“With ideas captured, you can put it into some form of organization – to link together similar thoughts in a visual way.”
— Piyush Patel, Founder, Digital-Tutors
You’re sitting cross-legged on the floor of your office. The carpet is covered in markers, stickers, post-its and pens. Your fingers are stained with streaks from the fluorescent highlighters. At best, the clutter makes you look like a creative genius. At worst, you look like a kindergartner preparing for her first art show.
But don’t worry, you’re mind mapping – a strategy where the only rule is that there are no rules. Mapping minds is all about jumping in and getting your hands (sometimes literally) dirty. The process starts with a main concept and adds associated thoughts along the way, which eventually branch off the central branch. Twigs are drawn off of those branches. The process can be created with pen and paper, or on a computer using digital software. People use the strategy for personal growth, team building, brainstorming projects, lesson planning, and much more.
The modernized concept was created by renowned inventor Tony Buzan, an English author and educational consultant. Described as one of the most influential leaders in the field of thinking creatively, Buzan has dedicated his life to developing and refining techniques to help individuals think better and more creatively.
“We are now subject to more information coming through our consciousness than ever before,” says Buzan, who also is the bestselling author of “Head Strong: 10 Ways to Make the Most of Your Body and Mind,” and “The Mind Map Book.” “We react to novelty, to the new, the innovative, the creative. Where old methods of advertising (billboards and newspapers) used to work, this next generation expects you to reach out and connect with them personally in order to get through their filters.”
For business professionals, mind maps can be used for content marketing planning, organizing a meeting or putting together client presentations. Mind maps can help boost your memory about a topic, aid in making connections you may have otherwise missed, help find common ground with colleagues about ideas, or simply explore your own thoughts and mindset.
And if mind mapping seems a bit cluttered and chaotic, don’t worry, the process works. “Mind maps get messy,” says Jean Marrapodi, Ph.D., CPLP Senior Learning Architect at Illumina Interactive and adjunct professor at the New England College of Business. “[But] that’s fine. The goal is to capture thinking, not make a lovely diagram. There are generally lots of ‘ah-ha’s’ that come out of the process.”
If you’ve never created a mind map, start with an “About Me” and code the branches. When you’re finished, set the map aside. Create a blank time log grid for the prior week broken down into 30-minute time increments to document what you are doing. Next, color code each box as it relates to the map, and then compare what you believe is important (your mind map) and the actual behavior (your time log). Your mind map can include color, artwork, symbols, and so on. You also can link files to related videos, images, audio, etc.
If done correctly, once you’ve completed you mind map, you should be staring at a dizzying, perhaps nonsensical, jumble of words, numbers, thoughts, shapes, letters, and more. “I find it to be a wonderful way to brainstorm needs and content planning when I’m doing training work in the many industries I’ve worked with,” Marrapodi says. “The one challenge is that you cannot hand off a mind map to the uninitiated. When that information needs to be presented to someone else, it needs to be digested and repurposed for the outsiders to make sense of the data.”
That’s because your map most likely will look like an incoherent mass of bubbles, doodles, colors or links (depending on which type of mapping you do.) “When you’re done, step back and examine what you’ve discovered,” Marrapodi says. “When reviewing a mind map, read it clockwise, starting at 1 o’clock, and read out along the branches.”
Why mind mapping matters today
Piyush Patel believes that mind mapping is an ideal strategy in today’s constantly changing business and marketing landscape. As an entrepreneur and innovator, Patel has helped educate more than one million students in digital animation with his company, Digital-Tutors, a world-leading online training company with clients such as Pixar, Apple and NASA.
Patel says that what often worked to get a brand where it is today doesn’t always help guide it where it wants to go tomorrow. That’s why it must constantly rethink its approach. Mind mapping can help.
“As the name implies, mind mapping is a great tool for visual learners to get stuff out of their heads,” says Patel, who also authored the book, “Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work.” “With ideas captured, you can put it into some form of organization – to link together similar thoughts in a visual way. It’s the process of taking the abstract and starting to make it a bit more concrete. At the end of the day, mind mapping is a tool. It’s a technique you can use to organize information. Not everyone likes a visual layout for organizing thoughts and ideas. Some people might prefer organizing things in a more hierarchal method, with bullet points in an outline. The right way to organize your ideas is the one that works best for you.”
And while mind maps are an exceptional tool for building individual acumens, they are also an incredibly powerful teamwork building strategy. Collaborative online tools like Mindmeister are ideal for group mind mapping exercises, especially as group brainstorming can sometimes present challenges.
“Everyone can be logged in and add topics as they go,” Marrapodi says. “You can do this synchronously, in the same room, or connected over a conference line if you’re spread apart. You can also leave the discussion open for people to add things for a day or two, as ideas may percolate once you complete the live session.”
Before you know it, people will be throwing out ideas, thoughts, opinions, song verses or pop culture references faster than they can be put down on paper. The mind mapping exercise is what business leaders can do to get everyone involved in the process.
“A huge part of reshaping your company’s vision is to constantly rethink your approach,” Patel says. “You have to find something that resonates with you, share it and start the conversation about using your new knowledge to improve your company. Good leaders know they need to keep learning to move their company forward. They encourage their entire organization to make improving yourself a part of your company’s culture. Keep learning each day and strive to make yourself better today than you were yesterday.”