Recently I came across a mind map that had been used during a strategy and business planning workshop. I wondered how something that looked so chaotic could be used for this purpose so I started experimenting and picked up The Mind Map Book to find out a bit more. The book claims that mind maps are great tools for organising, scheduling, planning, note-taking, diarising, improving memory.
My initial reaction wasn’t overly positive. My ordered mind had trouble reconciling its chaotic appearance with its claims, especially since the author kept describing mind maps as “attractive”. One man’s meat is obviously another’s poison, but I decided to push through my scepticism and finish the book. I could see immediate application for brainstorming but the rest, I felt I had to try for myself before casting judgment.
My main struggle with mind maps is interpreting maps created by other people and this is one area that wasn’t addressed by the book. There were many samples of mind maps and without fail, unless the map was a very simple one, I found myself switching off. It was slightly different when I created them myself. As an example, I created the following mind map (Fig. 1) as an alternative way of presenting some information that was in a table format (Fig. 2):
While I felt the mind map did a good job representing the information, I think any other graphical image would have done equally as well.
To do Lists
Using mind maps for to-do lists really didn’t work for me other than to show me in a snapshot all the things I had to do. As I added items, my mind map just got messier and messier. I probably needed to invest a bit of time in a few more drafts but for me, that was too much effort. To-do lists are meant to save time and multiple drafts for to-do lists just didn’t seem like common sense so back I went to my Outlook task lists with handy reminders.
The book is quite critical of standard note-taking systems (using lists, outlines, sentences) claiming that they:
- Obscure keywords thereby preventing the brain from making associations between key concepts
- Are monotonous (e.g. single colour) and therefore make them impossible to remember
- Waste time due to reading and re-reading of unnecessary notes and searching for keywords
- Don’t stimulate the brain and instead stifle and slow down our thought processes
Theoretically, mind maps should be perfectly suited to my style of note-taking as my notes tend to be very sparse, concentrating on keywords as a memory jogger rather than a regurgitation of the source but so far, I’m rather ambivalent. It would have been interesting to try it out while I still had need to take lots of notes e.g. at university.
I have issues with mind maps being on one page with regard to note-taking. While great in theory and the author suggests that when you run out of space, to just add another sheet of paper and glue the edges together, I think this is quite impractical in reality. However, to each his own. It might work for some people.
After my brief experimentation, brainstorming is the one application that I would give mind maps a thumbs up for. I agree that mind maps are effective in brainstorming and in generating ideas. Having everything on one page makes a lot of sense and the unstructured nature of mind maps expand rather than limit.
I liked being able to go off on tangents and yet still being “connected”. As mentioned earlier, re-drafting however, wasn’t for me. I preferred to head straight to my final task after the first draft.
Mind mapping software
As mind maps do not hold the aesthetic appeal to me that it does to the author, I went searching for mind mapping software. I find the results infinitely preferable to my hand drawn ones but the down side is the speed with which one can be drawn and some software have limitations to what you can do. Figure 1 was created using Free Mind which is a free software.
In conclusion, I think mind maps have a place and are definitely worth trying but I’m not convinced it does everything that is claimed.