Guide to Mind Mapping

Business people mind mapping on a whiteboard
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Mind mapping means brainstorming, and it’s a simple concept you can explore in both personal and corporate settings.  The notion of mind maps is straightforward enough that entrepreneurs and freelancers can make them work smoothly.

This outlining process is also sufficiently nimble and expansive to become a reliable tool in boardrooms among C-level execs.  With very little practice you can create a mind map on paper, or use free mind map software if you want a portable tool to keep track of your notes and ideas when inspiration strikes.

What is mind mapping and how does it work?

All mind maps have some common attributes.  Some look like clusters of clouds, others like a branching tree.  They all rely on an organic-feeling structure that radiates from the central idea.  Once you’ve plotted that first challenge, you can use lines of text, symbols, color, and images to build out your ideas.

The goal is to convert a traditional outline or boring list into a memorable, colorful, highly organized diagram by working with your brain’s natural process.

Mind mapping is a form of brainstorming.  It allows you to visualize and organize ideas without worrying about structure, timelines, or placement.  You can use a mind map to organize your thoughts for practically any project. From creating a new marketing campaign to holiday shopping and budgeting, once you master the mind mapping skill, there is no limit to its uses.

The creative process is often non-linear. Ideas pop into our heads at random moments in a non-structured order, with no regard to real timelines.  If you’ve ever woken in the middle of the night with a great idea, you know all about it!  If you didn’t write that great idea down, it was gone by morning.  Mind mapping software is a perfect solution for midnight-creatives.

How to create a mind map

Whether on paper or with an app, mind maps always begin with a central idea or theme.  Authors, for instance, might start with the working title of a new book.  In the corporate world, your central idea might be a business problem you’re trying to tackle, like low sales numbers.

To build a mind map on paper, plot the problem onto the center of a blank page. Now that you have LOW SALES NUMBERS glaring back at you, your mind will start whirring with ideas and solutions. It will be easy to brainstorm some resolution strategies and tactics.

The differences between strategies and tactics

Think of strategies as larger, vague, overall goals that could help answer this challenge.

In the Business to Consumer (B2C) business world, you might seek to battle those low sales numbers by:

  • Advertising more
  • Improving your presence online
  • Hiring more sales reps
  • Tackling Quality Control (QC) issues that have stalled your sales

As strategies, these concepts are like vague subheadings.  Scatter them around on your blank page.  Each concept can be tackled individually.

Next, it’s time to nail down some tactics.  These are the smaller, more specific tasks that will help you achieve a successful strategy.  For instance, if you’re interested in advertising more, you could contact your favorite advertising sales reps or explore new media related to your target audience.

Similarly, to improve your online presence, you might look into content development or boost your Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising budget. Perhaps hiring more sales reps is out of the budget, thanks to those lousy sales numbers. So you adjust that heading to “better training for sales reps.”

And in this way, you build a mind map.  You can add, delete, adjust and connect your strategies or ideas as they come!  If you see an advertisement you’d like to mimic or a specific product you’d like to overhaul, note them in your mind map.

The value of images

The term mind map was coined by Tony Buzan, an English author interested in psychology. But the use of diagrams that visually map information using branching is far older. The oldest known instance of mind mapping was performed in the third century by philosopher Porphyry Tyros, who attempted to explain Aristotle’s teachings graphically.

Since then, numerous studies have illustrated the value of mind maps and the importance of imagery to the human brain.  In sum, the human mind can store a great deal of information behind one small image.

  • If you’d like to perform a little thought experiment, consider the McDonald’s logo for a moment.  You know “the Golden Arches.”
  • Every time you see that perfect logo, you’re reminded of all your personal experiences with McDonald’s.
  • Perhaps you thought about your favorite menu item or some advertising campaigns from your childhood.

The point is that the human brain can file a ton of information under that little logo!  So implement graphics in your mind map to take advantage of that ability.

Uses for a mind map

  • Visualizing and organizing difficult tasks
  • Running meetings effectively
  • Speech writing and presentation development
  • Outlining documents or reports
  • Simplifying project management
  • Outlining academic essays
  • Creating a helpful blog series
  • Creating and executing new marketing campaigns

Mind maps are helpful in your home life too!  You can use them to create budget goals, plan a vacation, or address a health goal like weight loss.

Ultimately, mind mapping is a valuable creative tool.  Whether you choose to master this art on paper or tackle it with a software solution is up to you.

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