When brainstorming, many people tend to rely on top-of-mind ideas – those they’re able to come up with in the moment. As soon as they generate what they feel is the first “right” idea, they stop. Why is this bad? Because they often settle for ideas that have relatively low value.
Tiago Forte, in his new book, Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life & Unlock Your Creative Potential, highlights this common habit, which limits our ability to be successful:
”What are the chances that the most creative, most innovative approaches will instantly be top of mind? What are the odds that the best way to move forward is one of the first ways we come up with? This tendency is known as recency bias. We tend to favor the ideas, solutions, and influences that occurred to us most recently, regardless of whether they are the best ones.”
A closely related mindset, familiarity bias, causes us over-emphasize what we know versus exploring the unknown for potential solutions. As human beings, we prefer the status quo because it feels familiar and “safe.” Exploring new frontiers and ideas feels risky. So we tend to mentally pull back and go with an idea that’s based on our existing knowledge, perspectives and experiences.
The problem is that what we know tends to limit what we’re able to imagine.
The solution to brainstorming with blinders
Mind mapping software is a powerful thinking tool that can help you to sidestep these biases so you can make the most of your imagination and curiosity – and generate more valuable ideas and solutions.
Here’s how it can help you:
Make room for bigger thoughts: To start, you need to acknowledge, capture and then mentally set aside your top-of-mind ideas to make room for more innovative ideas to emerge. You can do this by creating a separate branch of your map to contain them. Or you can designate flag them with an icon or symbol to differentiate them from the rest of your ideas. Doing so frames them in a context that will be useful later when you’re evaluating all of the ideas you’ve generated.
Go deep: The associative power of mind mapping software enables you to go as many layers deep into your thinking as you want. This is an excellent way to coax higher-value ideas out into the open.
Go wide: The open structure of a mind map lets you explore multiple lines of thinking simultaneously. When brainstorming, variety is a very good thing.
Play with your ideas: Think of mind mapping as a form of playing with ideas – a risk-free exercise of “what-iffing” – imagining and capturing rich possibilities.
Invite other perspectives: To overcome your mental biases, one powerful technique is to cultivate other perspectives – either by imagining how someone else would solve your creative challenge or by asking someone you trust to brainstorm with you.
As Jeffrey Davis points out in an article on the Productive Flourishing blog, “Sometimes we need another person who can ask questions that kindly challenge our assumptions and get us thinking in unfamiliar ways. When such a person presents a potential new way of looking at an “old” idea, open up and see what insight you might take away.”
You can either invite them to collaborate on your mind map, if the application you use supports that, or capture the ideas they share with you.