People have been using visual systems to organise their notes for thousands of years, with Tony Buzan laying claim to the term Mind Mapping for his system of organising notes using a tree like structure with branches radiating from a central theme.
In this example a group of children are asked what they would do with an iPod touch. Using this as their central theme the mind map radiates out across a number of branches like ‘games’, ‘internet’ or interestingly ‘jailbreak’. As each branch is explored, related ideas are added in words or pictures, using a kind of free flow process of word association to capture related information.
As the mind map develops, the structure emerges and an easy to navigate visual map of the idea space emerges. Mind maps are often used to organise notes without having to follow the more restrictive structure of unstructured lists or simple tables.
The Buzan site also lists some more interesting case studies to show how others have used mind maps:
- Mindmaps to develop government proposals: An iterative process is used with splinter groups breaking out and reconvening to improve mind maps over a 3 day period. Incubation periods between sessions allow participants to ‘sleep on it’ for improved creativity. The physical environment has also been set up with multiple whiteboards and wall space to encourage a deep level of mind mapping.
- Mindmaps for business planning: an accounting firm use a multi-layered structure to organise and hyperlink multiple mind maps, one for the priorities and plans for each department in an accounting firm. The setup resembles a mind map wiki.
- Mindmaps for collaboration in strategy development: mind maps are used to capture and structure session notes as they go along, instead of putting everything on flip charts/post its and writing it up at the end. Note: whilst this sounds appealing, it might lack the multi-user participation of a large post it free for all since only one person can edit the mind map at a time.
But what if you don’t know the structure, or just feel like being a bit more expressive artistically? In this TED talk, Sunni Brown spreads the word about doodling as a valid means of communication, and not just meaningless images scratched out in classroom exercise books.
Taking doodling a step further Sunni has developed Gamestorming, a formal approach to visual note taking. In collaboration with Business Model Generation, the art of doodling is now being applied to the smash hit framework for innovating your business model.
Have a look at this doodle version of Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED talk on creativity (not) in our schools: