The Visual Book Report

If we don’t have time to read books anymore, maybe we can get to their point faster by making them visual.

Many of us have a hard time keeping up with the increasing amount of information flowing across our desktops, let alone the volume of interesting books sitting on our bookshelves packed with potentially important insights and ideas.

One way to make book-length information more accessible is by condensing it onto a single PowerPoint slide, and then sharing it with your team.

Take this PowerPoint slide, for example, which summarizes a challenging book that came out in 2001 titled the Age of Access. Books like these that challenge your assumptions, rather than confirm them, have the most potential to make you think, and one of the things I still remember about this book was a 2001 datapoint it included that said that more than half the human race has never made a phone call. That was, and is, challenging to basic assumptions about basic access to basic communications around the

This slide is built in four panels, and begins in the upper left corner. When the slide opens, all you see is the little phone that appears to be ringing in the upper left panel — I just copied and pasted the phone from a free animated gif website. Then the text box in the upper right panel appears, which reads “more than half the human race has never made a phone call.” After a pause, the lower right hand image appears, to reveal the cover of the book. Then the lower left text appears, stating “No voice over IP”, which is a phrase that’s a wordplay on the technology that allows voice communications over the internet called Voice over Internet Protcol (VoIP). Saying “No voice over IP” brings home the point that half the world’s population not only hasn’t made a phone call, but they are even further removed from any discussions about Internet communications.

This single slide could prompt a number of conversations about how my organization communicates globally, what I really mean when I say that our world is so connected when literally half of it is disconnected, and where my opportunities and challenges lay in this context. It might prompt different conversations in your organization, and a number of other books could prompt much more dialogue. The main point is that new ideas are being introduced and discussed, rather than sitting on a shelf.

We’re all so busy it’s hard to make time to see and hear new ideas in books. But by making them visual and discussing them with one another, we can collectively tap into their power and bring them into the social life of our organizations. Visualize the next book you read, and see what new insights you see and interesting ideas you hear.

Tip: Try out thjs visual book report technique with your team. Let’s say your team of 10 people has a long list of books you want to read that might help you do your job better. Prioritize the list down to the 10 most promising literary candidates from a range of fields like design, strategy, creativity, business processes, or general culture — the more the books challenge your views, the better. Pass around the list, and ask everyone on the team to sign up to read 1 of the books within the next month. When readers are done with their books, their task is to create a single slide that includes a picture of the book cover, and one recommendation on how one of the book’s ideas can be applied in your workplace. (You’re welcome to try out the 4-panel layout used above — download the PowerPoint file here.) Ask them to email you the single slides. During the next 10 upcoming meetings with the group, set aside 5 minutes at the beginning for a visual book report. Show the single slide, and ask the person who read the book to introduce it, and suggest one specific way an idea can help the team do its job better. Discuss it for a few minutes and if it’s an idea your group wants to explore, ask the reader to develop it in more detail to present to the group again later. With only a simple visual exercise like this, you can encourage critical thinking, openness to new ideas, visual creativity, dialogue, collaboration and practical results. Not too shabby for a simple little PowerPoint slide.

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3 Responses to “The Visual Book Report”

  1. Mark says:

    Sometimes (usually?) you just have to read. (S)he who reads most knows most. Short cuts don’t cut it. But nice looking slide 🙂

  2. The Visual Book Report

    Cliff at Beyond Bullets says people just don’t have time to read books anymore (we hope that isn’t true). He goes on to discuss an interesting idea. Cliff suggests that groups form, members pick books, and each person come back…

  3. cliff says:

    Anthony Honeyfield e-mailed me the following comments about the results of trying out this technique with his team:

    “By the way, we’ve also decided to adopt the 1 page book review I read about on your site. This does a number of things for us:

    1. It breaks a 1 hour meeting into 3/4 and 1/4, so the original presenter doesn’t have to carry too much burden, and a new presenter gets a chance to practice.

    2. It gives us a chance to involve people who would normally be ‘passive’ in a meeting.

    3. It keeps us all current – the book review can just as easily be a review of a journal article about design, or a summary of a design talk/seminar they attended.”

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