Mind mapping is an activity that might be very familiar with those who understand that they are visual learners, though it could help many of us.Think about a story you read as a child.
Do you remember the words on the page?- or -
Do you remember the pictures that you were able to build in your mind with each of the author’s details?
Because most of us retain pictures, I am convinced that we are all “in-part” visual learners. Mind mapping could be a very effective way for us to develop a more efficient process to develop our ideas. Students, entrepreneurs, and group leaders can use this tool to learn, develop business plans, and even break down group projects visually.
An Example of a Mind Map
Figure 1: How students or professionals can use a mind map.
Figure 1 is a sample mind map that I put together as a visual aid to show (1.) who might use mind maps and (2.) what they might use them for. The stars represent a way that might be most obvious to start mind-mapping.
How to Start Using Mind Mapping
When you begin to work with mind maps, it is important to keep it as simple as possible, and build on the skills you develop. I used a free program called FreeMind. This is a program from SourceForge used to create, view, and save mind maps in XML and HTML. There are many programs available to draw maps like this. However, all you really need to start drawing a mind map is a piece of paper, a pencil, and a central idea.
Mind Mapping for Business
In our very complex business world, we are surrounded by graphical representations of all kinds of information. We like pie charts, interactive menus, and even things as simple as before and after photos to show off our work. How are we using visual aids to develop our business? Mind mapping could be a great tool to develop and break down plans pictorially.
For example, if you have a small project that you can divide into two parts, you could create a mind map for each part. You could visualize when certain events needed to occur, and build on specific details that you think of later or after speaking to a client.
There are two very important questions that still need to be asked before deciding if drawing a picture is even helpful.
1. Does it help us retain what we’ve learned?
2. Does it really help us develop our ideas?
Pictures Help Retain Information
This is an example of short term and long term retention; the two ways that visual aid can help us recall information. I watched a television series on HBO called “The Alzheimer’s Project” this last winter; and I remember a nurse was asking each of three elderly Alzheimer’s patients (on separate occasions) to remember three words that were unrelated. Then the nurse would ask them a couple of more questions, and finally ask each patient to repeat the three words that she had told them only a few minutes before. Only one lady remembered all three. “Do you wanna know how I remembered?” she asked the nurse. “I made a picture in my mind of a table, and then imagined someone put down a penny, and then someone put an apple on the penny.” She was right; the three words were apple, table, and penny.
As I was writing about this past memory, I did not have to watch the television show again to remember this part. In fact I even recalled the three objects without looking up the show. (Except I must confess, I remembered the items as apple, table, and quarter.) I recalled this situation that I saw once, months later because this little lady helped her audience by giving them a really great tip. In its most basic form, she shared the wisdom that a picture (mental or not) can help us recall information. She represented how it can help with short-term memorizing, and I am a real life example of how those pictures can become longer term memory retention.
Developing Ideas in Groups
Mind mapping can also be used in groups to start planning projects. In her book, “The Manager’s Guide to Effective Meetings Briefcase Book”, Barbara J. Streibel describes a term called “displayed thinking” which is mind mapping as a group. Its purpose is to represent analytical and creative ideas in picture form using symbols, colors, and arrows to represent related pieces of the plan. She states that it as an “exploratory tool, rather than analytical,” and “spatial rather than linear”; and continues to accurately describe it as similar to storyboarding. Storyboarding is also used by many web developers to plan visual layouts of graphics and websites.
There are lots of ways to learn and remember information. Mind mapping is another way to represent and develop your ideas. It will not work in every situation. However, there are many situations where drawing a picture can help us work out problems on paper. The trick is to start small and then develop this skill just as you would develop any other, with practice.
Mind mapping is more effective the more personal you make it. Use symbols that make sense to you and bold text that are the most important or plausible ideas. Next time, when your clients or teammates don’t understand your plan or explanation, try drawing them a picture!