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Mind-mapping freedom

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mind-mapping-freedomMind mapping and concept mapping have been attracting increasing attention over the past year, but there’s a problem for mappers who are approaching it for the first time.

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.

  1. Great post, Roy. You’re right, the days of one size fits all anything have passed us by. I use mind mapping to organize my thoughts for my blog posts, for studying, for brainstorming – all at once, or I just add ideas as the come to me, so I won’t forget them. Most times, I’m the only audience, but sometimes I share my maps. I love the freedom the maps give me. I have an iPhone app (iThoughts) and I use a web-based platform (Spinscape) and I use paper. I don’t put much stock into the gurus’ “dos and dont’s.” They’re my maps. I take what I can use from all of them and I let the rest go.

  2. I feel Mind Maps are a tool which are meant to work for you on a personal level, in whatever your chosen format; if they get the job done, if you achieve what you set out to achieve with them – then your Mindmapping is working.

    If your Mind Maps are designed to share information and help others as well as yourself then it can take a bit more thought and planning to consider whether your audience can understand what your Mind Map is conveying. Because of the many different available methods I can see that on occasions having a continuity of format would be necessary, although finding your personal style, or a method that works well for you and does not hinder your thinking is very important.

    For me then, the format is not an issue; what helps is finding a medium that allows you the freedom to explore your thoughts and encourage new thinking when creating your Mind Maps. Particularly important if being creative; because the last thing you want is a set of rules that stifle your flow or stop ideas from coming. You can use any or many different types of Mind Map – whatever works best for you; otherwise you can be in constant analysis mode and forget to unearth solutions; a bit like pondering the best pencil instead of just using one :)

  3. You make some great points Roy.

    I would certainly recommend one format of mind map over another for a specific purpose, but at the end of the day I would never say “use this” or “don’t use that”. I certainly like to suggest tips and offer advice, but it’s down to the choice of the individual.

    My blog is one of those that hasn’t posted a mind map in a while. I do believe in what I write about, but sometimes I think it’s better if the reader thinks for themself and uses their own creativity. In the future though I will be publishing more reference mind maps that are for more of a bigger audience.

  4. @Kimber Good to have the thoughts of an artist, thank you.
    @Paul You were NOT one of the gurus I had in mind as wishing to stiffle others – your mapping creativity is unbounded! In a business setting I sometimes use maps to break things down, and while creativity can be useful then, it’s not the prime focus, usually deep comprehension and analysis is.
    @Matthew You have had many maps in your blog. I had in mind all those ‘how to mind map’ posts by bloggers who have barely touched the topic before who don’t even show would-be mappers what the result could look like. I adjusted the paragraph to clarify.

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