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

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Biggerplate Continued: Steve Rothwell on How to Create a Document

Steve Rothwell of Elstar Consulting provided a refreshing break from the previous heady presentations, guiding attendees through a methodical process of creating a document end-to-end using mind mapping.

I have to say that this is one of those things that I, as a writer, think about a great deal. I use ConceptDraw MINDMAP to think about and plan my articles, blog posts, case studies, and white papers. But I usually leave the map behind once I have a clear understanding of my structure.

I often have this nagging thought that it might be better to put more content into the map so I can have more flexibility later on. So I enjoyed Steve's clear, step-by-step description of how to do just that.

The Benefits of Using Mapping to Write
Those of us who've been around mapping for awhile have a good sense of the advantages mapping brings to writing. But Steve had a nice little list:

  1. The ability to "think visually" and literally see the connections between your thoughts
  2. The ability to easily change structure and flow using drag and drop functionality
  3. Ease of navigation, as you are able to see all your thoughts on one page rather than having to scroll
  4. And the ability to maintain focus, with your objective as the title of the map and the top-level branches a summary of your key points. Steve compares this with the common problem of getting lost in paragraphs and pages of text.

A Three-Step Process
Steve lays out his approach in three simple steps:

  1. Create Content.
  2. Prepare for Export.
  3. Export and Review.

Step 1: Create Content
For me, the first step matched pretty well with how I work. I start with brainstorming (Steve uses the brainstorming feature. Then I, as Steve called it, "sift and summarize," pulling out my key points and putting them into some kind of logical order.

But then he talks about focusing the key topics--not leaving them vague, but putting a sharp point on them. (His example: Rather than just say "Decrease distribution costs," he recommends being more specific: Decrease distribution costs by at least 7 percent." Anybody can put down some general statemen. But it may require some deeper thought and research to put up a specific number--and thought and research is good.

Another difference with my approach is that Steve recommends you start adding text. You know, full sentences, short paragraphs. Interestingly, he also suggests referring to the outline mode to get a better sense of how the article or report is developing.

Step 2: Prepare for Export
To start this section, Steve asked for a show of hands of the people who export to Word. Lots of hands went up. Then he asked how many people were satisfied with the results. I couldn't see any hands from my vantage point (watching this online).

Steve said that part of the problem is that Word styles are very hierarchical, while mind map content isn't. For example, Word styles follow a strict format of Title, Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, Body Text, and so on. Some of my maps have topics that correspond to each of these layers. Some don't. And as you may know, if you export a map that has a branch with one main topic and then some more detailed copy, the detailed copy will come out as a heading. Not good.

So Steve offered three strategies to avoid this:

  1. Restructure the map so that your content conforms to a Word style.
  2. Use an app that gives you more control over Word styles.
  3. Cut and paste all of your more detailed comments into the Notes pane.

Choice #3 seemed to Steve (and to me) the best, as it produced a Word doc that looked most liked what you would expect a report or article to look like. (Obviously, you could avoid all the cutting and pasting by just writing in the Notes pane to begin with.)

Step 3: Export and Review
Once your map is structured to produce the best-looking export, then... export it (after making your dialog box choices and choosing a Word template). Steve recommends reviewing the Word doc for content, and if there are changes to be made, make them in the map, not the doc. When you're happy with the content, export the map again, add the title page, etc. and you are done.

As I say, it's not an approach I've taken. But I plan to give it a try.

Monday, March 18, 2013

January Biggerplate Event: Jim Mather on Mind Mapping & the Mainstream

(And once again, please refer to The Mindmap Blog's "Mindmapping Thought Leaders Share Best Practices in London" for each speaker's video.)

Jim Mather brings to the table a lot of experience getting people together to solve problems. Most recently, he was Scotland’s Enterprise, Energy and Tourism Minister within the Scottish Parliament in 2011.

I believe it was in that context that Jim used mind mapping to bring large groups of Scottish citizens together to make significant decisions about the future of their communities. (Jim's Biggerplate recording was cut short just as he was discussing this initiative.)

Drivers of the opportunity for widespread use of mind mapping

The gist of Jim's presentation ("Mind Mapping & the Mainstream") was, essentially, that "everything's better with mind mapping." He began by listing the drivers behind expanded use of mind mapping:

  1. Availability of mind mapping software: It's no longer a secret among those in the know. It's increasingly becoming common knowledge.
  2. Awareness of the effectiveness of a range of things that mindmapping supports:
    • Collaborative conversations
    • Systems thinking
    • Scenario planning
    • Mediation
    • Knowledge that success needs:
      • Clarity of purpose.
      • Sound operational methods.
      • Hearts, minds, and intrinsic motivation.
      • Trust.

Professor Ken Cloke's Ladder of Unity
Jim then took up on this last point, trust, by referring a Cloke's ladder of Unity. The relevance is that whenever a group of people are trying to do something together, it helps if they can "climb" this "ladder of unity." And Jim underscored the fact that mind mapping can help at every stage of this process.

The rungs in the ladder begin with:

  1. Opposition: This is the starting point, when the choice is to cooperate and move forward or to hold on to differences, opposite goals and agendas, mistrust. Once a group is able to climb past this stage, they can look for:
  2. A unifying worthy purpose: Something that will meet the overriding concerns of the entire group. Once they achieve that, they need:
  3. A Fair and Open Process: In order to achieve the ultimate goal--a plan of action arrived at through mutual trust, there must be a good process behind all activity. When there is, it naturally leads to...
  4. Relationships: As people work together and learn to like and trust each other. Out of this comes...
  5. Experience: The more people work together toward a unifying worthy purpose, following a fair and open process, then the more they experience the trust that leads to success, and the more they come to...
  6. Care about each other: And this is the key ingredient behind progress.

Names to Know
It always helpful to learn about people who are promoting the ideas upon which pro-mind mapping arguments can be made. Jim offers up a fine list.

The only person on the list I'm really familiar with is Dan Pink, who wrote "A Whole New Mind." The book talks about having symphony of mind will be a key to success in the future economy: Being able to take lots of different kinds of information and putting them all together in creative ways to solve new problems. Mind mapping is, of course, key to that. (I blogged about Pink a while ago.)
The other people on the list include:

  1. Victor Frankl
  2. Ove Arup
  3. W. Edward Demming
  4. Margaret Wheatley
  5. John Seddon
  6. Eli Goldratt
  7. Nancy Kline

The common thread among all these people, Jim says, is that mind mapping adds value to the real-world application of each of their thought systems.

Watch Jim's presentation
Jim had a lot more to say, including a case study about how he personally used mind mapping to help two Scottish communities align themselves as they planned for the future.

Jim has a lot to say based on a lot of lessons learned about using mind mapping in the real world. I encourage you to watch his presentation for yourselves. (Just don't be disappointed when the video ends abruptly.)

Friday, March 15, 2013

January Biggerplate Event: Nick Duffill on the Mismatched Expectations of Mind Mapping for Business Use

(Again, let me turn your attention to The Mindmap Blog's "Mindmapping Thought Leaders Share Best Practices in London" for each speaker's video.)

Nick Duffill: Harport Consulting
Another interesting presentation, this one from long-time friend Nick Duffill. Nick's focus was on what happens when you take mind mapping into the world of business, and he had some provocative things to say. I'll try to do them justice.

I should say before I get started that as I was taking a shower this morning it dawned on me that I should be presenting the content of these talks as mind maps. Duh! Well, I'm a writer at heart so I will just continue with good ol' text. But if anyone out there wants to take my posts on this event and represent them as maps, have at it!

Thereupon hangs a tale
But on to Nick's preso. So Nick started off with a humorous and apocryphal story about the time he was using maps to help him mange a project at a high tech company. He had created a masterful map... complex, dense, information rich, a real knowledge object... when the managing director of the company happened to walk by, notice Nick's mind map and ask what it was. "This is my big chance to introduce mind mapping into the company," Nick recalled thinking. Instead, this tech-savvy, smart director told him never to use that software in his company again.

Any club that would have me as a member...
I could hear the groan from the audience as Nick said this. But I think it's fair to say that Nick's interaction with this person either caused or confirmed an epiphany: One of the big problems with adoption mind maps have in the business world is that they are so foreign. And when some people see all of their company's proprietary information in a form they don't understand and don't know how to access--some of them understandably panic.

As Nick summed it up:

"Mind mapping creates barriers because it looks "exclusive""--in the sense that it excludes people who aren't familiar with the format.

The Remedy
The best way to make maps look less "exclusive," the best way to make them accessible and create a more welcoming environment for mapping in general, Nick says, is to "Communicate with Small Maps."

He defines maps as small not just those with few branches, but those that have been built in such a way that when the map is collapsed all the way, the central five or six branches summarize the rest of the contents of the map or state a conclusion that can be drawn from the information in the map.

And since that so rarely happens--since maps are rarely concise, it makes it hard for mindmapping to make it into the mainstream. in fact, Nick lays out 4 main reasons why maps don't synch with standard expectations for business software.

Four causes of mismatched expectations

  1. Ignorance of/lack of adherence to mind mapping "rules": All you need to make a mind map is mindmapping software. You don't need to know a thing about the art and craft of mapping. Few if any software introduce a new user to the principles of mapping. So the resulting "documents" can be undisciplined.
  2. Tree-based charts are ambiguous: Unlike pie charts or graphs, people don't know how to "read" a mind map. (To Nick's earlier point, they'd have a better chance at being able to read them if the map maker followed a few simple rules.
  3. Processes are not deliverables: Mind maps capture a process. If you are not involved in the creation of a map, the map is just a snapshot of someone else's thinking. Businesses are attuned to deliverables--something that brings with it a conclusion, a proposed action. Maps don't usually do this.
  4. Mind mapping and mind mapping software are two different things: Most mindmapping applications give users to create large maps, easily rearrange the contents, export to create other kinds of documents, create presentations, and "unfold" the map to reveal information a bit at a time... all of these great features of the applications available don't necessarily support the creation of business-oriented documents.

A proposal for maps that reflect inductive thinking
This is getting too long. But I just want to mention in brief Nick's overall conclusion. It is, if I understood him correctly, that map makers need to think in terms of inductive, rather than deductive thinking when creating maps that will be shown to others in a business environment.

To hear more from Mr. Duffill about inductive versus deductive thinking and how each are reflected in the construction of a mind map, listen to his complete presentation.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

January Biggerplate Event: Craig Scott of iThoughts

(Again, let me turn your attention to The Mindmap Blog's "Mindmapping Thought Leaders Share Best Practices in London" for each speaker's video.)

Craig Scott: iThoughts
The second speaker at the Biggerplate event was Craig Scott, founder and developer of iThoughts (, which develops mindmapping apps for the iPhone and "iPad" (see below).

I have to say that in this speech the sound quality is pretty bad, so I couldn't hear everything Craig had to say. I captured as much as I could.

Touchy Feely Mindmapping
His presentation started off with congratulations from Liam Hughes for having the oddest presentation title: "Touchy Feely Mindmapping." But the title makes perfect sense once you understand what he's getting at.

Craig's overall topic is how different it is to program for iPads versus laptops. (He uses "iPads" as an inclusive term for that kind of platform, whether Apple or Android. His purpose being, I imagine, to educate the mind mapping company representatives in the room about what mobile mind mapping apps need to look and behave like.

He breaks down the differences into four main categories: Physical, Demographic,Expectations, and Business Model.

  1. Physical: Craig noted some qualities that pertain to the physical nature of iPads: People tend to use them more on the go, which helps to create more of an emotional relationship between human and machine. They're always with you--like a friend. So the applications need to seem... friendly.

    But the big physical differentiator is touch, and Craig made some interesting points on this front. Touching the screen reinforces the emotional connection, causing iPad apps to be more natural, intuitive--and immersive (which, at present, doesn't seem to be a word. Oh well...)

    The interesting part of this, I thought, was how Craig described that since we are using our fingers, things have to be a lot simpler on the screen. There can't be so many choice or features, because they would be so small that our fingers would cover up our choices.

    So on the one hand, making it touch based means that the user gets far fewer options (a mouse allowing you to navigate to very small icons). But the end result is that the interface is cleaner, less scary for people who can be easily overwhelmed by too many choices.

    And the result of that is that iPad apps are simpler--which is pretty much a good thing.

  2. Demographics: Craig notes that iPads are used by lots of different kinds of people--from geeks to grandmothers (my words). This means that apps have to be approachable--and have a certain elegance to them. This is reinforced by the business model behind iPad app development, which I'll touch on in a second.
  3. Expectations: Since people do tend to have a more personal, emotional connection to iPads, the applications themselves need to reflect that by being what Craig called "delightful, simple, and beautiful." People also expect these apps to be "cheap or free." Sounds like a great market!
  4. Business Model: Craig said that the dominant business model for iPad apps is low margin, high value. That means you have to sell lots of apps. Which takes us back to #2: Demographics. With all these different kinds of people using them, the apps need to have general appeal, general ease of use, etc.

    He also noted (I think though, as I said, it was hard to hear) that apps are usually sold through an app store. He wondered aloud how the bigger mindmapping software companies would deal with having their apps sold through an app store...

The Perfect/Killer Mind Mapping App for the iPad

Finally, Craig offered what he thought would have to be some of the central attributes of the perfect mind mapping app:

  • The app must be distraction free: It must provide a clear, effortless window that gets users into using the app, not being aware of it.
  • The app must be immersive, touch-driven, something that lets you dive in and get focused on what you're doing.
  • And it must be easy to pick up and use, just like the iPad itself: Something that you can pop open on one of the iPad devices that you have around your house... in the kitchen, the den, the TV room--not just in the office.

The Future
So... interesting ideas about what mind mapping companies need to do to stay relevant in this ever-more-mobile world of smaller devices. We used to love the idea of flashing a map up on a wall so we had lots of room to think and move.

Doing this kind of thinking on an iPad screen--not to mention an iPhone screen--will certainly test the skills of mind mapping software developers worldwide, which is a good thing!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Did You Catch the January Biggerplate Event?

I have to admit that I completely missed this event. It was called Biggerplate Unplugged, and it came and went with me none the wiser.

What is Biggerplate?
As Biggerplate founder Liam Hughes explained in his opening remarks, his company's goal is to become THE central repository for mind maps, and to act as a sort of organizing force, connecting all the various and sundry people and companies advocating for mindmapping all around the world. We used to talk about how cool it would be to get all the top mindmapping people in one room. Hughes did it, and the results are worth paying attention to.

This morning I ran across videos from the event on The Mindmap Blog's "Mindmapping Thought Leaders Share Best Practices in London."

So what I thought I'd do is to, one at a time, summarize and comment on what these speakers had to say. (Each presentation is about 20 minutes long.) After a brief welcome by Hughes, the following people presented:

  • Chris Griffiths of ThinkBuzan
  • Craig Scott of iThoughts
  • Nick Duffill of Harport Consulting
  • Jim Mather of MindGenius
  • Steve Rothwell of Elstar Consulting
  • Andrew Wilcox of Cabre
  • John Barber of Mindjet

Chris Griffiths, ThinkBuzan

Chris kicked off his presentation with an image of Henry Ford, who once said that "thinking is the hardest work there is." Chris noted that mindmapping is all about helping people think, and that we in the mindmapping industry should be very proud of the work we do.

Simplify, Simplify...
Then he immediately began addressing one of the on-going debates among mindmappers: the interplay between focusing on the process of mapping versus the technology of mapping. He reiterated that Tony Buzan (often called the "father" of mindmapping by many), is big on process and continues to insist on the relevance of hand-drawn mind maps.

And that, Chris said, continues to be the focus of the ThinkBuzan approach. While many other mindmapping companies are making their technologies ever more complex, able to do ever more sophisticated things, Chris noted that his organization is trying to make the technology fade into the background so that the process can take its rightful place at center stage.

While Adding Layers of Complexity

But in a grand contradiction to that point of view, Chris also noted how ThinkBuzan has been working on 3D mindmapping. The impetus to do so, he said, was that 3D stimulates the brain more than 2D, and good thinking is all about stimulating the brain.

Having said that, Chris acknowledged that 3D mapping is very confusing to the brain. They have yet to crack the nut of 3D mapping.

But I thought it was pretty amazing and laudable that ThinkBuzan is trying to progress mindmapping with two such diametrical approaches.

The More the Paths, The Greater the Chance of Reaching the Destination
Chris concluded by saying that all the players in the mind mapping industry need to continue to be respectful of each other, and to pursue their own unique paths to try to advance the industry. He said that while it is absolutely amazing how many people all over the world now use mindmapping, there are millions more people to reach.

Friday, March 8, 2013

10 Tips to Running a Great Meeting, by Jean Kelley

In the February 2013 issue of Supervision magazine, Jean Kelley, author, entrepreneur, and managing director of Jean Kelley Leadership Alliance, offers ten tips for running a great meeting.

I made up this quick map. But to get the details, read the article or visit Kelley's website.

I think the one tip that I liked the most was to delegate meeting responsibility. The senior person calls and runs the meeting in most companies.

But giving someone else a chance to get up there and have a shot at it is, in my opinion, a great way to both chance meeting dynamics and do some on-the-job professional development (something far too many companies do far too little of.)

Monday, March 4, 2013

Harvard Business Review on Embracing Uncertainty

I just read a recent Harvard Business Review article about how companies like Apple, Microsoft and Nokia face the same challenges past greats like Polaroid, DEC, and Atari faced in their day: How to stay fresh.

(By the way, I access the HBR and other great magazines through something called "Business Source Premier," a free service of many public libraries. Check your local library to see if you can get in. You get pretty amazing access to top-tier business periodicals)

The point of the story, "Embracing Uncertainty," by Alan MacCormack, is that big, successful companies once known for their innovation can fall prey to identifying "best practices" and designing "standard operating procedures." As MacCormack says,

"This can make a company wildly efficient at what it does today. But it has a serious downside: an avoidance of novelty that can eat at the very soul of a company."

I love that idea of a company being "wildly efficient." But yes, the more you screw down the way you do things, the harder it might be to change. Maybe this falls into the realm of "great being the enemy of good." It's against human nature to disrupt what's working. So you better have a big incentive to make it worth people's while to go against their instincts.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Other Mind Mapping

I caught a newscast on Calgary TV this morning (don't you love the Internet?! :O) about a research program President Obama is planning to start in the U.S. The goal will be to examine the working of the human mind. (One can only speculate whether the current budget impasse precipitated his decision.)

The newscaster noted that the same kind of research is already taking place at the University of Calgary. The school's Brain Activity Map Project is looking for possible connections between brain function and depression.

Dr. Andrea Rotzner heads a team that's hoping to help people with depression by using the tools to predict the response to different types of treatment.

“There is research out there to suggest that people who have depression actually have a network in their brain that is responsible for mood regulation that works differently than in people who don’t have depression. So you can measure their brain signal with something called functional magnetic resonance imaging or with electroencephalography and you can show differences between the brains of people who are depressed and the brains of people who are not depressed,”
Dr. Protzner says they are hoping the research will allow them to create maps of the brain that they can then use to compare others to in order to determine an appropriate treatment for them.

There are mind maps, and then there are mind maps.