Mind mapping

by Bill Dawson on 12 October 2009

I’ve been — we’ve all been — hearing a lot about mind maps (or “idea maps”) and mind mapping software over the last few years. It seems to go hand-in-hand with things like Web 2.0, lifestyle design and — most definitely — mind hacking.

For a while now I’ve known very generally what a mind map is, but I’ve never sat down and made one in order to see whether it really “feels” like a good way to to brainstorm ideas and concepts. I quote the word “feels” because, now that I’ve just created a mind map, I can say that it “felt” easier and more natural than trying to create a structured outline. I can’t really explain why — I’ll leave that to psychologists, neurologists and professional mind hackers.

Today I finally sat down to make one after reading yet one more article about mind maps. This time the article was Nicholas Cardot’s “Accelerate Your Blog With Idea Mapping” over at sitesketch101.com. He references and recommends the web-based MindMeister, but I decided for no particular reason to find a Mac desktop alternative.

I came across MindNode and downloaded the free version. It’s extremely easy to use:

  • Start the program.
  • Type your big concept in the single field (“node”) available in the center of the screen.
  • Branch out from there by clicking the little plus (+) sign on the node.
  • Keep doing that! You can click the plus (+) sign on other nodes to break them down further.

Since I’m interested in trying out mind mapping software to help come up with blog ideas (just like Nicholas’s article suggests), my first — and, to date, only — mind map was for “German History”. (Surprise surprise!)

I typed “German History” in the center (“root”) node and stared at the screen for a while. I wasn’t sure if I’d just start branching off concepts about German History (such as, for example, “Sonderweg“) or approach it more chronologically. I chose the latter. Since lately I’ve been concentrating on the Berlin Wall over at my German History Blog, the first branch (child) node that I made was “GDR” (East Germany).

But then as I kept making nodes, I rearranged things a bit and GDR eventually became a second-level child under “2 Germanies – Cold War”.

You can see the result of about 20 minutes of mapping here (click for bigger, readable image):

Beginnings of a German History mind map

Beginnings of a German History mind map

As I stepped back and looked at this, it told me a few things:

  • Several of the nodes contain topics that I have not yet written about at German History Blog. So there are some ideas for future blog posts.
  • There are really some big holes in my knowledge, most especially the periods prior to the Weimar Era. And I know this is already reflected in my history blog. And I definitely want to correct it. So the mind map helps point out areas of further study.

The long and short of it: I will continue to use mind maps for the time being and see if it continues to “feel” natural and helpful. The version of MindNode that I’m trying out is anyway free, so I’ve got nothing to lose.

Happy Mappy,


P.S. Relatedly,I’ve also just started reading Mind Performance Hacks (affiliate link, also available at Amazon UK, Canada and Germany.) I’m still near the beginning, but I can see it is very interesting. When you get to be the ripe old age of 41, every mind hack counts!

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