Jun 07

Disclaimer: I have zero scientific evidence to substantiate this theory. It’s subjective and anecdotal from my own experience and based in part on the concepts proposed by Tony Buzan in his Mindmapping book. Although I have no proof, I have seen it validated consistently through personal experience.

So why use a “tree-branching” style vs. a traditional outline format when brainstorming or note-taking? Very simply: because the conventional “indented outline” format of note taking imposes false linearity on your thought process . And what could be more important than having unbounded thinking when brainstorming or capturing notes on a new subject (I’m hereby banning the use the term “outside of the box” thinking). The Buzan book is the seminal work on mind-mapping and goes through a lengthy explanation of why and how to do it. I won’t rehash all that here but the main idea is that nature itself is not linear. Imposing a format on note taking which demands that we add new items sequentially to the outline funnels our thinking down to the last item at all times so that when we write this:

Outline: what you see

our brain is really seeing this:

Outline: what your brain sees

Using the alternative mindmapping technique, we can represent the same information like such:

Mindmap: what you see

And now our brain is instead seeing this:

Mindmap: what your brain sees

…which is good because we inherently like to fill in all the blank spaces and grow the tree so now rather than have the compulsion be to stop thinking about additional ideas, the path of least resistance is for our brain to continue to add to it. And once that spiral begins, tangential thoughts spawn from others and you start to get light bulbs. At least that’s the gist of why I believe it works. Granted for proposals and formal documents where the expectation is a more traditional representation, mind maps may not be appropriate. But at least the first time you begin thiniking about a subject for your own notes you should not be trying to cram the info into an outline. Doing so just because your fifth grade elementary school teacher told you it’s the proper way to outline a subject is pointless. Instead of getting hung up on where to use roman numerals vs. arabic vs. capital and small letters to ensure proper structure, we should be thinking how to remove the structure altogether from the notes and let them flow and grow organically.

The other benefit aside from improved creativity at the time of conception is greater retention and recall down the road. Try this test- look at the first outline above for 10sec and then go to a blank sheet of paper and write as much of it as you can remember. Now try the same experiment with the mindmap and see how much of it you were able to recall. The effect is amplified when you are the one generating the mindmap because you personalize it. The more doodles and weird stuff you make, the more visual your map becomes and we all know that “a picture is worth 1000 words.”

It’s one thing to read about mindmapping and say “hrmmm, that’s interesting,” but until you actually start doing it, it is just apriori book knowledge and you won’t fully appreciate the technique. As far as software, I can’t endorse any particular one as being better. I use one called Visual Mind and my friend Dave uses one called Mind Manager. There are no less than ten packages out there that all do the same thing and there are plenty of opensource options available and most of them can export the maps to XML and some integrate directly with wiki’s and pda’s. The best advice if you’re not mindmapping yet is to just try doing it and see if it doesn’t FEEL like “mentally cleaning the windshield” when you do exploratory thinking on a subject.

8 Responses to “Why mindmapping works”

  1. Shanti says:

    Another thing I’d recommend that can help out a lot with this for SOHO workers is a whiteboard.

    Sure, it looks kinda silly in the middle of your apartment (like I have mine setup), but it does the trick =)

  2. […] It’s the little things. Who knows how to measure this effect objectively, but in the same way that using mindmapping as a note-taking style makes me feel more unbounded in my thinking, working on the Mac the past few days I feel less like I’m shackled to a computer and more like I’m using a natural tool to amplify my talents. And like it or not that’s important. It may sound like wishy-washy, koolaid-drinking Mac talk and I don’t know how you quantify/qualify this effect but if the sum of all these tiny comforts translates to a more pleasurable experience while working on the computer, then you will be more inclined to fire it up and do stuff in your free time rather than shutter when you have to go back to it. And in the end, it’s not what you can do with a tool, it’s what you will do with it that matters. The response I would anticipate from a die-hard windows user is “but I can do xyz too!” Maybe so, but if there’s any friction associated with the task, the real question becomes “will you do it?” […]

  3. […] iMindMap – if you like mindmapping for note taking, thought organizing and brainstorming, you’ll want to check out this app from Tony Buzan, the guy who literally wrote the book on Mind Mapping. The software is in public beta and freely available from that link. If you put any stock in Buzan’s theory that the more personal and “neuron-looking” your maps are, the more effective they become, then you’ll appreciate the attention they gave to the stylistic implementation of the maps. MindManager seems to be the most popular one. Freemind works well enough for me but I will be switching to iMindMap when it comes out of beta as I’ve found the personalization aspect of the maps to be as important as using the tree mindmap structure itself. […]

  4. lynn says:

    ok ha ha i thought i was the first to think of a mindmapping program well now i know and would like to really see more about it .. thanks

  5. […] For $14, the series is worth the bonus disc alone in which he teaches you how to negotiate your next automobile purchase. For me I disliked the idea that I was at a disadvantage being unaware of these tactics that others could use to manipulate me. Hopefully posting this outline for public consumption is kosher (I’m surprised they don’t have a better synopsis in the Amazon review). In reality, the value of the notes by themselves is marginal since 90% of the effectiveness of using these techniques is in their delivery and you need to hear Roger’s voice to get it right. I highly recommend this series to anyone who needs to negotiate something – okay basically everybody with a pulse… You can download the mindmap below or view the HTML version if you don’t already have Freemind installed. And if you’re not mindmapping, here’s why you should be. […]

  6. Eri says:

    Interesting. I have always seen the branches of the ‘traditional’ format endlessly going on to the right, stage after stage, haven’t you?

  7. lynn says:

    ok ha ha i thought i was the first to think of a mindmapping program well now i know and would like to really see more about it .. thanks

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