By Chuck Frey
Want to become a better creative problem solver? One of the most productive tools you can use to solve problems and generate great ideas is mind mapping software. Simply put, this type of software enables you to capture your ideas in a unique, highly visual way: Your current project or challenge is located at the center of your map. Attached to it are primary topics that radiate out in all directions. These main branches can have sub-branches, each containing a key word, phase or concept.
Tony Buzan, the renowned developer of the concept of mind mapping, calls it “a Swiss Army Knife for the brain.” That’s because it works the way your brain does – by association – and it can help you to leverage more of your latent creativity. Here’s how:
Whole brain creativity
The practice of mind mapping makes excellent use of both the left (logical, orderly) and right (creative, visual, random) sides of your brain, enabling you to access more of your brain’s creative capabilities. It’s a powerful form of whole brain thinking.
Refactoring creates new insights
Topics can be moved from one place to another within your map with complete freedom, which helps you to make creative connections between them. This process of moving a topic to a new location and then rethinking its meaning in the context of its new parent topic is called “refactoring,” and it can be a powerful creative catalyst. No other type of software allows you to move ideas around and play “what if” with your thoughts the way that mind mapping software does.
Improved problem definition
Sometimes when we’re faced with a complex problem in business, we have a tendency to grab at the most apparent problem and solve that – only to discover that it was only a peripheral issue. We solved the wrong problem. Mind mapping software is a great tool for achieving more accurate problem definition, because you can use it to “deconstruct” a problem or challenge and see relationships between its elements that weren’t visible before. And it increases the odds that you will correctly identify the underlying problem, rather than picking away unproductively at peripheral symptoms.
Creativity in the white space
Mind mapping software enables you to imagine “white space” opportunities and ideas that may exist between the branches of your map. How does this work? Your subconscious mind doesn’t like to view incomplete concepts or images. When it sees them, it tries to “fill in the blanks” – the information or ideas that appear to be missing. When I’m using mind mapping software to capture my thoughts, I find that my thoughts just “flow” naturally from my brain, through my fingertips and onto the screen. When I create a new topic, my brain immediately starts thinking about concepts and ideas that are related to that. Some mind mapping software programs enable you to capture them quickly in a “brainstorming mode,” using only the keyboard, helping you to keep the flow of ideas coming.
Organizing and prioritizing your ideas
Mind mapping software isn’t just for generating ideas. It’s also a powerful tool for organizing and prioritizing them, especially in a group brainstorming session. For example, you can group promising ideas on one branch, and those for future consideration on another branch of your map. You can also assign numerical or A/B/C values to each idea or use icons or symbols to prioritize them. In addition, some programs even enable you to filter the contents of your maps based on those symbols – hiding everything else and showing only those topics that have a certain symbol attached to them. This is an easy way to reduce the amount of information in a large map down to a manageable level, so you can quickly focus upon your best ideas.
Chuck Frey is author of The Mind Mapping Software Blog and has written extensively about this type of productivity software.