No offense, but the mind map you recently sent to me really sucks.
It just doesn’t do a very good job of communicating to me what you’re trying to say. The mistakes you made are quite common – a lot of people make them. But I know that, deep down, you have a desire to make your mind maps as clear, effective and impactful as possible. So I hope you’re not too pissed off and will take my advice on how to improve it:
1. It doesn’t have a logical order or “flow” from one topic to the next, or from the parent to the child topics. It just seems to be a jumble of ideas. Perhaps you know in your mind what you meant when you created this visual map, but trust me – it doesn’t translate well to others. You really need to put yourself in the shoes of your target audience (e.g., me!). Who will be viewing this mind map? What level of knowledge can you assume they have about the subject of your map? Choose topic text and organize your topics and subtopics with great care. The burden is on YOU to communicate clearly. That’s always important in any kind of communication, but even more so with mind maps!
2. It’s visually boring. Black and white. No color. Just… dull. After I looked at your mind map, I almost slipped into a coma… The default setting of many mind mapping programs is to produce black and white mind maps. Very businesslike, but not very inspiring. If you’re trying to educate or persuade someone to do something, you need to create some visual interest. Add some color to the branches of your map, in ways that make visual sense and which will direct my eye to the most important elements of it. For example, a topic called “action items” could have a background color of green, because in most cultures, green means “go!” A topic that describes concerns with a project could be colored yellow, which means “caution.”
3. Mysterious images: Several of the images you incorporated into your mind map were hard to figure out. Mainly, I can’t understand what the connection is between them and the topic of your map. Whatever you’re trying to convey with these images, it’s lost on me. If you decide to add images to a mind map, consider carefully who the target audience for it will be. Does the image reinforce and enhance what you’re trying to convey in your topics and subtopics? If not, then don’t use it.
4. Your use of icons was arbitrary. I wasn’t sure why you included them in your mind map. Once again, they may have a certain meaning to you. But I don’t have the advantage of your context when I look at it. Used with care, icons and symbols add meaning and context to mind maps, and help people to visually classify their contents. But these look like they were picked at random and sprinkled randomly on your map’s branches. There’s an easy way to solve this problem: Add a legend to your mind map. That’s a floating topic with subtopics covering each of the icons you’ve used in the map, and a few words on what each one means. Problem solved!
5. Too much text in some of your topics: Some of the topics in your mind map contain a paragraph of text. Seriously? This is a mind map, not a document. Geez! Too much text makes mind maps look cluttered. It’s better to keep all topics to a maximum of 2-3 words, with the rest of your idea formatted as child topics or topic notes. That keeps things tidy, yet your audience is only one click away from being able to view additional detail.
6. Too many boundaries: Each first-level topic of your mind map and its child topics was enclosed in a boundary. What were you thinking? This is confusing to me, because I don’t know where to look first. Boundaries are supposed to be used on a limited basis, to call special attention to one or possibly two branches of your mind map. But you overdid it. When everything is emphasized, nothing stands out. Use. boundaries. sparingly.
7. TMI – too much information: Clearly, your mind map includes some information that I wasn’t meant to see. It may be useful background information for you for this project, but it means nothing to me. Whenever you share a mind map with other people – coworkers, customers, suppliers and others – consider carefully what they need to know and focus your map on delivering only that information and nothing more. Background or supporting information is for your reference. I don’t need to see it. Also, if you send people everything, you may be including some sensitive information that they weren’t really meant to see. You could get fired or seriously reprimanded for that!
The bottom line
When you produce a mind map that you intend to share with other people, don’t just finish it up and send it to them. Take a step back and do this mental exercise: Imagine, for a moment, that you are a representative of the people to whom you will be sending this mind map – let’s say, an important contact at a key customer. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine how they think and feel. Now imagine they’re looking at your mind map. They’ve never seen it before, and don’t really know what it’s about. Will they be able to understand it? What seems to be unclear or potentially confusing? What do I need to explain better? What is the proper amount of detail to share?
If you don’t take this important step, the people to whom you send mind maps are likely to dismiss them out of hand – like I’m about to do with this mess you sent to me.
P.S. In case you haven’t already figured this out yet, I don’t REALLY hate your mind map. I’m just trying to draw attention to poor mind mapping practices, and the antidotes to them.
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