What Is It?
A mind map is a graphical tool for generating and linking ideas by association. The idea is to start in the centre of a flip chart or white board with a main idea and work outwards in all directions, producing a growing and organized understanding of the project landscape. Associations and linkages are made through keywords and key images.
The key features of a mind map are:
- The sharing and organising of ideas to create clarity and a shared understanding of the project landscape within a team.
- Keywords form the basis of the map and associations and linkages are made between these words. These ideas can then be clustered or grouped.
- A visual memory of the project landscape can be made and later reviewed as the project develops (keep a note of keywords, use colours, symbols, icons, 3D effects and arrows, and outline groups of words).
- The project team must be consciously involved.
- It can form the basis of an action plan or needs assessment.
The mind forms associations almost instantaneously, and mapping allows you to write your ideas more quickly than expressing them using only words or phrases. So it is a useful tool for quickly:
- Documenting the overall project landscape and system.
- Clarifying and creating a shared understanding of the project landscape and system among a team.
The key outcome of a mind map is a map of organised information in which similar ideas and themes are linked, and keywords stand out, enabling the user to sort large amounts of data and ideas into a format that can then be easily used elsewhere.
Mind maps help to organise information, but they can also be creative, generating new ideas and associations that have not been thought of before. The creative potential of a mind map is useful in brainstorming sessions. You start with a basic problem at the centre, and generate associations and ideas from it to arrive at a large number of different possible approaches. By presenting your thoughts and perceptions in a spatial manner, and by using colour and pictures, a better overview is gained and new connections uncovered.
The mind map is the start of an action or strategic plan, but its importance is in clarifying thought and understanding of the context of a project and where an action plan may lead.
- Mind maps should not be used as a planning or decision-making tool.
- Resist the temptation to structure your mind map formally – just let the ideas flow.
- Mind maps should not be used to present information to others who were uninvolved in its creation. They may not necessarily follow the thought patterns that underpinned its creation.
- Mind maps are most effective at the individual or team level as they reflect the user's thought patterns. With many users (more than 10), the tool will not be as effective.
- Flip chart paper or white board
- Coloured pens
- Meta cards or large sticky notes
- Write the main concept, topic or idea in the middle of a sheet of paper or white board, enclosed by circle, square or other shape.
- Unpack the main concept by asking questions such as: What contributes to this? Why is it so? How does this happen? What influences it? Add a branch extending out from the centre for each key point or idea. The number of branches will vary with number of ideas or segments. Use a different colour for each branch.
- Write a keyword or phrase on each branch and add details. Keywords are those that convey the heart of an idea and trigger memory.
- Add further branches, stemming from the first set of keywords, as you explore the topic in greater depth.
- Connect ideas which are closely related to each other through the use of more arrows, lines or branches.