Mind maps are a great way to capture your thoughts on paper. What makes the mind map special is that it engages the brain actively. Popularized by Tony Buzan in the 90s, mind maps gathered a huge following, especially among students looking to get the most out of note-taking.
This style of note-taking which incorporates graphic images, symbols and colours, frees the brain from conditions and limits. It works by creating associations and linking ideas in a free-flowing manner. A non-linear activity, mind mapping requires the use of both spatial visualization and logical, analytical thinking, or as people say, using the left and right brain.
The act of using both sides of the brain simultaneously is thought to result in greater learning, while tapping into the latent creativity we all have….
Which is why the mind map is an excellent creative tool, which can be easily adapted for the workplace.
When groups comes together to discuss issues and solve problems, a common complaint is that the solutions are uninspiring or they’re ‘the same old thing’. If your team is losing its creative edge and you’re expecting innovative solutions, a group mind map may be just what you need to shake things up.
What is a mind map?
A thinking tool that reflects outwardly what goes on in your head, a mind map can be used to organize thoughts, classify ideas and visualize problems. Taking the focus away from long bullet point lists, the mind map radiates out from a middle point. A finished map looks like a seed with little roots stretching out on all sides, except that the ends have keywords or images and use colour freely. (see right)
The process in a nutshell:
- Start by using a large piece of working paper (flipchart paper) or a white board. A good size would be 3 by 5 feet – large enough for people to see what you write
- At the centre of the paper, write down the problem or issue – the trick here is to use only one or 2 words maximum. This becomes the topic.
- Now ask the group (anywhere from 3 to 8 people) to say what comes to mind when they see that word in the middle of the paper.
- Draw lines out from the word and write down what people say, do not censor, keep the verbal flow going. Use wide-tipped marker pens.
- Remember to use keywords and images to describe associations between ideas.
- Be bold, use colours to emphasize links and important issues.
Thinking on your toes
As the facilitator, you will be on your toes as you capture the group’s ideas on the topic. Prompt the group, ask for clarification before you write, get them to be actively involved in the map. Some of these ideas may be linked, and that needs to be clarified before being written on the map.
As you see the links and associations forming, let the drawings reflect what’s coming from the group. As ideas surface, sometimes the group may choose to explore one specific idea in detail. Allow it. The flow should be organic and free. By adding new lines that radiate out of this new idea, you create another level in the mind map.
Occasionally, you may be presented with a reserved group. One way to get them to speak, is to ask them what they think of the topic – use one word to describe it. Or get them to think about the: who, what, why, when, where and how.
Why a group mind map?
I facilitated a group mind mapping exercise recently, just to show how the mind map works. It was a first for everyone in the room. As the mind map grew based on the collective input from the group of 15, people were impressed by the diversity of ideas generated. Observing the quality of ideas obtained in less than 30minutes and the level of detail they could get into with the mind map, they began to understand its potential for unlocking creativity.
- The process is liberating. By using only one word as the topic, we create freedom around that word. There are no qualifying words to limit the topic’s scope. Ideas can flow in any direction.
- Using keywords, images and symbols allows ideas to be visualized quickly, there’s no need for lengthy sentences. You don’t lose your train of thought – and also your IDEAS!
- Putting your ideas down in colour and images make it easy to recollect because your brain was actively involved in the creation of the mind map.
Here are some ideas for using mind maps at the workplace
- Presentations: instead of the usual PowerPoint slides, a mind map can clearly articulate ideas and problems. These maps are easy to recall and are also easily understood by others.
- Group meetings: to get collective viewpoints on a subject matter. It can be used to record meeting activities and outcomes.
- Brainstorming meetings: generate ideas for project proposals and analytical work. Notes are captured using a mind map as described in the process above.
- Workshop planning: useful for designing workshops since the mind map allows for the big picture view.
- Workshop activity: the mind map can be used in conjunction with other methods and tools in a workshop.
Being such a flexible tool, it’s no surprise that there are now software products that can help you create mind maps online – FreeMind, MindMeister and iMindmap are just 3 from a long list. I will discuss these in another post.
Recognizing that the left and right parts of the brain govern different types of activities, we often find ourselves using one part of the brain more dominantly than the other. Some studies suggest that this is due to our affinity to specific thought patterns i.e. using logic, analysis and deductive reasoning or using spatial visualization and creative exploration. These studies have found that the creative experience is greatly enhanced when we combine logical thinking with spatial thinking, e.g. as we do with mind maps.
Paving the way for innovation, mind mapping encourages you to step away from your comfort zone, from the usual way of working. Will you?