Mind mapping: A better tool for innovation and collaboration

It’s been said that "you can’t innovate without collaboration, and without innovation, companies fail.”

While that’s a nice call to arms, both innovation and collaboration take work. Bringing people together to collaborate and innovate, especially in a virtual setting, can be even harder.

Mind mapping is a uniquely effective innovation and collaboration tool that it provides the innovator with both a process and a tool for thinking through an issue. Then this same tool immediately helps communicate the solution by way of a visual mind map that is created as a product of the process. It’s not often that one tool can perform the dual roles of process and end product as beautifully as mind mapping can.

What is mind mapping?

Mind mapping is a visual approach to thinking through an idea, developing a concept, planning a project or building a product. In mind mapping, the individual or team visually organizes information around a central idea, and then adds “branches” of related details (ideas, notes, images, tasks, hyperlinks, attachments, etc.) to flesh out the idea. What you end up with is one, holistic big picture that can explain a complex concept in one clear image while still accounting for all of the details.

Mind mapping offers the best of both the right-brained and left-brained worlds. The process of creating the mind map appeals to right-brain team members who prefer visuals, drawings, demonstrations and patterns while simultaneously engaging left-brain collaborators with structure, logic, details and written descriptions of concepts.

Collaboration: Mind-mapping style

Unlike most Web-based collaborative tools that only focus on shared access to information or schedules, mind mapping is unequalled in its ability to bring about a “we” thinking mentality. Online mind-mapping software such as Mind Meister can foster a truly collaborative solution to a problem through the unique approach of bringing right- and left-brain team members together in a single diagram that represents a shared understanding, not just a mashup of divergent ideas.

“I knew there was something going on in the minds and hearts of my clients when we graphically mind-mapped change together. We could feel an organic shift take place that turned foes into friends and my idea into our idea” said Judith Glaser, CEO of Benchmark Communications, in an article on WomenEntrepreneur.com.

Fortunately, the traditional rules of mind mapping developed by British popular psychology author Tony Buzan have evolved over the past 30 years; mind-mapping software has made it easy to adopt and capitalize on mind mapping without a great deal of specialized knowledge. There are three basic mind mapping solutions that businesses use today: online mind mapping using a "software as a service" (SaaS) model; mind mapping with desktop software (installed on a computer); and through a myriad of free tools (including tools that work on iPads and tablets).

Mind mapping online

The advantages to online mind mapping are many. As long as you have a persistent internet connection, this is collaborative mind mapping at its finest. We use an online tool called Mind Meister (www.mindmeister.com) that costs $59 per year and allows us to create complete mind maps and share them with clients and partners in real time while we collaborate. With Mind Meister, you’re always guaranteed to have your data backed up and get every upgrade to their software.

Desktop mind mapping

My favorite tool for mind mapping is a piece of software for PCs or Macs called Mind Manager from Mind Jet software (www.mindjet.com). It’s the most expensive of the mind-mapping tools at $349, but it is also the most full-featured and complex. Mind Manager not only allows you to create extraordinary mind maps, the templates and tools in the software allow you to do everything from elaborate formatting to exporting your information from the map into MS Word or MS Excel for your non-mind-mapping colleagues.

Free mind mapping tools

If you’d like to start mind mapping on a budget (or no budget, for that matter!), there are a couple of tools you can try, such as XMind and FreeMind. Both tools can be found by searching for their respective names online. Both tools are robust enough that you may very well forget you’re not paying for the privilege of using it. While they may not be as fancy or well-supported as the commercial applications, you will be able to create, innovate and collaborate with the best of the mind-mappers on a shoestring.

Mind mapping won’t create new ideas or do your innovative thinking for you. But if you aim to create and collaborate with a diverse group of team members, need both a process for innovative thinking and a tool for developing crisp explanations of your best ideas, then mind mapping just might be the best new idea to get your mind around in 2011.

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