Thank you to everyone who has written either to me or in their blogs asking why it had gone all quiet. There's no particular reason other than there is always something that can be put ahead of blogging on the list. So with apologies to everyone who is actually waiting for something important, Beyond Crayons is back on line again.
What makes a "good" shared mind map? When I run advanced MindManager sessions I often show the participants Elaine Colliar's double gold medal-winning map "Indonesia". You could not hope to find a more beautifully drawn and rich map, full of imagery, texture and detail. I have no doubt that every time Elaine looks at it, happy memories and feelings come flooding back. I only wish I had been there too, so that I could get the same effect. But it doesn't remind me of anything. I'm not being critical or small-minded about Mind Mapping here, just demonstrating a fact.
You can easily create the same effect yourself. Take a project or business situation that you care about and know intimately, and craft a comprehensive software map that concisely reflects the issues, nuances, factors, threats and opportunities that the project faces. It's pretty much guaranteed that you will also gain valuable new insights as a by-product of this process. Then present this map to your board of directors, ideally including some who have not seen mind mapping before. When you look at the screen, you will be seeing a clear and finely tuned analysis of your project. Your audience will be staring at a beautifully drawn and rich map, full of imagery, texture and detail. What they think they are looking at is a scary glimpse into your private genius, bordering on lunacy. But rather than challenge you over it, they will mumble things like "My brain just doesn't work like that", or "I'm a list person myself". Once they assume that it is incomprehensible to them, that becomes an unshakeable self-fulfilling prophecy.
One of the biggest self-imposed challenges of software mind mapping is that it gets conveniently labelled as a "personal technique". Software mind mapping is used by some of the best thinkers in organisations, but its effective range is often measured in centimetres, not even reaching to the next desk. It's no less a personal technique than word processing, but for some reason is more susceptible to this alleged weakness than most tools. When your boss suggests that you sharpen up your project management skills, you could look pensive for a moment and tell him that you can see how it might work as a personal technique, but most people are happier with crises, long hours and witch hunts.
What is really happening here is that people instinctively develop defence mechanisms to avoid asking "dumb" questions. You just might be glad of that. Suppose that in a break with tradition one of your colleagues was smart enough to say, "It looks like a lot of thought has gone into that picture, and I'm convinced it contains a lot of valuable information and ideas. Please could you show us how to interact with it constructively?" So you spend the next thirty minutes explaining the objectives, relationships and concepts. After they have finished saying "Ah" and "I see", then someone will undoubtedly ask "So why didn't you just say that in the first place?" Telling them that your intention was to save time and increase understanding might just melt your last snowflake of credibility. I have talked to many people who have been "burned" this way. The lucky ones manage to recover so that by the end of the meeting they have got back to where they should have started from. Everyone concludes that software mind mapping is indeed a personal technique, for different reasons.
So back to the original question: what makes a "good" shared map? Given that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what I am looking for in any map is me. Selfish and parochial, I know, but true. If I can place an anchor in there that I do know something about, then my ignorance about how the rest of it works becomes relative, not absolute. Your audience are no different.
If you want to wow your audience with the power of software mind maps, then don't try to wow them with the power of software mind maps. Don't use dynamite - use wedges, and tap them home gently. Let your audience create their own momentum.
- Ideally, create the map in front of them, using their words, not yours.
- Make sure you use their names in the map in a context that they can relate to or have an opinion about. We are pre-programmed to recognise and respond to our names.
- Never show your audience the whole map at a level of magnification that makes the text illegible. This highly gratifying self-indulgence should be reserved for special moments alone. You can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory this way. I know, I've done it.
- If you are working with a map that has been prepared beforehand, then reveal it in layers, building it up each time. Don't rush ahead if people are frowning. When they ask for "more detail" it often means they are still searching for something to link into their own frame of reference, and develop meaning from.
Once the concepts of mapping have "clicked" with your audience, you can probably go much further than you ever would have dared with a straight presentation. In fact, you may even struggle to keep control. After a session where we planned out a moderately complex project for a company, one of the directors told me that he never realised how much knowledge and experience his colleague really had. That achievement was reached through a steady building of trust, not with a flash of brilliance.
Lastly, for the many people who have asked, I will try to add some examples of the various types of maps in a future post.