The process of gathering, recording and analyzing information tends to be a gradual, iterative process that is well supported by a visual mapping tool. Through this process, the structure of information gradually emerges and shouldn’t be forced too early, lest we create a rigid structure in which to consider it. So says Mark Bernstein in his book, The Tinderbox Way.
Bernstein is the developer of Tinderbox, a rich visual mapping and information management tool for the MacOS X. He wrote this book to help its users understand the thinking behind this deep, multifaceted information management tool. In the process, he highlights some key principles of information management and visual mapping that you can benefit from, even if you are not a Tinderbox user.
“Gradually extracting detail into explicit form can be powerful and rewarding, helping you to understand the information you already know and to identify gaps in your knowledge… Sitting down and handling new information helps you to discover what matters, and why. Implicit knowledge becomes visible and explicit, implicit desires and unmet needs become action items – or things to consider and put aside. You don’t need to set out to make decisions; simply reviewing your lists or cleaning your databank will help you to know what you need and what you really want.”
Bernstein characterizes our modern world as one filled with tangled relationships and subtle dependencies. The right tool helps us to sort them out and understand them better.
The tools we used to capture and manipulate knowledge must be eminently flexible; they must enable us to quickly record information and knowledge without getting in the way of our thought processes – in other words, to do a “mental core dump” with little regard, at least initially, for how the information is structured – yet be flexible enough to enable us to rearrange them until they make sense to us. Fortunately, most mind mapping programs are very adept at this, enabling us to play “what if?” with our ideas and knowledge, trying out different arrangements until we find one that makes the most sense to us.
What is the lesson to be learned here?
When you are creating mind maps, remember the concept of emergent structure. As you transfer ideas from your brain to the computer screen, they do not need to be perfectly arranged or styled at first. Organization and presentation can come later, much like a building being constructed – the framework comes first, which supports everything else, followed by walls and ornamentation.
In fact, as I have pointed out in other entries in this blog, it’s often an advantage to create an initial draft of your mind map, walk away from it for a few days, and then return to it with fresh perspectives and ideas. The result is usually a richer, more complete and better organized visual map than if you had tried to finish it all in one setting.