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Brainstorming business - Find out about Mind Mapping Software

Updated on January 3, 2016
What is mind mapping?
What is mind mapping? | Source

Mind Maps as a Tree

The best way to think of a typical mind map structure is like that of a tree. The central trunk is your initial seed or central theme, the branches are the main concepts that are created by that central theme. The branches then subdivide as things are filled in, becoming twigs and leaves at the smallest level of detail.

Mind mapping

It's in our nature to create ideas and solve problems. To do this most effectively, we need to step back from the day-to-day details that constantly distract us, think about things logically and build an effective approach to get things done.

This is where mind mapping can help. Mind mapping is a powerful tool that will help you visualize exactly what you need to do. It helps you to focus on your overall aims and also drill down into the detail of how you’re going to get there. Effective mind mapping allows you to get your thoughts down and then organize and structure them into a plan you can work from.

Mind mapping can help you grow your business effectively by helping you to plan for the mid to long term, mapping out efficient processes and developing innovative products and services.

This guide will introduce you to the concepts of mind mapping and let you know where you can download some software and try it out for yourself.

In this article I'll discuss:

  • What is mind mapping?
  • An example of a mind map
  • What can you use mind mapping for in business?
  • How to create a mind map
  • Download mind mapping software

Benefits to you are:

  • Learning about the basic ideas of mind mapping
  • Finding out how you can apply mind maps to your business
  • Seeing how mind maps can help you focus on both the big picture and detailed tasks
  • Understanding how to put a mind map together
  • Finding out where to download and try out mind mapping applications

Great ideas can grow from brainstorming and mindmapping
Great ideas can grow from brainstorming and mindmapping | Source

What is mind mapping?

Mind mapping is a technique which allows you to capture thoughts, ideas and actions and represent them in a visual form or diagram.

There are several important concepts in mind mapping:

  • Building a visual representaion
  • Starting from a central theme
  • Using logic to build a hierarchical structure and connections
  • Easily allowing thought capture
  • Letting you see the big picture
  • Helping you drill down into the detail
  • Linking and finding connections

Building a visual representation

Mind mapping is a visual medium. It is about representkng concepts, items, steps or ideas visually and linking them together so that you can see the connections between them. Mind mapping software allows you to zoom in and out, move the mind map around and manipulate it as you need to, all in this visual interface.

Starting from a central theme

Mind maps are normally drawn around a central theme or starting point. That starting point is the focus of what your mind map is about; for example, if you're developing a product, your starting point might be the name of the product. The idea is that the central theme or seed keeps the mind map focussed and allows people to develop other sub themes, ideas and processes from it.

Great ideas can come from anyone
Great ideas can come from anyone | Source

Using logic to build a hierarchical structure and connections

Mind maps typically have a hierarchical structure, with major items linking to your central theme like branches on a tree. These major items will then be subdivided and subdivided again as they go into more detail.

The indivdual items (or nodes) on a mind map will both branch off of the central idea and off of each other. This normally occurs in a logical way, following a path: as things get more and more granular and detailed, so the mind map will branch into finer and finer points.

Easily allowing thought capture

Mind maps are designed to allow you to capture all of your thoughts, ideas and other concepts relating to your central theme. You might start by just capturing thoughts (brainstorming) and note taking as they occur to you and then structuring them later, or if you prefer to think in a more logical way, you can use the mind map as you are planning things out. Ultimately, mind maps should be flexible enough to support you no matter how you work.

Letting you see the big picture

A comprehensive mind map is a great way to get an overview of all of the key ideas, concepts and other thoughts and actions that relate to your central theme. They provide an overall, objective view so that you can see the big picture. This is very useful if you're trying to understand an overall strategy or all of the parts which go together to make up what you want to achieve.

Helping you drill down into the detail

In addition to the big picture, a mind map also enables you to drill down and analyze the details of your plan, showing the individual steps that you might take to get to your results. Mind maps are often used in conjunction with project management software and techniques. They are also a very effective way to solve problems, allowing you to see the more technical issues that can contribute to bigger risks and problems.

Linking and finding connections

Good mind maps will help you to discover links between items, seeing where there are similarities. These connections mean that you can take a more considered, consolidated and efficient approach, saving you time and energy. Because mind maps are a visual medium, it's often the case that you'll be able to see links that might not have been obvious in other environments.

An example mind map

All of this is probably best illustrated by a mind map itself. Here’s a real life example from my own business, providing an overview of our key areas; although it is quite basic and doesn’t go into specific details (further mind maps do) it does give you an idea of how mind maps work. The mind map was created in FreeMind.

Mind Mapping For Your Small Business - An Example
Mind Mapping For Your Small Business - An Example | Source

What is a node?

In mind map terms, a 'node' is any distinct item, idea, thought or other artifact that you capture. A node can be connected to other parts of the mind map and have things connected to it. In the example business mind map above, all of the little colored bubbles are nodes.

What can you use mind mapping for in business?

Mind mapping lends itself very well to business development, strategy and processes, but what does that mean in the real world? Some examples of where mind mapping might help your business include:

How mind mapping can help
Business Strategy
Planning business strategy and growth; learning where to focus your efforts; defining how you will measure success; understanding short, medium and long term goals
Business Operations
Understanding the elements of your business operations including payroll, HR, accountancy, financial management, onboarding, sales, development, invoicing, customer services and more
Business Processes
Detailing the step by step approach to processes that you perform regularly such as client acquisition, payments, reconciliation etc.
Process Improvement
Allows you to make improvements to processes through accurately understanding, documenting, refining and testing them
Marketing and Advertising Plans
Breaking down your approach to marketing and advertising to ensure you cover all of the essential areas such as: channels to market, branding, advert development, research, networks and the like
Product development
Documenting your product and service development including initial research, creating and building the product, testing, manufacture and launch
Website development
Mapping out your aims, ideas and approach for developing your website or other online services
Guidelines to building a good mind map
Guidelines to building a good mind map | Source

How to create a mind map

You can create a mind map by following these steps:

  1. Find a good mind mapping application and learn how to use it (or just grab a pencil and a large piece of paper)
  2. Decide what you want your mind map to help you accomplish
  3. Decide on your central theme and capture it
  4. Create the high level outline (the main branches) around your theme
  5. Go through each outline in turn, and think about what it subdivides into and capture those thoughts
  6. Continue through each subdivision until you get to the right level of detail
  7. Look for connections between individual items
  8. Formulate an action plan

1. Finding a good mind mapping application

There are dozens of mind mapping applications available, all with varying degrees of utility, functions and ease of use. Almost all of them have a free trial period (and a number are free altogether), so my recommendation is to download a few, try them and see what works for you. It's important that you're comfortable inputting and manipulating the information and the program shouldn't get in the way of allowing you to do that.

If you'd prefer to go for a more low-tech solution, there's nothing to stop you grabbing a pencil and a large piece of paper (and an eraser!).

2. Decide what you want your mind map to help you accomplish

You're not just drawing a mind map because they look pretty and you've got some awesome software! Mind maps are there to help you achieve things. Whether that's putting together a project plan, understanding a business process, developing a product or service or improving something you do, it's important to have the intent in mind before you start capturing thoughts.

Clearly define what you want the mind map to help you accomplish and what you will do with the information once you have completed the mind map.

3. Decide on your central theme and capture it

Once you know what you want your mind map to do, you need to create the starting point. This should be the thought (or node) from which all of the other branches are going to come. If you're thinking about a business process, the central node would be the name of the process, if you're developing a product, the node would be the name of the product etc.

Great brainstorming and mindmapping can illuminate your business
Great brainstorming and mindmapping can illuminate your business | Source

4. Create the high level outline (main branches) around your central point

This is where you begin to break down the individual parts of the whole. Looking at your central theme, what are the key things about it that you need to think about? As an example, if you're developing a product, your branches might be:

  • Audience research
  • Research and development
  • Prototyping
  • Testing and refinement
  • Launch

You might only have three or four high level branches or you might have many; however many you have, try to ensure that you capture all of the key areas that you'll then need to go into more detail with.

5. Go through each outline in turn, and think about what it subdivides into and capture those thoughts

Once you have your high level branches, go through each one and break it down further on the mind map; taking our product development example, you might go to the 'Audience Research' branch and break it down as follows:

  • Check competitor products
  • Survey existing customers
  • Buy research white papers

6. Continue through each subdivision until you get to the right level of detail

You'll then drop down to each of the sub branches and further refine and divide them so that you get to the right level of detail. The key here is to create items and thoughts that are actionable. You should continue subdividing for as long as the things you are capturing are practical and useful to your overall plan. Taking the example above, breaking down 'Survey existing customers' might look like:

  • Research online survey solutions
  • Create a list of questions about a new item
  • Refine and check customer contact details
  • Create and send out survey

7. Look for connections between individual items

When you've captured the right level of detail, you'll want to look for connections between your items so that you can do things more efficiently and effectively. Nodes will already be connected to their parents, but you might also see other connections. Are there actions you can take that will allow you to cover two or more nodes at the same time? Are there risks, issues and dependencies between nodes? How can you best resolve these?

8. Formulate an Action Plan

This is the ultimate purpose of a mind map, to help you create an action plan to get things done and move you towards your goal. Go through each of the areas of your mind map in turn and capture the actions you need to take to move things forward. Think carefully about the most appropriate resources you can use and use any project management knowledge that you have to ensure that all of the relevant information is captured.

Then, act on it and accomplish what you set out to do in step 1.

A video introducing the concepts of mind mapping

Mind mapping software

The mind mapping applications and software shown below are designed to help you capture, visualize, analyze and plan your thoughts, ideas and other concepts.

  • Edraw Mindmap – A vector based, versatile mind mapping application with high quality examples, mind maps and topics. It also supports other diagram types besides mind maps
  • FreeMind – Probably the most well known of the free mind mapping solutions. FreeMind is a relatively basic mind mapper but does do mind maps well
  • FreePlane – An evolution of FreeMind, FreePlane also provides several more features including note taking, classification, tasks, calendar and reminders
  • WiseMapping – A slightly different approach, WiseMapping is a free online tool that you can use through your web browser
  • XMind – A very fully featured set of diagramming applications, Xmind provides mind maps, fishbone diagrams, organizational structures, brainstorming, Gantt charts and more

A quick quiz on mind maps and how to use them

view quiz statistics

What else can mind maps be used for?

Mind maps aren't just for breaking things down, brainstorming and creating action plans. They can also be used for other purposes such as:

  • Flowcharts and organizational structures
  • Process maps, functions, inputs and outputs
  • Relationships between different people, aspects, items or anything else
  • Logical maps and data flows
  • Lots of other areas

An example of how mind maps can show relationships between data
An example of how mind maps can show relationships between data | Source

Whatever you decide to use mind maps for, they can be a powerful tool in helping you to run your business effectively. From the big picture down to small details, they will provide the overview and analysis you need to help you reach your goals in many areas of life and work.

Have you used mind maps effectively? Do you have any hints and tips to share? If so, please let us know in the comments.

If you found this article useful, interesting or informative, please do check out my other guides for small business owners here.


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