A man in white strode across the town towards the coffee shop, and the turtlenecker followed. Well, the turtlenecker didn’t follow so much as walk in the same direction toward the same coffee shop some distance behind the man in white, but to the casual passerby, it sure looked like following.
The smell of brewing coffee permeated the shop as patrons chatted, turned pages, or typed on keyboards. The sounds converged to fill the air in a pleasant way and people smiled at each other as they waited in line to receive steaming beverages with a pastry or a sweet. The turtlenecker – he wore a black turtleneck shirt, dark jeans, dark shoes and sunglasses – looked at the lineup, grimaced, and slunk over to a corner table that lay open and inviting.
A cloud settled over the table as the turtlenecker pulled a Moleskine notebook and a black pen out of his black knapsack. He opened the notebook, stared at it, then scowled. He slammed the book shut and looked out the window.
“Mind if I pull up a chair, friend?” The turtlenecker started and looked toward the voice. It belonged to a man dressed completely in white, holding a white coffee cup filled with a creamy liquid. He had a white bag slung over his shoulder resting near his right hip. He smiled in a way that suggested gentleness and kindness. His hair was, of course, white.
The turtlenecker mumbled and gestured toward a chair. The man in white sat and took a quick sip of his beverage. The turtlenecker noticed that his new companion was not squeaky clean as he seemed to be. He wore a white two-piece suit and accessories, but the jacket had dirty patches and marks on it; they were subtle but unmistakable. Some of them looked like pen marks; others looked like marker strokes and dots of highlighter.
The man in white extended a hand. “Hi there. You can call me P.”
The turtlenecker’s scowl deepened briefly, then relaxed. He shook P’s hand. “I’m Randy. You know, you’re the first person I’ve met who has an initial for a name. Are you trying to channel P. Diddy or that guy from Dinosaur Jr or something?”
P chuckled. “Well, I could go by Mr. P, or Agent P for that matter, but P is good enough. Nice to meet you, Randy. What’s in the notebook?”
The scowl returned, briefly. “Oh, nothing. Just some ideas that I’ve been thinking about.”
“Are you writing a book?”
“I would be if I could actually write something that made sense. That’s not working for me right now, so I usually just sit here, stare at the pages, and try to figure out what I want to say.” Randy let out a little sigh. ”I guess I keep waiting for my forehead to bleed.”
P raised his eyebrows for a moment, then relaxed. “Do you know what you want to write about?”
“Definitely,” said Randy. “I know the big picture. I know the theme and the overall message.”
“That’s very good,” said P. “That’s more than a lot of writers.”
“But I don’t know how to turn it into an entire book. Every time I start writing my words go back and forth and in circles. I don’t seem to get anywhere. I can’t seem to get to the point.”
“Have you created an outline of what you want to write about?”
Randy snorted. “Outlines are so damn restrictive. I hate them.”
“Because I feel like I’m locked in whenever I use an outline. As soon as I think I’ve finished the outline and I start writing, I remember something new and it messes everything up.” He sounded bitter now. “I feel like I’m wrestling with my thoughts and they keep pinning me down to the mat.”
P’s smile turned sympathetic. “What would you say if I could give you a tool to help you figure out what you want to write about before you start writing or even before you start making an outline?”
Randy looked interested. “Sure. What do you mean?”
“I’ll show you. Just a moment.” P pulled a laptop computer out of his bag and powered it on. He typed and clicked on the touchpad, then turned the computer around so that the screen faced toward Randy.
Randy looked at the screen and saw a colorful diagram. There was a large circle in the middle of the screen with lines, boxes, and lots of words filling the screen, all connected back to the central circle.
“What is that?” said Randy. “It looks… complicated…”
“It’s the tool that I was talking about,” said P. “I’m guessing that you’ve never seen a mind map before.”
“I’ve heard of them but I thought they were something scientific.”
“Randy, I think that a mind map is just what you need to develop your ideas and write that book.” He pointed at the screen. “This diagram is a mind map that I created to plan a project that I’m working on. It contains all of the key pieces of work that we need to do. When you solve problems for a living, you need to be able to thoughtwrestle and get your ideas into shape.”
“Maybe we can discuss that some other time. Let’s stick with the mind map.” P pointed to the central circle. “This is the subject of the mind map. As it so happens, I’m working with some other people to do an online publishing project. It’s about doing creative work.”
Randy nodded. “OK, go on.”
“Mind mapping is quite a powerful technique. Bloggers at websites like Problogger and Remarkablogger, which publish a lot of online content, use mind maps to organize their thoughts and plan out their activities. Another well known blogger, Chris Brogan, uses mind maps to help plan out business ideas.”
“How do you use them?”
The way you use them is fairly simple. You start with your central topic – which you already know. You can take a piece of paper and put that topic, hopefully no more than a three word description, in a circle at the center of the page. Then you write down everything that you can think of about the topic. Write these things (again, no more than three words per item) all around the central circle. This is the starting point for your mind map.”
“Sounds easy enough,” said Randy.
“Once you get everything that you can think of on paper, read through it all. See if things relate to each other. As you go through your ideas, you should be able to see groups of related things that you can put together under headings. You can use colors and lines to connect things that are related. You may want to redraw the mind map a few times to get things sorted out. You want to take the big pieces of content that related to your main topic and then list all of the related attributes. It will sort of look like a tree with branches radiating from the centre.”
“Is there an app for this?” Randy’s comment might have been the first humorous comment that he’d made all day.
“Sure, a few dozen at least. However, you might benefit from doing it by hand a few times. Some people include pictures with their mind maps to make them easier to understand, but it’s not necessary.”
Randy frowned again. “OK, I get this funky diagram at the end of this process. Then what?”
“If you’ve gone through it enough times, you’ve got your book.”
“The mind map contains all of the key things that you’re going to write about in your book and it shows how they all relate to each other,” said P. “You can use it to develop a fantastic outline for the book you’re going to write. Or, if you’re comfortable enough with the map, you can just refer to it as you write.”
Randy looked skeptical. “I dunno, this seems pretty simple to me.”
P nodded. “Yes, it’s a simple tool. But, like many great tools, it works because it makes it simpler and easier to do difficult work. And it really works.”
P nodded again. “Give it a try. What have you got to lose?”
Randy thought for a moment, then shrugged. “Why not? I’m not getting anywhere with the way I’m doing things now. Thanks, P.”
“You’re welcome,” said P. He reached into his pocket and took out a white business card with a red logo and some writing on it.
Randy looked at the card. “PSA?”
“That’s the organization that I work with. Give me a call or send me an E-Mail if you have any questions.”
Randy smiled, but the smile quickly faded. “Thanks but there’s one thing I don’t understand. Why are you helping me?”
A sad look briefly played across P’s face, but vanished. “Because I believe that we’re all here on this planet to help each other. I have a feeling that your book will be very good, possibly even great, so I’d like to help you make it happen.”
Randy got up. “I’m going to head out. I need a quieter place to work on this mind map.”
P stood as well. “Well, good luck. Please, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, for any reason.” He shook Randy’s hand again. “Namaste.”
Smiling, Randy shook his head and left.
P sat down, typed on his keyboard, and paused to sip from his cup. It was a good start to the day.
# # #
We hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to mind mapping, yet another Thoughtwrestling Move. Are mindmaps part of your toolbox? Here’s a more visual example of how to make a mind map.
PS: here are two key references if you want to find out more about mind mapping: Chuck Frey’s Mind Mapping Software Blog (Chuck also runs Innovation Tools, another great website) and ThinkBuzan (by Tony Buzan, the person who coined the phrase mind map). We’ve also created a post on how to use mind maps for problem solving.
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Images by cambodia4kidsorg
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