Saturday, February 16, 2013

MindNode Makes Mind Mapping a Mind-Blower

Mind mapping - the process of visualizing ideas and information in much the same way that people think - has evolved from pencil and paper to digital methods. The new MindNode Pro app for Mac, however, makes mind maps easier to navigate with features that play into our media-rich, link-embedding, social-sharing era of computing.

Mind maps don't have anything to do with identifying the contours of your brain -- although they may give you an inkling about how your mind works.

At the heart of a mind map is the idea that we don't think in rigid hierarchies. The old-fashioned tree outline with heads, subheads and so forth can nicely organize a theme, document or white paper, but it isn't how people think or the way the brain works.

We don't think in straight lines. Our ideas tend to radiate from each other -- more like a net than a strand of rope.

That's where mind maps enter the picture. They can help you create the framework for a project in a way that's closer to the way you think.

Before computers had good graphics support, people created mind maps with paper and pencils. Pencils were a key component, as lots of erasing could be involved. Even then, a mind map could be decipherable only to its creator.

Enter the Computer

Computers have greatly improved the task of creating mind maps. Not only have they improved our ability to create more legible maps, but they've opened up the process to collaboration, something impossible in the pencil and paper age.

All the advantages computers bring to the mind mapping process can be seen in MindNode Pro (US$19.99) for the Mac.

MindNode allows you to quickly and easily create new nodes -- the spokes on the hub of your idea -- as well as create cross connections between nodes.

Back in the pencil-and-paper days, the nodes, siblings and children consisted of words. Everything was flat and two dimensional.

With MindNode, you can embellish an element in your mind map in ways that not only enhance the look of it, but make it leap into cyberspace.

Media Galore

You can add media to your maps. If you created a map of your family tree, for instance, you could display a photo with each family member in the tree.

For easy access to images, audio and movies, MindNode has a media button on its toolbar. Clicking it displays a window that gives you access to folders on your Mac where media reside.

For example, you can access your iTunes library directly through the media window. When you see an audio file, image or even video needed to illustrate an element of your mind map, you can drag it from the window to the map.

Links can also be added to elements. A reference to a court decision on a map designed to explain a public policy issue, for instance, could contain a link to a PDF file of the actual decision stored on your computer, or to a site on the Web containing the document.

Size Matters

While computer mind maps have a lot of advantages over paper ones, one area where digital maps fell down was size. Large sheets of paper cost a lot less than large computer screens. Also, when a map starts getting cramped on a sheet of paper, you can just tape another sheet to it.

MindNode addresses the size issue by giving you an infinitely sized canvas for your maps. If your map expands past the edge of the MindNode window, the program just slides left, right, up or down to accommodate the expansion.

The expanded canvas works nicely with a trackpad because you can slide around the canvas effortlessly.

MindNode, which runs on OS X 10.7.3 or later, also supports Lion's full screen mode, so not only can you get the maximum area for your mind map, but you can block out all desktop distractions to your brainstorming as well.

Mess Begone

Those messy mind maps from the bad old pencil-and-paper days are gone with MindNode, which has a number of organizational features to create cleaner maps.

If you need to remove some map clutter from sight, you can hide nodes with a single click.

You can edit your map on the fly by grabbing nodes and dragging them anywhere on the screen.

Grabbing and dragging nodes, however, can be inadequate if your map gets too complicated. MindNode thought of that; it has an auto-organize feature that will clean up things for you without your intervention.

Your map's organization can also be aided by customizing your nodes with the many choices of colors, fonts and stroke width offered by MindNode.

More Than Sharing Photocopies

With paper mind maps, sharing usually meant photocopying your map and circulating it to your colleagues. That just won't do in the age of the social web.

MindNode lets your share your maps on your local network with your other iOS devices. MindNode's makers, IdeasOnCanvas, also makes versions of the program for the iPhone and iPad.

You can also export maps created with the software into other formats, such as PDF, FreeMind and OPML, or as a PNG or TIFF image file. You can even export it as a text outline in RTF.

MindNode is a great example of how a computer has taken a productive tool for brainstorming - the mind map - and made it a robust powerhouse.

Read complete at

Monday, February 11, 2013

Mapping out presentations, documents and research

Quite a while ago, in the ancient times when I worked at Digital Equipment Corporation, I was introduced to a technique, called mind mapping, as part of a "Digital Management Education" course on business planning. It's been part of my daily work ever since.  I was presenting from a mind map recently. A session attendee came up afterwards and commented on my single-page "script" that allowed me to present a two-hour session.

I've spoken with a potential client from the back seat of a taxi while on the way to that company's office and used a hastily created mindmap to present exactly what information they were seeking moments later. Once mastered, this is a surprisingly fast tool for planning, research and content creation.

What is mind mapping?

Mind mapping is a technique of visual diagramming that is designed to help people outline concepts, individual components of those concepts, and link one concept to another. Proponents would suggest that this technique ties the analytical and visual portions of the brain together.

These diagrams can be as simple as a branching tree or complex works of art. The most complex of these diagrams look like flowing, organic webs of information, colors and pictures.  Since I'm often under pressure to produce results very quickly, I keep mine pretty simple.

I use this approach to planning out documents, presentations, projects and the like.  I've learned that audiences often respond better to seeing a compressed and unfolding mind map on the screen rather than being subjected to yet another PowerPoint deck.

Try searching for "mind maps examples" or "mind maps" using the image search of your favorite search engine to see examples.

Mind Mapping Tools
I've used quite a number of tools over the years. Some were quite expensive and offered tight integration with Microsoft Office. Open source tools now exist that link easily with OpenOffice or LibreOffice. These tools allowed me to map out my thoughts and observations and quickly turn them into a presentation deck or paper.

Although not an exhaustive list, here are a few that I've used:

  • MindManager by MindJet — This tool is very powerful and is relatively expensive. It links with several project management tools and Microsoft Office. A "cloud-based" collaboration tool is offered that makes it possible for groups to plan out projects together.
  • Inspiration — This was the first mind mapping tool I used. It was a Mac-only tool in those ancient times. Today, it appears to be targeting academic environments and students.
  • FreeMind — This is an open source tool that executes in Java. It is available for just about every personal computing environment, UNIX workstations and Smartphones and Tablets. It links nicely with OpenOffice and LibreOffice. These presentations and documents can be converted to the formats used by Microsoft Office.
  • FreePlane — This is a fork of FreeMind that appeared when development on FreeMind slowed. It has all of the capabilities of FreeMind.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Mapping the potential of the human mind

Ajay was sitting in the economics class. Prof Bhushan was delivering a lecture on market structures. His lecture was interesting, informative and interactive.

Ajay was stimulated by the ideas being proposed and discussed and he began actively participating. Four weeks later, when internal exams were over, the results surprised both the Professor and his student. Prof Bhushan called Ajay to his cabin and gently asked "Ajay! I expected you to be in the top ten in the class! What happened? Any problem?"

Ajay responded, "I am surprised too sir! I thought I had understood all you said. I do remember many examples you have given as well. But as you have pointed out in my paper, my answers were not balanced between theory and examples. I had many new ideas in the class. I was confused. I guess there was too much information and too less time to think and answer."

Challenging Task
The daunting task of note taking for a student involves several challenges outlined below:
n  There is too much of information to handle from various sources. It’s often required to systematically organize information to write an exam or to participate in a discussion.

-  There is often the question of focus. Where should the student focus in the class? On writing notes or on listening to the lecture!

-  How can one keep track of one's own ideas and questions?

-  How can one keep updating the information as and when they find new information, new links and add new ideas throughout the learning period?

These challenges usually make the student to resort to short cuts such as memorising and reading from handbooks. As a result learning becomes routine and boring. These practices in the long-run erode the teacher-student relationship. What is needed, therefore, is a tool that can keep the creative potential of the student alive and at the same time be useful for note taking.

The Concept

Tony Buzan, in 1970s', introduced the concept of mind mapping for taking down notes in a quick manner. The technique was to begin with a central idea written down at the center of a page. Various thoughts about the core idea are then drawn as branches.

Thoughts and ideas about a specific branch are recorded as sub-branches leading out from the main branches. Associations across branches can be made to allow for forming relationships amongst various thoughts.

So, by being skilled in the art of mind mapping, students can capture key information in the class, while being focused on listening and participating. They can follow their own line of thinking and continue expanding on it after the class. They can connect different concepts and help themselves to discover new knowledge. Their discussions with their teachers and co-students can be much more meaningful and satisfactory.

The process of mind mapping

A mind map usually begins with a "Central Idea" or "Theme" with branches flowing out of it. Each branch represents a distinct sub-theme of the central idea. For example, the teacher might have started the class saying, "Today, we are going to talk about job analysis and its utility."

So, the map would begin by writing "Job Analysis" in the center of the sheet and then circling it. Then as the class progresses sub-themes are added.

The teacher might have given the components of the job analysis, discussed the steps required to carry out Job Analysis, and its applications in organizations.

To capture the above information, a branch from the central theme is drawn and labeled "Components". The branch line is thicker when it begins on the circle and gradually thins out as it ends. All branches and sub-branches follow the same pattern.

Different colours for different branches can be used to make the map more meaningful and creative. Coming back to the example, as there are many components, each component can be represented on a sub-branch, flowing out of the main branch.

To capture more information about each component, further sub-branches can be drawn. Similarly the “Steps “and “Applications” can be drawn as main branches and sub-branches can be added to extend more information. More branches can be added to capture new ideas, questions and other information.

Now, you may find that a concept that is presently being discussed is related to some other concept discussed earlier. To capture this, the two linked concepts are identified and are connected with a dotted line. A label is added to that relationship to describe the nature of relationship.

To add more meaning and creativity to the map, different colours can be used. Pictures that are descriptive of the key-words can also be added. Though, there is actually no end to when a map can be complete, it can capture enough information to use for reference, not only to do preparatory work, but also for exams.

Other uses for students

-  Exam preparation:
Once the mind maps of your subjects are ready, its easier to prepare for exams. To master the content, simply re-drawing the mind map and comparing it with the original will clearly show where gaps exist.

A question paper can be taken and the map can be examined to see if it contains information required to answer all the questions.

If not, such information can be added from various sources. There is no need to carry heavy notes and books to the examination centre.

-  Preparing presentations:
Mind maps can be used to bring in originality and creativity to presentations. Apart from the content, branches that outline key notes about the audience, the time to be spent on each topic, the goals of the presenter, and much more information can be captured.

Original ideas and points of discussion can be brought out on separate branches. As the discussion progresses during the presentation, it can be dynamically added to the mind map.

Who Uses Mind Maps?

Managers use mind maps as a tool to document brain-storming sessions and managing long meetings. Writers capture their plot ideas for their stories.

Lawyers and doctors have extensively used this technique for capturing their analyses and diagnoses. Teachers use it to plan their classes.

Other Uses of Mind Maps

Mind maps can be used for several purposes apart from taking notes. The following are some of the uses that people around the world have found for mind maps:

  • Problem solving 
  • Outline / framework design
  • Anonymous collaboration
  • Marriage of words and visuals
  • Individual expression of creativity
  • Condensing material into a concise and memorable format
  • Team building or synergy creating activity
  • Enhancing work morale