Lost for a Solution to a Business Challenge? Try Mind Mapping.
By Stephanie Schus, SCORE LA Certified Mentor
Mind Mapping is an easy and fun technique, proven to generate lots of ideas quickly. It can be applied to a wide range of challenges, such as naming a business or a brand, finding ways to reach more of your customers, developing seasonal promotions, etc.
Tony Buzan developed Mind Mapping in the early 1970s to help people take notes more effectively. He soon realized this versatile tool has many applications, from helping with writers’ block to organizing a project. Buzan understood people don’t think in a linear manner, but in associations. That is, one thought a person has will trigger lots of associated thoughts from that initial one. A Mind Map enables you to capture both the initial ideas as well as associated ideas.
This article offers an adaptation of Buzan’s concept you can use for brain storming whatever challenge you need to solve.
Successful Mind Mapping can be done individually as well as in a group. I tend to believe that for generating solutions, more heads are better than one, so this article outlines how to Mind Map in a group – preferably a group not larger than six people.
Just as a Brainstorming Session needs to have a designated facilitator, a Mind Mapping session also needs a person to lead. Generally, this person will not add their ideas to those of the others, but if the group is only 3 people, the facilitator may also want to contribute ideas.
It’s important to inform the participants exactly what will be the focus of the idea generation session. Adding some background information will also help put the focus in context and make the session more productive.
At the start of the session, the leader gives each participant a sheet of paper with an
oval drawn in the center. The topic the group will be working on is written inside the oval — e.g., Brand Name; New Income Sources; etc. Alternately, each person can draw the oval on a blank piece of paper and write in the topic themselves.
To get things going, a warm-up exercise is useful to show how the process works, particularly for participants who have not done a Mind Map before. Choose a whimsical topic, such as a wild animal or a flower or a celebrity and go through Steps 1 & 2 before tackling the primary focus for the session.
Step 1: For two minutes, each participant randomly writes around the center oval words and short phrases that come to mind when they think of the specific topic.
IMPORTANT: this step should be done without talking.
The goal is to capture each person’s top-of-mind associations.
There are obviously no right or wrong words and people shouldn’t hesitate to write down something even if they think it seems odd. The important thing is that each participant’s own thoughts regarding the topic are noted. They also shouldn’t be concerned if a word is written more than once on their sheet.
Step 2: After everyone has completed Step 1, all words and phrases on the individual mind maps get written on a collective mind map – a large version of the original blank Mind Map. The “compiler” asks each person to say out loud what s/he had written, writing each thought randomly on the larger Group Mind Map.
If more than one participant has written down the same word or phrase, the leader adds check marks to indicate how many times it was written. These thoughts are especially useful, as they suggest the strongest associations and ideas people have for the topic.
Since this was simply a warm-up, you can stop here, allowing the group to see the shared and diverse associations generated so quickly.
Attention can now turn to the primary challenge the group is to solve, making this the focus of the exercise by repeating Steps 1 and 2 as in the warm-up.
Upon completion of the Group Mind Map, consider eliciting opinions from group members. The person who convened the Mind Mapping session can then decide if this first go-round produced a satisfactory solution(s), perhaps by combining 2 or more of the ideas.
In most cases, however, it is advantageous to continue the Mind Mapping process with each of the most promising solutions. Doing a separate Mind Map for each one, often leads to an even better solution(s). This is because the initial Mind Map often elicits the most obvious responses. Making this a reiterative process tends to elevate everyone’s thinking. At this point, a favored solution(s) should have emerged. Even if it isn’t perfect, it should provide a direction to pursue.
With this Mind Mapping technique in your problem-solving bag of tricks, you will have a path to solving a wide variety of challenges, either business or personal.
See for yourself — take five minutes and try it today.