When we talk about creativity and innovation in business, we often talk about brainstorming. But sometimes you’re not able to get a group of people together to brainstorm ideas. For those times when you need to tap into the power of your mind and generate ideas on your own, mind mapping can be a great solution.
Mind mapping essentially means representing your ideas graphically. The mapping starts with one central idea, word or image, then radiates outward using lines (like branches of a tree) to indicate subtopics, with smaller sub-subtopics radiating out from those, like twigs. (Visit MindMapping.com to see some simple mind maps.)
Why does mind mapping stimulate more creativity than simply writing lists of ideas on a whiteboard? Experts say that mind mapping engages your entire brain (both left and right) and is a truer representation of how we really think. Although there are dominant or central ideas in a mind map, the nature of the design lends itself to more creativity. When you’re making lists of ideas, it’s easy to get distracted by categorization issues like what goes where. Categorization is the opposite of creativity, and mind mapping helps keep your mind out of that mode.
Making it work
What’s the best thing about mind mapping? You can’t do it wrong. Yes, some books offer guidelines for using mind maps that can get very detailed, down to the thickness of the lines you should use. Talk about getting lost in the details. As long as your mind-map is legible, that’s all that matters.
That said, here are some suggestions for getting the most from mind maps:
- Use images in addition to (or instead of) words to tap into the visual, artistic side of your brain.
- Use different colors for subtopics. This stimulates creativity and also helps keep the mind-map legible.
- Keep descriptions short. Don't write sentences; boil ideas down to one or two words.
- Mix it up. Use different fonts, sizes, printing, script, upper and lower case to boost creativity.
Mind mapping software
You really don’t need more than a pencil and a sheet of paper to do a mind map. In fact, I’m sure plenty of great ones have been created on the back of a napkin. But there are some reasons to consider mind-mapping software.
- It lets you organize lots of information, so it’s useful if your mind map has gotten too unwieldy to fit on one sheet of paper.
- It lets you add more complex information, such as spreadsheets, documents and hyperlinks.
- It’s easier to edit a mind map generated with software than to scratch out or redraw a paper mind map.
- It enables you to collaborate without having to physically be in the same room.
You can find plenty of free mind mapping software tools by doing an Internet search, but if your needs are more complex, look into more robust mind mapping software designed for business use. In addition to mind mapping, such software helps you with the next step—implementation—by enabling you to plan projects based on mind maps, generate lists of tasks, integrate with business software and import data to Excel or PowerPoint and much more.
You can find a good list of mind-mapping software (including tools for the Mac) at the Innovation Tools website. If you’d like more to choose from, The Mind Mapping Blog has exhaustive information on mind-mapping software and related tools.