A Tool for How the Mind Works

And now for something completely different.

We do a lot of brainstorming ... projects, problems, reports, how to communicate a difficult idea. And we're pretty visual folks around here; we work best when we can "see" how our thoughts relate.

A while back, I wrote an article about the top ten application toolsthat consistently made our day. MindJet's MindManagerwas (and still is) on the list. It's the tool that lets us develop our ideas and visually map out plans of action on the spot, then share those creations with others.

Given our happy experience, I'd love to turn you on to mind-mapping. We mentioned the program to our colleague, Fredric Gluck, who was so thrilled, he wrote up this review so I could share his (and our) enthusiasm. Think of this as one of my very few word-of-mouth spots!1

MindJet Mind Manager Pro 6

I've been mind mapping for quite a while, first using paper and pencil and later, integrating mind mapping as a tool in my computing environment.

For those of you who aren't familiar with mind mapping, it is a thinking and brainstorming technique made famous by Tony Buzan and Barry Buzan and described in their book "The Mind Map® Book". Their basic premise is that our brains organize thoughts in an interlocking "web" where one thought is connected to many other thoughts and ideas, which, in turn are connected to many others.

Buzan suggests the way we are taught to think in school - in an outline form - is not the most effective way to brainstorm, formulate and track ideas. Mind mapping is a better solution because it works more like your mind works, and it allows you to incorporate visual cues (images, colors, shapes, icons) in your map.

What I love about mind mapping in an electronic environment is the fact that an electronic mind map can be made to be "link rich" - not only with links to other ideas but also to documents, web sites or images. In fact, a "life mind map" can become your interface to the on-line world. It truly allows you to combine the right and left sides of your brain to organize your thoughts and ideas.

Mindjet MindManager 6 is a sophisticated, well integrated, well built application that allows you to create mind maps. In fact, you can create an entire user interface around the mind map methodology. Its biggest benefit is that it understands and leverages the software environment in which it exists - MS Office, RSS feeds, local file systems - so that mind maps no longer represent a static point in time, but can be used to represent "your world" in an orderly, understandable way.

The user interface for this product is clean, friendly and familiar. The designers obviously wanted a tightly integrated look and feel with the Microsoft Office Suite, which allows the first time user to start using the product quickly and configure it to match all the preferences and options you are used to dealing with.

Valuable software features

Notes: MindJet Mind Manager 6 allows you to create notes (through the use of a very functional word processor) that you can associate with a node. This outstanding feature gives you the ability to add research notes to a specific topic and sub topic. This is an especially useful tool for taking notes in meetings or for writers who use Mind Manager 6 to research and write articles. Notes show up as flyover boxes when your cursor hovers over a node, which makes for a great quick review of the details of any node.

MapParts: MapParts allow you to create "templates" that are part of maps then insert them at some note. For example, if you are planning a meeting, you can insert a pre-defined portion of a map by choosing and clicking on a "meeting" map part.

The software comes with some pre-defined map parts but it also allows you to define, re-use and distribute your own map parts such as links to a range in an Excel spread sheet, and links to a number of Outlook objects such as Appointments, Contacts and Notes. You can define a new contact as a node and have the contact information inserted into Outlook. This makes an interesting way of classifying who you know based on many different criteria and illustrates the deep integration with MS Office.

One of the most useful and forward looking parts of MapParts are RSS feeds. This feature allows you to insert an RSS feed as a node that be updated whenever the map is opened. With this feature, the mind map becomes a true living "document" that changes and updates as the world around it changes. The software comes with a few pre-defined RSS map parts as examples and it was easy to define and incorporate three or four of my own "favorite" feeds.

Collapsing Nodes: This feature lets you collapse and subsequently expand entire branches of your mind map. Since mind maps can become large and complicated (they can extend forever in all directions), collapsing lets you display and print your maps more easily.

Look and Feel of Your Map: Mind mapping is all about creativity. When moving from paper to computer screen, it is important to retain the capability to leverage the artistic side of the brain as part of learning with mind maps. On paper, you use colored pencils, different shapes etc to help make your mind maps an effective memory tool. In a software package, you want the same thing.

Mind Manager 6 gives you a wide range of options so your mind maps can look exactly the way you want them to. Options include color, text size, lines and connector shapes.

Presentation Mode: I have never used my laptop and a mind map to deliver a presentation but with the full screen, presentation mode, you can open a "fly-through" of the entire map level by level. This is similar to using a Power Point presentation but more suited for speaking at a "mind map" level.

Is it for you?

If you have been using mind mapping for presentations, writing, brainstorming, task management and planning, I would highly recommend giving Mind Manager 6 a try. If you have never tried mind mapping, a trial version of Mind Manager 6 is well worth it and would allow you quickly to explore if mind mapping works for you.

I would also highly recommend a session on the MindJet web site to get familiar with mind mapping, the software and to look at many of the sample mind maps posted on the site.

Mind mapping is not for everyone, but for those who really need to "supercharge" their brainstorming and thinking about everything from E-commerce site planning, to writing, to note taking, I can see Mind Manager 6 becoming as much a part of your standard office suite as your word processor and spreadsheet.

1 Cross my heart! Future Now, Inc. is in no way affiliated with MindJet.  We just number ourselves among MindJet's fandom.

Fredric Gluck is with MarketThink, a company offering online and ecommerce marketing solutions.

Volume 126: 3/1/06


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