Mind Mapping, Part 2
By Tom Peterson
Visually outlining through mind maps opens up creativity and helps you see structures and connections in fresh ways. It’s great for tasks like understanding complex issues or starting new enterprises. Here are some ways mind mapping can help you create a better world.
Understand and visualize an organization
With mind mapping you can step back and look at your situation from a different perspective. When starting work with a new group, I usually suggest we do a mind map or two. We’ll gather a small group in a room and lay out different aspects of the organization’s structure, its programs or challenges. The process often identifies a path with potential benefit for us to explore later.
Many times there is an aha!—at least for me—in understanding some aspect of the structure or program. Sometimes, just by seeing everything at once, an opportunity (for funding, strategic partnership, etc.) or some built-in work problem will jump off the map. The group can then discuss it, beginning a conversation about a better way. While mind mapping the structure of one group, we noticed that 12 full- and part-time staff reported to one person who was already overextended. This opened a conversation about a different supervision arrangement.
Map a group’s activities and you’ll often hear “Wow, we’re doing a lot!” and “No wonder we’re so tired!” Sometimes it helps just to take stock. You’ll also see lightbulbs turn on as an opportunity—even though staff knew of it before—yells out: Pay more attention to me!
Mind maps are great for seeing connections between “wicked problems,” such as childhood obesity or mass incarceration, that have many causes and may be hard or impossible to “solve.”
They can also help you understand your program. For example, advocates may map the local food activity in their area: who grows it; how it’s transported; where it can be bought wholesale or in stores, restaurants and farmers markets. The gaps, strengths and connections identified may not be news to participants, but the map can give clarity and help a group decide where to focus.
A nonprofit can mind map its most important (or potential) supporters to see relationships: who is connected other donors, to staff or companies. Map out your institutional supporters to see patterns and opportunities.
Journalists and others use maps to show connections between politicians, lobbyists, businesses, etc. These visual aids let the audience see the pieces simply and all at once. Nothing beats mind mapping for tracking the connections of a political scandal, the players, following the money, who owns/controls what media. This recent map shows alleged ties between the Trump team and Russia.
Put your challenge — such as raising funds or getting legislators to support a bill — in the center of the map. Create branches that explore the various to address it. You can begin in a thousand ways but if you’re stuck, ask who, what, when, where, how and why and follow those branches out. Another way to start is to make branches for the obstacles, assets, strategic allies and so on. As you develop maps with both logic and intuition new ideas will emerge.
Plan and organize a new effort
These may be the most fun, because starting something new is exciting. Whether it’s a new program, event (conference or fundraising walk) or project, mapping is a great way, especially for small groups, to think out loud. The visual aspect stimulates ideas beyond the usual brainstorming. You can see examples Here.
Develop a presentation or written project
Organize your thoughts, for a talk, a blog post, a video or even a book you’re wanting to write. At least one main branch (if not your center) could develop your call to action, what you want people to do, for example, “be inspired to volunteer,” or “value this river & protect it.” Here’s a map I made for this post and the previous post (click on map to enlarge).
Mind mapping is especially great for content creation. Whether you’re planning content for a website, upcoming magazine issues or blog posts, with mind mapping you can create the larger categories (such as feature stories, how-to’s, profiles, analysis) and work your way out to specific pieces to develop.
You can use mind maps in presentations but a word of caution: nothing can make an audience’s eyes glaze over or cause your co-workers to worry about your mental state like showing them an in-depth, complicated mind map that includes stuff they really don’t care to know. As in all communications, match your message with the audience. Simple, relevant and interesting are key.
Tell a story
Consider the power of mind mapping to understand or share a complicated story. This may sound heretical to the mind-mapping police, but you can forgo the center and follow a narrative line with branches as needed. In 2008 at Heifer International we noticed a few thousand dollars in donations coming in from the blog of best-selling fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss. We reached out and worked with him as, over years, he has raised from his fans well over $2 million for the organization. Wanting to share the story of how the effort started and grew I told it in the form of a mind map. Tell your cause’s story, from the beginning influences and founders, to current programs.
Mind mapping is a great tool so play around with it and master it. As soon as you write your theme in the center, ideas will want to come out. You’re forced to begin by thinking, what are the main branches, the general areas to explore? New branches and sub-branches will follow, sometimes slowly but more often as quickly as you can draw them. Each new node generates its own new ideas. And in real life those ideas may help you change the world!
Links related to mind mapping: