These thinking and organizing aids have many variants, and some advocates believe theirs is the only ‘acceptable’ one. Maybe they think they’ll have fewer people buying their books or software and attending their courses if they don’t claim that theirs as the only right way.
Now hold tight, I’m going to explain the many reasons that these mind mapping advocates individually have often got to be wrong. The first and most obvious is that they claim different, sometimes contradictory, things. They can’t all be right!
Some say that hand drawn, paper mind maps are the only way, others that you have to use software. Some say ‘one word per node’, others that nodes should contain complete thoughts. Some like to propose clip art and images all over the map, others like simplicity. Some insist on a diagram where everything radiates out from the center, others like any node to be connectable to any other, maybe with descriptions of the relationship.
It’s not hard to see that the range of uses and needs, the different audience sizes and expectations, and the wide selection of tools you can use to make mind or concept maps, leads us to the second reason: One approach cannot possibly fit all cases.
Uses of mind maps stretch from learning and inquiry by school kids, through project planning and control or organizing information in business, to a framework for thinking, innovation and creativity. Maps and the process of making them can be inspirational, but they can also be used when what you most need is reflective and careful analysis. Groups can work together to build a concept map with rigorous thinking to capture corporate knowledge, or they can brainstorm together to throw fresh ideas at a mind map when rigorous thinking will kill the flow, and so must be pushed to the end of the session. The same type of map is rarely (never?) going to be suitable for both.
The ‘audience’ for any one map may range from just the person making it, through a small collaborative team using it for a discussion and future action, to a large group viewing a business presentation.
The circumstances in which the map is made may vary from scratches on a handy piece of paper in an out-of-office discussion, through simple, web-based applications like bubbl.us or more complex ones like MindMeister, iPhone apps like iBlueSky to rich desktop applications like MindManager or even 3D mind mapping applications like Topicscape.
Earlier I said that individually the gurus are often wrong — collectively, though, they have rich ideas, deep experience and are right: Depending on your circumstances, you can cherry pick to find one whose dogma is right for you and for the task in hand.
Don’t let anyone tell you what type of map to choose, pick the one that’s suitable for your audience, your tools, your purpose, oh – and the type you like most.
Suggestions about how you might make your choice can be found at WikIT the Mind Mapping Wiki: Choosing a map type
One final point, have you noticed how many blog posts you can find that claim to introduce you to mind maps but do not show you a single map or any other visual form of presentation? It might make you think that these bloggers don’t really believe in what they write about.
This is Roy Grubb, InformationTamer and editor of WikIT.
You can follow me on Twitter @roygrubb for more on mind mapping.