Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping is a powerful technique allowing you to make the best use of your brain power. Mind Mapping techniques makes you more productive because it helps you to use the full range of your creative skills. It’s like a personal brain storming. Write down anything that comes to mind, don’t hold anything back. Example: You’re planning your next budget meeting, and you want to do it using a Mind Map. If you come to think of a pink elephant in the middle of that thought process you should write down (or draw) that elephant. Because if you don’t, you will keep thinking about it and it will hold back the rest of the creative thoughts waiting to come out.

Mind Mapping is based on a drawing with complementary text. Your main idea (a keyword) should be in the centre, like “Budget” or “Holiday” or whatever you’re mapping. The centre should be surrounded by all thoughts related to that idea, jotted down in few keywords (like octopus tentacles, spreading out from the centre). Drawing symbols that you associate with a thought is a good thing – it helps you to remember. Ideally a Mind Map should fit on a single A4 page. I found that using it for meeting memos is very effective. Since the technique is associative you only need to use a few keywords/short sentences about the meeting topics that are important to you. The next time you bring up the map you will remember all important things from the meeting, and you will probably remember better that if you hade written 10 pages of 11pt Arial, since that would more likely be boring/confusing.

I’ve tested a few Mind Mapping/Outlining tools that are available for Windows.
TheBrain is a pretty neat tool for gathering and organizing all your thoughts and tasks into one place, linking them together, and also linking to other documents/data/URL's etc. It's the best tool I've seen so far because its so simple to use, and the animations that make up the movements when you navigate through your thought patterns makes it even more interesting and fun to use. The first time I saw it I was thinking, “Wow, it’s like in those Sci-Fi movies where those improbable things happen on the screen with a single touch on a keyboard”. It intuitively helps you remember things better. Rather than fitting everything on an A4 page (which is one of the “basic rules” of mind mapping), you move through different detail levels, zooming in and out by clicking on nodes. I installed it for the first time in 1999, and it has approved a lot since then. You’ll find the good stuff at www.thebrain.com

MindManager from www.mindjet.com is the second tool I’ve tested. I’ve been using it for a whole trial period (you are allowed to test the software for 30 days before buying it), and it’s quite impressive. It does also seem to be the most comprehensive and expensive of the three tools I’ve reviewed. It’s got two versions, one for personal use and one for corporate use (allowing for real time sharing of Mind Maps with other employees). Presentation possibilities are very good in this program. You can export to HTML (with nifty templates that make nice, preconfigured designs), Excel, Word or PowerPoint. It’s going to be available for tablet PC in mid 2003.

Inspiration is another tool that does Mind Mapping. It seem to be very much like MindManager in layout and functionality (like HTML export, type of symbols, hyperlinks etc.). I downloaded a 30 day trial of version 7 from www.inspiration.com. It seems to be a bit more flexible that MindManager, in the way that you are not forced to use a centre (which can sometime be annoying). Even if the idea of Mind Mapping is about having a centre of all other thoughts, I would sometimes like to arrange it the way I like. That way it’s easier to use it to make presentations and other things like diagrams or simple drawings. Inspiration also has a bunch of preset ways you can auto arrange your thought-nodes, to clean up the mess you made while brainstorming :)

Enough said about tools. A good thing about this technique is that all you really need is a piece of paper and a pen (using different colors would help), and you’re good to go…