If you’re serious about efficiently capturing your thinking – either as ideas pop into your mind or during a structured brainstorming session – then you need to give careful consideration to the type of tool you use to do so. Some create more “friction” on your thinking than others.
Ideally, you want to select a method of idea capture that gets out of the way and enables you to maintain a strong flow of ideas.
In other words, little or no friction.
What is friction and why does it matter?
Every method of capturing information carries with it a certain amount of friction: the amount of effort it takes to add new content to your media of choice, and to append new ideas to what you have already captured.
For example, in a handwritten journal, there is a lot of friction. If you want to add a new thought in between other thoughts, it’s almost impossible to do, unless you write in the margins of the page or between lines. You face the same challenge with any handwritten notes, taken during a meeting or while listening to a speaker’s presentation. The whole process is very linear. Once you capture ideas on paper, they are literally anchored to the page.
Creating a digital document has less friction because you can easily insert new sentences and paragraphs anywhere you want within the structure of the document. But this type of information capture introduces a different type of friction: you can’t clearly see the underlying structure of your information, because it is buried within the sentences and paragraphs of your document.
What does that mean?
It’s not very easy to discern if your thinking about a topic is complete. Is it missing key bits of information? Are other parts of it superfluous? Or do the ideas need to be arranged differently to make better sense? It’s hard to tell.
Why is this important?
The less friction an idea capture method has, the more likely you are to capture all of your ideas. Increasing levels of friction may cause you to hold back or consider something that worthy of capturing. Also, because of the fleeting nature of ideas, some of them may escape your conscious mind before you can record them, especially during those times when ideas are coming in hot and heavy.
The lowest-friction tool for idea capture
So what form of information capture has the least amount of friction? Mind mapping software. Here’s why:
1. It enables you to capture ideas fast, with complete freedom
Mind mapping software enables you to capture ideas at the speed of thought, helping you to maintain a healthy creative “flow.” In contrast, writing notes on paper or a flipchart or whiteboard causes you to be limited by the speed at which you can write. This may cause you to hold back from capturing some of your ideas or having them evaporate from your thinking before you can record them.
With mind mapping software, you can do a “brain dump” – capture now, quickly, and organize your thoughts later. It gives you the freedom to place ideas wherever they make the most sense and to add as many levels of detail to your thinking as you want. You have an unlimited canvas.
Some mind mapping programs offer brainstorming modes, which enable you to quickly capture ideas using only the keyboard. That’s ideal when ideas are pouring out of your mind or when you’re trying to capture the output of a group brainstorming session.
2. You can reorganize and reclassify ideas at will.
Do you have a new concept you want to add to your visual outline? Not a problem! You simply add a new branch and the rest of them move out of the way to accommodate it. Using mind mapping software, you can move ideas, combine them and manipulate them with almost complete freedom. Often, once you’ve done so, you’re able to see new patterns in your information, which can prompt additional ideas.
3. It supports emergent structure
A mind map does not force you into a structure too early in your thinking process. That’s critical because you need the flexibility to look at a challenge or project from multiple perspectives. The idea behind emergent structure is simple: the ideas themselves should suggest their structure, which should emerge gradually. Forcing ideas into a rigid classification system too early stunts their growth and forces you to view them within a single, narrow context. This limits your ability to improve or build upon them.
Keeping your ideas in a fluid state – in an unstructured “cloud” or list form – during the brainstorming process increases the odds that you’ll see a greater number of opportunities to group related ideas together, combine smaller ideas into larger ones and use your craziest ideas as stepping stones to more practical and powerful solutions.
4. It overcomes the limitations of analog idea capture
Often, our ability to capture and express ideas is limited by the tools we use. For example, in written communications, the unit of a page is a limiting factor. Same with the flip chart sheets and whiteboards. They constrain information within “containers” of a specific size, which also tends to unconsciously limit your thinking.
Mind mapping software gives you an unlimited canvas, so you can pursue your ideas to whatever extent you choose. There are no artificial constraints on your thinking.
5. Better brainstorming
The nearly frictionless nature of my mapping software is especially useful when you’re brainstorming ideas. You can consider a wide range of possibilities quite easily, and expand your thinking about them as deep as you want. Some experts believe that in mind mapping actually helps you get closer to the edge of your thinking, which is where some of the most innovative ideas may be hiding.
6. Visual classification made easy
Another big advantage, once you have committed all of your ideas to a mind map, is that you can visually classify them using color, shape and icons or symbols. So, for example, you could use the topic color of green to indicate those ideas you plan to implement immediately, yellow for those you’re still thinking about and red for those who will never pursue.
You can even designate one branch of your mind map as a “parking lot” where you can place those ideas you’re just not sure what to do about yet or items that you want to table for further discussion at a future date. In other words, the open structure of the mind map gives you a lot of flexibility.