A mind map is a visual outline with the central box as the top-level idea, topics as bullets below it, sub-topics as elements of each bullet, and so on.
A mind map is a very efficient way to record ideas during a brainstorming session and to organize them into a coherent plan, afterwards.
Why use a mind map instead of an outline? Mind maps are better than outlines because:
They are easier to read than bulleted lists
They are better for brainstorming
They are much more interesting than bullets when presenting your ideas in a PowerPoint® presentation
They are much more spatially efficient since you can branch out your ideas horizontally (lists grow mostly vertically)
Mind maps let you see what you're thinking; bulleted lists don't convey ideas with the same level of clarity as a mind map
2. How to create a mind map
Let's use the launch of a new product as an example:
Step 1. Start with a Few Initial "Big Topics."
This product is going to be handled by a reseller channel. The big topics are:
Recruiting the resellers
Creating sales collaterals they can use
Generating customer leads for them
Using PR to increase awareness about the product
Step 2. Refine each "Big Topic" with a few Specific "Areas of Interest."
We took the original list and expanded on each node with a few increasingly specified subtopics; here's how our mind map appears in outline format:
Go to Market Plan
E-mail to list
See how we have much more space to get information across when we use a mind map? Now we're going to take it one step further.
Step 3. Refine, Add More Subtopics, then Repeat.
You can keep iterating through subtopics until you have covered the full set of possible topics. A bulleted list with this much content would become less and less legible, but a mind map remains manageable.
3. How to use a mind map to get projects done
In our example, we used a mind map to identify all the work involved in our product launch plan. The next step, to actually get these projects done, is to:
Convert your mind map into an actionable project plan. Each of the main topics in our map can be considered a top-level task in a product launch project. The sub-topics are sub-tasks. The mind map can then be considered a blueprint for completing the project.
To get the project started and manage it through completion, we need to view the tasks in the context of a project plan. Here's how:
Make each box in your mind map a line item in the second column of your project chart. Use the first column to number your tasks and sub tasks as shown below. Then add start dates and task durations.
(SmartDraw converts your mind map to a project chart automatically with a single mouse-click. You can also toggle between mind map and project chart views for easy editing.)
is a professor of English at Central Connecticut State University and the host of "Frank, Gil, and Friends" on Tuesday mornings on WFCS 107.7 FM New Britain/Hartford and www.wfcsradio1077.com. Raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, he earned his H.A.B. and M.A. degrees at Xavier University and his Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America. His books on Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra belie his academic interests in American Puritans (like Cotton Mather and Edward Taylor) and the late 18th-century writers The Connecticut Wits. He has been married for 25+ years, has two daughters.