How and Why to Start Mind Mapping

What is Mind Mapping?

Our users generally have a pretty good understanding of why they choose mind mapping, over other outlining and brainstorming methods. Other users may have just read about MindNode and wonder why they would layout their ideas as a map instead of a neatly organized list?

Mind mapping, as a concept itself, goes back centuries. It is a way to visually organize ideas. Information is laid out in a radial map, originating in the center. The idea is that you start at the center from where associations “branch off“. When a map is further developed it looks like a tree. Hence a tree was originally featured on MindNode’s icon.

Most word processors are able to create an outline. There are even specialized apps that do a very good job of creating outlines. As you get more into mind mapping, you will soon wonder: “What exactly is the difference between an outline and a mind map?” There is basically none -- that’s the beauty! It doesn’t matter whether you sort ideas as a list, or a tree. It’s just a different way of representing them. In my professional work I have found that most people expect a list, after a meeting. With MindNode it is really easy to do just that. I export a mind map as an outline and am basically done. If it’s just a matter of presentation, then we can say that the viewer determines whether an outline is better than a list -- for a certain task.

Natural Thinking Process

Creative people, or creative phases, call for a more creative way to brainstorm and think. A mind map is a really good solution here, because a mind map has no beginning and end. It just is. Someone can add more and more ideas and pictograms to a map as they want to. A mind map is perfect for fleshing out new projects. The idea is that a thinker can note down any thought they have, anywhere on the map, as the thought occurs. The idea doesn’t need to correlate to some other idea, it can just be there. It’s written down, therefore can’t be forgotten so easily, and the brain is free for new ideas. After the more “chaotic” brainstorming phase usually comes a time where thoughts settle and the process slows down. Excitement had its turn, now comes the time of calmness. You look at certain bits of text and suddenly realize they belong together. In MindNode you’d create a new node and then drag other nodes underneath it. This so called super node gets a term that summarizes both child nodes. Your brain will naturally stay calm (organizing) or get excited again (brainstorming) as it needs to. But after some minutes, or hours, your tree will take shape. The process is fascinating really, because a list just keeps growing downwards. The more stuff you add, the more you have to scroll. With mind mapping, you plant a tree that grows from its roots. Sometimes there is one particular branch that gets so much attention, it becomes so big that it “overgrows” other parts. A tree can become so big to grow into a tree of its own. MindNode obviously can do that -- with the Detach Node function. That is the beauty of mind mapping. When you start it doesn’t have form. There’s the core problem that needs to be solved, and from it, the branches grow, solving the problem. When the map is completed, it has form. There’s also a real distinction between digital mind mapping solutions and “analog” mind mapping. With a digital app two or three or even more nodes can be scattered around the map, but with a couple of clicks those can be moved to their own place with a Parent Node above them. With analog mind mapping you have more creative freedom, but moving things around on a piece of paper is a little more awkward than in MindNode.

A mind map is a diagram used to visually organise information. A mind map is often created around a single concept, drawn as an image in the center of a blank landscape page, to which associated representations of ideas such as images, words and parts of words are added. Major ideas are connected directly to the central concept, and other ideas branch out from those. [Wikipedia]

The thing that fascinates me most about mind mapping is that once a mind map is done, the map doesn’t just provide one or many solutions to a particular problem. The map directly shows how a specific person thinks about a certain topic. A mind map is really individual. Sharing a mind map, I find, is personal, because you’re not just showing your ideas, but also the way you see things in context. That was the reason why I chose the title “My Birthday Party” in the first of two videos created when we wanted to showcase brainstorming in MindNode for OS X and iOS. At the end of this first video, the creator, Rick, shares his thoughts with a second person and therefore changes the title of his map from the personal “My” to “Rick’s Birthday Party”, to indicate that he generalizes the title before giving it away, so someone else understands it too. When sharing a mind map tree, the thoughts naturally go from ”general” to ”more specific”. Every person will eventually find their way around the map, because a mind map is just that. A map of thoughts. To get to Vienna, you first have to be in Austria. But to be in Austria you first have to be in Europe, which is a continent of our earth, which circles around the sun, and so forth.

An outline may look more structured because there are indentations and lists and sublists, but thinking itself doesn’t flow as naturally. It is not so easy to spot areas that got a lot of attention, in terms of thoughts, problems, opportunities, etc. The list just keeps growing longer and longer. Which is practical in a way, for writing, for example, but it doesn’t appeal to the natural creativity of your brain.

How to Mind Map

Let’s recap, because this is the main point of this entire post. How do you actually mind map now?

Start at the center. Note down the problem you're trying to solve, the topic you need to research, the meeting you need to take notes on. With MindNode, create a new document. New documents will have one Main Node by default. Just tap or click it to go into edit mode and type in your topic.

  • Problem solving:
  • Try to think of associations to your center problem.
  • Create one node “Yes”, and one “No”.
  • Open a dictionary for word associations.
  • What feelings do you associate with certain words (and nodes)?
  • How does an outcome look like? Try to picture it, and note down certain from the scenery.
  • Research:
  • The topic that you like to research goes into the center. This is your start.
  • Try to think of associations to the topic.
  • Do a search online and write down bits of information you find. Note that you can simply paste text into a node in MindNode, so you can keep reference easier. MindNode also allows you to create links. (Edit → Add Link)
  • Read a book and take notes while you read.
  • Note taking:
  • This is basically the same as research but more passive. In research you actively search for things to note down, in note taking information flows in actively, and you just have to take note of it, passively.

Basic Workflow

As described earlier when mind mapping you switch between creation and organizing regularly.

Create, Organize

As a practical example, here is a mind map where we plan a vacation to Vienna. As you can see the first iteration is just a place to dump ideas into. I have even made a mistake here and put "ID's" under "Tickets", because that's just how my brain works. I thought of something made out of paper, and the first thing that came to my mind was "let's not forget our ID's".

After this first idea dump, I felt the need to organize things. As you can clearly see, I have realized that an ID is not a ticket, but something we should keep in mind to take with us for the vacation. In this particular case I had some things that we should take care of before we go on vacation, like researching where to get a cheap mobile data plan, and some things that are relevant when we are in Vienna, like the restaurants we want to visit. I have also activated Smart Layout. (Mac: View → Smart Layout; iOS: Tap the canvas, open the Inspector, and activate Smart Layout)

Thinking of visiting places, however, made me think of other things we'd like to see, like friends. Markus is a person I haven't seen in a while, so I create two nodes for "Friends" and "Markus". Obviously when I see Markus I want to be dressed well, so let's buy some shoes and a new shirt before. Of course that's something we need to take care of in Vienna. There's just no way we're going to have time for shopping before the vacation. You know how hectic pre-vacation times always are.

So let's organize these new things as well. As you can also see while I'm at the computer to research the data plan, I can also setup an email autoresponder, because the last thing that I want is to get disturbed on vacation.

MindNode supports images as attachments to nodes, text can be formatted, a more seamless cross-platform workflow is powered by iCloud, and sharing a map can be done with MyMindNode. MindNode has so many things to offer that it is a true delight to plan things as pleasantly as a trip to Vienna.


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