Creating Greatness in Your Work

Ideating with Mind Maps

Written by Pam Lefkowitz on June 23, 2022

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You’re having a casual conversation. You and your buddy are talking about some cool new tech. Next thing you know you’re talking about some great cheesecake you had for dessert last night and minutes later you’re on to the topic of adopting a dog. Happens to everyone. No? Just me?

I have disorganized thinking when it comes to being creative. Well, not “disorganized’ exactly. More like transient. Fluid. Distracted. Abstracted. Maybe bemused or ruffled. I’m searching for a positive-sounding word here – give me a minute. ANYhowwww, the point is, if my thoughts were a picture it would look a lot like if someone threw a plate of spaghetti at the wall. This is a beast that needs taming if I’m going to produce what I need to produce at work.

What I Tried

I tried outlining.

I tried lists.

I tried recording notes.

I tried calendaring and using reminders.

If it works for you – yay. None of that worked for me. And I suspect you or others on your teams are in the same spot. Why I thought this would be different when moving to employment from owning my own business is beyond me. Hope springs eternal, I guess.

How The Tools Work

Lists are just that – lists of things you need to do. A checklist. While a seriously valuable tool when it comes to deploying products, it’s a less good tool for freeing up the mind to make unusual and imaginative connections.

Recordings – I thought that dictating notes would allow my brain to move at the speed it’s used to, rather than being bogged down in my fingers trying to keep up with my thoughts. For a way to ideate, it wasn’t a great tool for me. But when I need to write more than simple one-liners, using speech recognition to flesh out ideas is a worthwhile exercise. Though I will admit that sometimes the results come out looking…well, you’ve dictated stuff, you know how this goes. It’s like writing down notes when you wake up with an idea in the middle of the night. Can you read it? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s nearly always entertaining.

Using my calendar and reminders apps works well if I want to make sure I do specific things at specific times. It’s not really great for ideating except where setting aside uninterrupted time is concerned. And there is great value in setting your phone in Focus mode and scheduling in uninterruptible time. 

That said, one of the best things I ever did for my business was learn to mind map. I had played around with a mapping app and thought it was cool for a couple of clients of mine who were trying to expand their businesses. But, in true “shoemaker’s children” fashion, I didn’t think to use it for my own business. :facepalm:

And then one day I got a case of stuckbrain while brainstorming business improvements. I shouldn’t even call it brainstorming since it was marginally more than a drizzle. “What would I tell <client> if they were in this situation?” I asked myself. 

I’d tell them to take a walk to clear the air and then use the other side of their brain. 

What is a Mind Map?

A mind map is a visual representation of your thought process. This is a representation of my thought process. I definitely needed to get it under control so I turned to mind maps.

from random thought to idea - never a straight line

You can certainly do a map on paper. In fact, if you’re just looking for organized visualization in an appealing final product, this is fine. Using markers or colored pencils gives you all the mindful benefits of handwriting and coloring. 

But if your brain fires off ideas like a July 4th fireworks finale, you’ll want an app to help you out. I have used a few of them. The first one I used was NovaMind. It was at the beginning of the mind mapping movement. I used it for years.

I switched to SimpleMind when I got an iPad Pro and wanted to map on my iPad, thereby combining the handwriting aspect with the ease of quick creation aspect. I was able to share maps with clients on all platforms, which made this a tool that I could use to show clients that I had business value beyond just “fixing a computer.” 

The idea is that you start with a central thought. That thought branches out into other thoughts (parent or topic). Some branches are intrinsically related (children or subtopic) and some are simply other ideas around the central thought (parent). Maps can take any shape – circular, org chart, family tree, etc – and can be color customized to coordinate with branches or levels of depth. The idea is that everything in a map is associated with a central idea.

Isn’t a Mind Map Just Another Flowchart?

A mind map is not a flowchart. They are distinctly different tools. A flowchart is a path, a sequence from point A to point Z while a map is a visualization of your related but isolated thoughts. You can be working in multiple parts of the map at the same time or in one part individually, without impacting other parts of the map.

A flowchart uses a prescribed system of symbols. A mind map is free-flowing and lets the user move items to where they make the most sense on the “page”. Fully customizable, it works like your brain works…messy, but in an organized way. Below are some examples of mind maps. Many of the companies developing these apps have examples and templates on their sites so you can have a springboard if your stuck spot is simply getting started.

mind map mind map
mind mapmind map
mind map

How Will Mind Mapping Change My Life?

The object of good tools is to make your life better. You own a framing hammer because using a ball peen hammer isn’t the right tool when you’re framing a house. You own a proper directory because securely managing your users’ identities shouldn’t be left up to chance. 

Once you start using mind maps, you’ll find that Mind mapping is a natural way to build an idea. Whether that idea is managing your IT Department’s tech plan, broadening your MSP business offerings, or planning out your year’s vacations, embracing the mind map will help you plan and organize your ideas. Jump right into the fray – once you start mapping, you’ll find each successive attempt gets easier and each map becomes more intricate as your ideation process becomes more fluid and expansive. It’s really a rather addictive process.

Once I embraced the idea of a mind map, I unleashed some latent creativity. Something about the process loosened up the stuck bits and let me just ideate. Before I knew it, I had a very intricate, robust map of all the things I was going to offer current and future clients. And my brain didn’t feel like I had done a lot of work. I felt energized and productive.

How are you ideating your next big IT project? How are you ideating your growing business offerings? The world is like going up a down escalator – if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards. There is no resting on your laurels. Come talk about growth and project planning in the JumpCloud Community.

Pam Lefkowitz

Pam is an IT Columnist at JumpCloud where she uses her experience as a consultant and MSP to write about IT admin life and tech. Outside of (remote) work hours, she spends her time with her dog, visiting her kids across the country, and being creative with fiber.

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