When you have a tool like mind mapping software that enables you to capture, organize and share every bit of information you have collected, should you? If you do, you risk overwhelming yourself and your colleagues. Knowing what to leave in and what to leave out is becoming an important skill for creative people everywhere.
“In this age of information abundance and overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what’s really important to them.”
That prescient quote comes to us from Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. At the surface level, he is talking about the life of a creative person, who is faced with the challenge of figuring out what to create when he or she is faced with limitless possibilities in terms of information, materials and ideas.
But Austin’s quote also speaks to us about the need to use good judgment in deciding how much information we need to include in our mind maps, especially that will be shared with our colleagues, clients and other audiences. A complex mind map may overwhelm some people, as well as make it harder for us to work with. What’s more, a mind map that’s shared may contain much information that is only of passing interest to your audience, or should not be shared with them at all, because it’s proprietary.
A final benefit of reducing the number of topics in your mind map is that it makes it easier for you to think. Clutter gets in the way of creative thinking. Simplicity enhances it.
I can think of several ways to “leave out” content from your mind maps:
1. Delete all non-essential topics from your map.
2. Gather all of the background and proprietary information as children of one appropriately-named topic, and either filter it so it doesn’t appear in the map you output to another format (such as an image or PDF) or break it off into a separate, linked sub-map.
3. Clearly style the informational topics differently – such as by topic shape, color and font – to make readers of your map aware what is the essential information they must pay attention to, and what is merely background or supporting information.
The next time you create a mind map, give some thought to this key question: What should you leave out?
The image above is one of Austin Kleon’s “newspaper blackout poems” where he takes a news story and progressively blacks out words with a black marker to reveal a simple, often thought-provoking statement it contains, made up of random words from the article.