Mind mapping: organize your ideas

Creative minds have a behaviour on their own: they rarely stop, they jump from one thing to another and, they have their own way to produce snippets of ideas. To help take advantage of this valuable output, you need to get organised with a tool to capture the ideas and structure them as they come.
Mind mapping goes back a long time but it is really Tony Buzan, a British psychologist, in the 1960s that put it literally on the map by creating rules about how to mind map. Today, mind mapping is used in schools and offices, yet, it is my experience that it hasn’t entered the mainstream business activities. When I do a mind map with my clients, many are just surprised about how efficient it can be.

There are several ways to do mind mapping, here are a few of them and some considerations you might want to evaluate when mind mapping.
Setting the stage
You can mind map about pretty much anything as long as you have a central idea. It can be something as simple as vacation planning to identifying your next career move.
I have found that, for best results, you need to know when it is a good time to do mind mapping in your day. Most of us have preferred times to be creative. For some, like me, it is usually early morning, some feel better in the late evening,
it really depends when your mind stops being analytical vs. being creative and looking at a problem under a different angle.

If you do it with a team of people, it can me trickier as it is better when all the minds are creative. Make sure it is not too large (2-3 people) and most importantly, ask when it is a good time for being creative. Don’t just book the time between 2 meetings with the hope that the best results will show. It could be that you all meet for breakfast or go to the gym first and then enjoy some “relax” time. It is known that exercise helps the mind to “disconnect” and gets creativity fuelled.
Pick the right tool
To do mind mapping, you need boxes to write your ideas (you can use coloured post-it notes or similar), something to put them on (board) and colour markers to connect them and organize by color. Another way, most popular, is to use a mind mapping software on a computer or tablet (I like the tablet best... easier to move stuff around). If you use paper, make sure you take regular picture shots (yes...your smartphone is the right tool for that), so you can keep track of progress and have a digital copy of your work to share. If you use a mind mapping software, make sure you can export the outcome to a GIF or PDF file to share.
Get started with mind mapping
Write the idea you want to develop on (not the problem) in the middle of your page and start thinking about the branches that represent themes associated with the idea.
Remember that nothing is cast in concrete and that the themes and their associated members can be moved and linked as required during the whole exercise.
For example, assume that you want to launch a new product: write the name of your product in the middle of the page and consider the themes associated with it: customer service, training, distribution channel, production, technical support, advertising, customer demographics...
Here is another example: create an engineering challenge. Themes could be audiences, locations, topics, documentation, prizes... each theme is ONE word.
For each theme, continue to break down to the next granular level, still sticking to ONE word per box.
As you go along, you might find that some themes are inter-related or depend on each other. Sometimes, the same element comes back from one theme to another.... circle them with the same color to highlight them. Other times, some elements of different themes might be associated: link them with an arrow or draw an image!
Mind mapping as meetings notes
I find map mapping especially useful for taking meeting notes as it drives the mind in collecting data to create a solution, an implementation map. Put the topic of the meeting in the center of your page and start adding the inputs and comments from all meeting members. With a little practice, you’ll see that action items will quickly come to the surface and you can easily visualise who’s in charge of what. Just add some deadlines on top of each action item box and you’ll be quickly done with a comprehensive document that drives higher meeting efficiency and satisfaction. Besides, your meeting notes are pretty much finished and ready for sharing.

Other considerations for positive map mapping
Timing
To make sure you tap into the best of each members creativity, make sure you do it exceed 30 minutes of mind mapping at a time. Beyond that period, the mind will shift to analytical mode and the results will lose their pep... over engineering the outputs already.

Assigning roles
Mind mapping can be done via share screen on a conference call but you need to be careful with the engagement rules when done in a remote way. If you have a group of more than 2 persons, one person should be the note taker and coordinator, while the others are “feeding ideas” to the mind map. Run 10 minute-sessions when each person takes turn being the coordinator to ensure that all have a chance to share ideas. Maximum 30 minutes in total as if you would be in the same physical location.

Creating sub-maps
If you are confident that an idea you are working on is branching out into 2 or 3 more ideas, evaluate and create a different map for those subsequent ideas rather than including them into the same, larger, mind map. As long as you can “reconnect them” once they are all done, you have a great opportunity to create new mind mapping sessions to tackle those ideas and drill down into more details.
In conclusion
It is my opinion that mind mapping is an underused tool in the arsenal of good project managers and innovators. The speed at which it allows to validate concepts and bring a clearer view to what you want to do is unequaled comparing to other brainstorming concepts as it is both a brainstorming session and an organisational tool. Of course, like any methodologies, it requires a few sessions to get used to it to bring its full potential but I think it is very much worth the time.

Check out the
Area 128 with Mind Mapping video supporting this article and more.
Provide your feedback about your best tips or ask your questions at
flavio@stiffan.eu.

About the writer: Flavio Stiffan is a business development specialist with focus on creating market expansion strategies supported by academia programs. He has implemented and managed alliance networks and is at the core of academia relationship management with a network of over 130 universities and 300 technology companies and distributors. For more articles, visit
www.stiffan.eu or check out his profile on LinkedIn.

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