News and thoughts from CS Odessa, maker of the ConceptDraw product line: ConceptDraw PRO, ConceptDraw PROJECT and ConceptDraw MINDMAP.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Individual Brainstorming Using Mind Mapping

FIgure 1: Sending brainstormed topics to a map page.

Mind mapping software can be a great tool to make all of us more productive.

How? Mind mapping software provides us with the ability to capture our thoughts, shape them into a visual format that is useful to us, and then enable us to make changes as our thinking evolves.

With the right software, you can communicate, plan, resolve, and view. Mind mapping is a great tool that is metaphorically similar to an electronic file drawer with some relative Post-It notes attached. Mind mapping is a very visual technique of creating and organizing ideas. With mind mapping you have the ability to transofrm linear data into a mapped representation of thoughts and ideas.

“That is exactly what I was thinking about.”

There are many aspects of a mind mapping tool that are helpful to us. I am going to start with a very basic benefit and describe how I use it, and why it benefits me.

This diatribe is from the perspective of ConceptDraw MINDMAP version 6. Not all mind mapping tools are the same, and not all of them provide the same benefits.

ConceptDraw is in its 6th release and provides great value without burning through your pocketbook.

ConceptDraw MINDMAP is available as a native application for both Windows and Macintosh. The file structure for both platforms is exactly the same and is a great benefit to people who use a Macintosh and want to share with people using Windows, and vice versa. The application and the user interface are completely different, so this is not a PC application that was ported to Macintosh.

(I will always try to include at least one image on each posting, and at times will switch from a Windows image to a Macintosh image.)

OK, now on to the subject at hand: Using ConceptDraw as a personnel brainstorming tool.

When I am at the starting point of a new project, I like to think through all of the elements that will make up that project. I like to also consider what alternatives there might be. I find that by using a mind map, I can capture the overall plan (and many times one or more contingency plans), this improves the quality of the end product.

As a side note, I like to think about many of the alternate plans upfront, because if I do not care for any of the contingencies and their associated outcomes, then I will sometimes modify my primary plan.

Brainstorming with ConceptDraw PRO is easy to do. On the PC you type (Ctrl+Alt+B), or press the jagged lightning bolt icon at the top, or start brainstorming mode from the tools menu. With ConceptDraw products, you will find there are many times two or three ways to go about and do something. I suggest you look at two or more ways and then figure out what works best for you.

Once you have placed ConceptDraw MINDMAP in brainstorm mode you will see the words “Theme of Brainstorm” at the very top of the page. This is the title of your map that identifies what you are going to brainstorm about. It could be “Product Launch”, “Merger Plan”, “Finding a Job” or “Planning a Vacation”.

You then enter the words that describe part of the idea or process in very high-level terms, and keep entering until you are satisfied that you have addressed all of the variables.

I do not set the timer when I do individual brainstorming, as at times I will get called away, without looking at the time remaining. Without setting the timer I can just come back and finish what I started. The timer is great for when there is a team brainstorming session, but for now I am just going to cover how to use the tool as an individual.

By dragging and dropping items, I can start to build up a structure for the most recent brainstorm session. To link one topic to another topic, just drag it over the topic you want to link to, until the parent topic has a blue outline, then drop it.

You can “rubber band” a number of topics and drop them to make a connection to a single topic in one single move. Organizing has never been easier, and if I make a mistake I just go back and move it to where I want it placed.

One other neat thing that I like about ConceptDraw MINDMAP is the ability to right-click a word, and send it to another page. I will give you a quick example, let’s say that “Communicating to Champions” has a separate team managing it. just send it to another page and a hyperlink is established between the topic on your primary map and the topic that is now on another page. This is a powerful way to segregate topics that may have a lot of structure that goes into one idea.

This is just the start of the entire formulation process, but you can see from this example how easy it is to go from your ideas, to a visually organized structure in just a matter of minutes. With mind mapping you can take very complex and involved problems and processes and break them down to manageable size.

That is the end of my first posting on brainstorming. You can now plan to your heart’s content.

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