Mind mapping is something that we all know a little bit about. Most of us, just like I did, assume that we understand the concept and its benefits exactly. This is partly the reason why I’ve decided to use it as part of my MSc dissertation which I’m currently writing.
Instead, I’ve discovered through the practice of is that mind mapping is simple and not too difficult to master; providing that you have knowledge of the domain – e.g the subject which you are trying to map, and you give it time.
It is easy to think that it is just a map of your thoughts or ideas. It is much more than that. The mind mapping technique is an art, not a science. It is something which takes time to evolve and piece together. This isn’t to say that you can’t create a quick mind map to illustrate an idea, but for complex ideas it will take time to plot and organise onto a mind map. Similarly, it takes time to allow for the associations to be understood and mapped out correctly. I guess this is the measure of how useful a mind map is, and whether you should use it.
Of course, any tool/technique is dependent on the person using it, the subject matter and the audience. In my capacity, I’m using it to analyse a series of video recorded interviews with project members for the project of which I am part of. Therefore I have a good understanding of the participants involved and the project itself. To go further to describe exactly what I’m using it for; part of my dissertation looks at understanding how users & clients’ expectations are managed within an IT project. Therefore I’m choosing a specific aspect of IT project management which clearly is of a qualitative type, which is difficult to describe, and has depth. Please note – Using mind maps to analyse interviews is a new field, and is partly the reason for my choice. The aim of all research is to add to the current BOK (body of knowledge).
The mind mapping approach for me is new. While I have used it in the past in a blasé manner without any thorough investigation or interrogation, I think this recent practical use has given me more insight than I could have imagined, hence me writing this blog off the cuff…while I’m knee deep in my dissertation!
In sort, the mind mapping approach (for me), it highly useful in the context I’ve described above. I’m finding out things that I didn’t know and I’m also finding out highly valuable aspects about the project and members which I knew but did not really understand or spend time thinking about.
A lot of people on twitter have contacted me since I’ve mentioned mind mapping. Some have mentioned they’ve used it in a casual context for a variety of reasons; one was to manage and understand his workload better another to learn (or revise) a subject. I’ve also been in contact with a contact, who used it as part of his MA which looked at the psychological aspects of mind mapping.
Another group of people have asked how they can use mind mapping, so here’s a few general pointers I can give which I’ve learnt (I’ll be adding to this with things I find out…):
- Throw your assumptions away as to how long you should mind map. – Be free an creative!
- Start off with a pen (or pencil), a (few) sheets of a4 blank paper.
- Get lots of pens – I’ve actually bought a set of 10 coloured fine liners just for my final drafts for dissertation
- Start off with a word, phrase or even better an image in the middle.
- Begin by creating high level branches – Keep lots of space to begin with if possible
- Use symbols, little drawings as much as you like – Simple thing is £/$ for money etc
- Make associations which you know about – Associations are connections, draw them with a line or arrow etc.
- Use the different colours as and when you wish – In my drafts I only used a pencil, a red pen and a few highlighters – That is enough for me.
- Scribble things out – Cross things out – Re-write as much as you want – Don’t worry, it takes revisions and drafts to get to the final mind map which will be refined and well organised!
- Take your time!! I’ve spent well over 5 hours on one mind map, and I can honestly say that it has expanded and contains some things I didn’t expect
- Make notes separately – I’m making notes in a word doc, using the branches to identify its relation. This is the most significant thing, as it allows me to reference things and expand on an association which leads to more valuable associations.
- Final pointer is revisiting your mind map over time. As said earlier, mind mapping is an art. You have to cross things out, draw up a better draft etc. Especially when it is a complex subject!
Through my research I’ve found that there is a debate around using pen & paper vs. computing software. I initially was intending to use computer software (there are lot of free ones out there, some even for your iPhone), but after thinking about it I chose the traditional approach. Why? I could write an essay on that but in short; any assistive technology can restrict or influence you in a negative way. It is quicker and easier to use a pen and paper, plus it feels more personal and real.
Remember – The aim of mind mapping is to map out thoughts and relating thoughts straight from your mind. The brain is a complex thing and thoughts are riddled with experiences and other (seemingly) random factors, so don’t expect a mind map to capture everything. But I think so far, I can recommend it for a variety of tasks!
Let me know if this has helped your or any other opinions (Tweet Me!), thoughts relating to mind mapping. Also if you have any questions then please feel free to comment.