Mind Mapping for Business

Click to enlargeThere's an exercise I practice about once every three months that I call "Should I Quit?" In it, I map out all the reasons why it's a great idea to stay at my current place of business, and I map out all the things that bother me, and that might merit my packing up and moving on. I use it as a way to purge frustration, but also, as a way to uncover new thoughts about a situation or topic that I believe I have all the answers for, and there's where mind maps come in.

Mind maps are an excellent tool for unlocking information and connected ideas by representing information in a visual medium. I'm a big convert to using mind maps. I use them for blogging, for story ideas, and other creative endeavors, but I also use mind maps for business in a number of ways. Here are some of the uses I have for the new Hipster PDA Edition v3 Mind Map card.

  • Decision Trees- Decisions trees are a visual way to depict a siutation where there might be a complex set of variables behind any given outcome. Start by drawing a line down the middle of the page, leaving the circle open. Write a question that requires a decision in the middle. For example: "Should we stick with the current software, or pay for a conversion?" On the left, write the reasons why, and on the right, the reasons why not. See how it looks visually to yourself. This often surprises me.

  • Process Flows- This is a very useful practice that I use all the time when designing a process for my corporation. The benefit of using a visual tool like mind mapping to consider a process flow is that it promotes more holistic thinking on the subject. Start at the circle and title the process. For example: "Ship Computers from Us to Customers." Branching off from that, consider all the different teams that are required to get that done: assembly, shipping, legal, export, client relations. Give them all a bubble of the main hub. Then, give them tasks related to their part of the process. Finally, determine which comes first, second, third, and write little numbers with circles next to what you have come up with. This often helps us see process situations that aren't immediately apparent when starting with a numbered, ordered list.
  • Meetings- There's something that comes out of writing things down non-linearly. Try giving each of the meeting points its own bubble and see what comes of it. I tried this in a meeting about a potential new customer, and found that we were about to miss an important step in the process we had laid out to follow. It wasn't until I connected two bubbles and realized that the communication between those two teams hadn't yet happened that I realized we could have some trouble.
  • New Futures- You could argue this is a different spin on the decision tree listed above. Sometimes, there's a big question in front of you, and it smells like "where do I want to go next?" This question is perfect for mindmapping. Start in the middle and explore visually on paper by drawing out from the main bubble any potential futures for a situation that you can imagine. From those smaller bubbles, you can build out lists of other points to consider, or even link some of the bubbles together. I've often-times thought that I had two different concepts in mind for a future outcome, and then realized once it was captured in a mind map that it was really just shades of the same idea. If you find something that works out well, move into the Story and Storyboard products within the Hipster PDA. You can read Steve's article on using storyboards to plan the day.

Sacha Chua had a great post about drowning in data that relates to this.

And one quick word about using software-based mind maps versus paper-based. Software goes really far towards making the process a simple flow, and of the different applications available, I really enjoy MindManager6 from Mindjet. However, there's something about the visceral touch of hand to pen to paper that feels like "first language" versus "second language" to use your pen. The benefit to the software version is that you can share it more quickly with others, and there's a place for both, definitely. I don't think they need to be mutually exclusive.

So dig into the new Hipster PDA Edition 3 kit and see where mind mapping takes you.

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Mind Manager not always what you need.

The main hangup I have with Mind Manager is that it basically has only one "type" of mind map, a center with ideas spoking out from that. If you want to do a multi-center mind map or one that is linear and starts on one side of a page and ends up with a conclusion on the other side of the page then you are out of luck. Of course that's where the paper comes in to save the day. :)

With work it's best to just start.

Different kinds of map layouts

There is actually quite a bit of choice in how you build a map in MindManager. If you go to Format-->Style-->Assign from template Organizer, you can create org chart maps, maps with multiple centers (actually, constructed just like a normal map but with invisible lines), maps that go to the right or left, up or down...whatever. You can also just double-click to place a topic wherever you want it to be.

Or you can double click anywhere away from the center of the map to create "floating topics" to which you can then start to add subtopics.

But having said that, it is true that wherever topics are placed or whatever visual scheme you use, our maps are all simple hierarchies: They have to be in order for the user to be able to export them to Word, PowerPoint, Visio, Project, Outlook and as web pages.

Mind mapping is not concept mapping, which does do more of the multi-center kind of information display. The goal of mapping is to keep the user focused on one key thing--whether that is a project, product, report, strategic plan, etc. Life is complicated enough. We want to give users a place to simplify information a bit.


I've found FreeMind to be a useful OSS alternative to MindManager.