I had the pleasure of talking to a local networking group about non-linear thinking. I was talking about mind mapping and how it can be used to pull together diverse ideas or actions around a central concept. What really surprised me was the feedback I got from a number of really experienced business people about using mind mapping is a planning tool.
If you’re not familiar with the idea of mind mapping, Wikipedia gives a great description. A mind map is a graphical representation of ideas or tasks around and links to a central concept or keyword. They are very useful for organising information in a non-linear way helping with problem solving and decision making.
I use mind maps the whole time with my clients as a way of gathering and displaying ideas and actions without prioritising them. A classic example would be strategic planning. If you look at it from a linear, organisational or timeframe perspective then benchmarking or situation analysis would be top of the list and action plan would be at the very bottom. Our traditional approach to list making and problem solving not to mention prioritising would suggest that action plans with the least important part of the strategic planning. Nothing could be further from the truth.
One of the fun things about mind maps is that you can use images and colours to help break up the traditional verbal style of recording information, ideas and tasks. Mind maps have been shown to be a great way to engage both left and right brain thinking in the creative process.
Most of my mind maps look like a giant octopus holding onto a whole load of baby octopi. Each of the legs of the giant represent a train of thought and the legs of the babies show the ideas, actions or connections to the giant train of thought. The easiest thing is to show you a simple mind map I use to explain the strategic planning process.
Each of the branches represents a fundamental part of strategic planning. On the right I have placed the more analytical, historical and emotional aspects. To the left I have kept ideas, forward looking and dynamic aspects of planning. Looking at them radially no one item is seen as a priority, which is as it should be.
There are lots of different mind mapping solutions available for every depth of pocket. The easiest and cheapest is a blank sheet of paper and a bunch of coloured crayons. There is a very simple free web based program www.bubbl.us/ which is good as a starter. The program I use is Inspiration 9 IE. At the top end of the market are enterprise wide products which fully integrate with Microsoft Office the best known of which is iMindMap which will even generate Gantt charts for MS project.
As a bit of a mind mapping geek I’ve used them for everything from preparing presentations to planning vacations. I’d love to know if anyone else uses mind maps and how effective they find them.
As a side note if you are looking for a great book on creative thinking and alternative ideas for problem solving check out Dr Edward de Bono’s book “Serious Creativity”.