10 powerful but little-known capabilities of mind mapping software for business
Many business people I talk to are aware of mind mapping software, but have never used it. More importantly, their perception of what it can do for them significantly lags the reality of what it is and what it can do for you today.
Many executives are well aware of mind mapping’s reputation as a brainstorming tool, but that’s the extent of their knowledge about it. Because they don’t need new ideas every day in their work, they never get around to exploring what it makes possible. But this simplistic perception of it represents what it was a decade ago, when mind mapping software was in its infancy. Today’s mind mapping software is a powerful tool for business planning, project management, strategic planning and much more.
It can deliver a huge boost to your efficiency. In my most recent survey of the readers of this blog, respondents said that mind mapping software helps them increase their productivity by an astounding 20-30% – the equivalent of being able to get another day’s worth of work done per week. They also said it also helps them reach clarity faster on complex business issues, and helps them make better informed decisions. In the same survey, over 59% of respondents indicated they would not be able to create the same quality of work if they didn’t have mind mapping software!
Here are 10 little-known capabilities of mind mapping software that can help you make a big difference in your work:
1. Manage projects and tasks
Mind mapping software is not only an excellent thinking and planning tool, but it can also be used to manage simple projects. Any topic can be converted into a task, which can be used to track start and end dates, percentage complete, resources assigned to it and more. Many programs enable you to switch from a visual map to GANTT chart view, giving you powerful insights into critical paths and task dependencies. At least one of them enables you to do resource leveling – to see which of your team members may be overloaded and who may not have enough to do.
2. Outline complex reports and proposals
Modern, software-produced mind maps can be exported to Word, PowerPoint, Project and other formats. So you can organize your thinking in visual form, then export it to your productivity software of choice to flesh it out. Doing so will not only save you a significant amount of writing time, it will also result in higher-quality output, because you clarified your thinking prior to writing.
3. Solve complex business problems
Mind mapping software enables you to deconstruct complex challenges in visual form and work on the pieces you CAN solve. They translate the elements of your challenge into tangible form, enabling you to literally “think about your thinking.” mind mapping software enables you to do a lot of “what-if” analysis. Move a topic to a new location. If it doesn’t make sense, move it again or use your program’s “undo” function to put it back where it was. In this way, you have almost total freedom to move topics and ideas around until they make the most sense. According to one mind mapping expert, refactoring can increase the value of your map by up to 80%, by making it more complete and better organized. Each mind map topic can contain a wealth of related information, including files, links, notes and more. As you move a topic around a mind map, its attached information follows along.
4. Make better-informed decisions
Mind mapping software enables you to to explore trade-offs when you are making important decisions. Because they help you collect and analyze complex data in an integrated form on a single page, they increase your chances of making a better informed and intelligent decision.
5. Capture numerous ideas quickly when brainstorming
Some programs have a “speed mapping” mode, useful for capturing a large number of ideas quickly – ideal for those rapid-fire group brainstorming sessions. Because mind mapping software gives you almost unlimited freedom to rearrange topics and subtopics, you can quickly record your ideas visually, with little or no thought to their initial structure, and then organize them later. That helps to prevent you from losing important thoughts and ideas because you couldn’t record them fast enough.
In group brainstorming sessions, you can use your laptop, a projector and your mind mapping program of choice to capture, organize and evaluate your team’s ideas, on screen. Giving people the ability to see their ideas presented before them often creates a very positive dynamic in group brainstorming session, energizes participants and usually results in better ideas. At the end of the meeting, you can assign ideas to your team members for further development and create tasks within your mind map to manage them.
6. Visually group related ideas for improved creativity: All mind mapping programs enable you to add small images called icons or symbols that you can add to topics to help you visually index your map’s contents. For example, people issues could be depicted with an icon of a person. Tasks could be designated with a checkmark icon, and so on. Several high-end programs enable you to filter the contents of your maps based on these symbols, making it easy to see only your ideas or only the tasks you must complete. That’s powerful! Many mind mapping programs also let you encircle groups of topics with boundaries or borders. If you want to visually connect two ideas that are not adjacent to each other, you can join them with relationship lines. The ability to visually connect and combine topics breeds greater creativity.
7. Create high-impact, interactive presentations
You can make a presentation directly from your mind map – a powerful antidote to the endless parade of PowerPoint decks. Your audience can literally follow the “flow” of your thinking from a high-level view down to the details. Plus, you can annotate your map WHILE you’re making a presentation – ideal for small meetings where you’re having a lot of dialog with the people you’re trying to influence.
8. Capture and manipulate numerical data
A recent development in mind mapping software is the ability to store numerical data in map topics, and to perform arithmetic operations on that data. Some programs enable you to “roll up” the values of a group of sub-topics and display their total along with their parent topic. A colleague of mine recently used this capability to present the budget for his department within a large, multinational technology company. He started out showing the overall budget for each region of the globe, and then drilled down to show the budgets for individual countries within each region that made up the regional totals. This visual presentation was so engaging that it caused his bosses to remark, “That was an amazing, easy to understand presentation of your budget. What program did you use to create it?”
9. Create visual information dashboards
Today’s mind mapping software can be connected to many sources of business data, including Sharepoint databases, Excel spreadsheets and even the contents of individual Outlook e-mails. This makes it possible to create visual dashboards that can display up-to-the-minute data on the most important metrics of your business.
10. Let your ideas shine!
Mind mapping software helps you present your ideas to the people whom you want to influence with impact and clarity. Instead of burying them in endless paragraphs of text, it enables you to show them in a striking, colorful visual “executive summary” form. Your ability to do so, to cut through the clutter of communication and get to the essence of a problem or opportunity, will help you to differentiate your work and will definitely get the attention of your organization’s senior management. That, in turn, increases the odds that you’ll be able to advance faster in your career!
Now that you have a better idea of what today’s mind mapping software can do for you, what are you waiting for? Start exploring how you can use it today – visit these helpful “how-to” guides: