Small-business owners thrive on ideas and plans. Didn't your business start as an idea? And didn't you create a business plan to help you launch that new idea?
Now that your business is up and running, your plate is likely overflowing with daily tasks and responsibilities—with no room for planning out how new ideas can best fit into your business.
One valuable visualization tool that's being increasingly used for business applications is mind mapping. Mind maps are useful for brainstorming, planning and visualizing everything from marketing strategies and meeting notes to complete business plans.
Mind maps can take a variety of forms, but they're most often a diagram of a key concept, which you put in a circle in the center of your map, with a web of complementary ideas branching out from it to help you organize your thoughts about that critical topic. Mind maps are more visually oriented than other plans, making it possible for you to see connections between ideas and processes that might not be so obvious in standard note-taking or outlining formats.
If you'd like to put this creative tool to work for you, try these ideas for visually mapping five key business activities
1. Brainstorming or Ideation
One way to use mind mapping for your business is for brainstorming or "ideation"—which is simply the formation of ideas or concepts. Bryan Mattimore, author of Idea Stormers: How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs and co-founder of innovation agency The Growth Engine Co., says, “In addition to using mind mapping as a strategic planning tool for our clients, we've also used mind mapping as the foundational creative tool/ideation technique in a company-wide cost-cutting effort that's led to over $50 million in savings.”
Mattimore's company uses mind maps for a number of purposes, including:
- Virtual, global ideation and brainstorming
- Designing ideation and brainstorming sessions (providing a framework for discussion)
- Designing the company’s two-day, action-learning creativity and innovation training course
- Designing and delivering presentations
- Creating action plans for projects or divisional mergers
- Taking notes in business meetings
2. Goal Planning
Carrie Brummer, owner of Artist Think, a business that helps artists unlock their creative processes, relies heavily on mind maps because it's a tool that’s more closely aligned with the way her mind works. The maps also often serve as a work-in-progress, enabling her to easily add and expand on concepts as additional ideas come to her.
“My brainstorming isn’t a linear process, so I can easily list out ideas and concepts, then connect them to different parts of my map as the map grows,” Brummer says. “I have mind maps for six-month and one-year goals. I also use them to outline new offerings and content. I initially hand draw my maps, then as I refine the information, I put them on the computer.”
3. Problem Solving
Marian Thier, founder of training and consulting company Expanding Thought and a partner at Listening Impact, which teaches people to be better listeners, relies on mind maps to tackle business problems, as well as to create business plans and product or strategy launches. “One of the biggest challenges is to figure out what the problem or issue really is, so taking upfront time to do a mind dump saves a huge amount of time and resources,” Thier says. “After the statement or focal point is clear, then we set about developing a full-blown mind map, posting it for additions and review.”
Thier stresses the importance of seeing mind maps as an evolving work, rather than focusing too heavily on producing a design-quality map. “Too often people are intimidated by the examples in books and online, so they shrink from participating,” she explains. “And using a template constrains creativity rather than invites people to mine their ideas in whatever form that takes."
"There's plenty of time to organize, connect and evaluate after a mind map is made," she adds. "Often, the mess on the wall provides amazing results.”
4. Educating Customers
James Pillow, a managing director at Fancastle, an online retailer with physical locations that sells college T-shirts and apparel, says his company uses mind maps internally to visualize future plans, but finds that they’re also quite useful for customer communications. “The name of the game at this point in business is educating your customer," Pillow says. "Mind maps do a great job at getting the message across to the customer."
It especially comes in handy to explain business concepts customers may not be familiar with when words and simple explanations fail. “Many customers haven’t seen a mind map, so they don’t feel talked down to but they're learning something new and exciting,” Pillow explains. “So it overcomes a lot of objections, makes the data interesting, which helps us internally as well as externally.”
5. Outlining Written Communications
For writers, mind maps are a useful alternative to standard outlines. Mindy Gibbins-Klein, founder of The Book Midwife, a company that helps aspiring authors write and publish books, says, “We use a version of mind mapping for the book planning we do with our authors. We break a lot of the rules and have specific techniques that lend themselves to books, but in general, we find the non-linear nature of mind mapping very helpful in terms of flow and inserting extra ideas and details.”
The mind map format can be very helpful in visualizing less-obvious relationships between key points or concepts in ways that standard outlines don’t. “A few clients have bucked the system and outlined their books using spreadsheets or Word outlines," Gibbins-Klein says, "but the majority of people we work with really like mind mapping because it saves time and aids idea generation.”
Pen-and-paper systems work just fine for mind mapping, but digital tools take the framework a step further by providing easy-to-use design tools with pre-built mind-map elements and drag-and-drop functionality. Digital tools are also helpful for referencing outside resources, such as documents, websites and other media, within your mind maps.
There are numerous tools available for creating mind maps, including these six:
Mind maps can be used for a variety of purposes and meet a multitude of planning and brainstorming needs for many business owners. Many of the mind-mapping tools listed above are free or offer free trials, so if you haven’t tried mind mapping to plan your next launch or coordinate your next brainstorming session, jump in and put this powerful tool to use.
Read more articles on productivity.
Photo: Getty Images