesses. These 55 models – from the Add-On model used by Ryanair to the Subscription model used by Spotify – provide the blueprints you need to revolutionise your business and drive powerful change.”