One of the nebulous terms you hear tossed about in the world of mind mapping and visual thinking is CLARITY. It’s this mysterious concept that everyone hopes to attain, but it’s frustratingly elusive to achieve.
Marissa Bracke is a digital business strategist who brings exceptional CLARITY to the subject of clarity in a business setting. As we work to synthesize and make sense of the contents of our mind maps, I think her 5 rules of clarity are incredibly relevant. So let’s take a closer look at them. I’ll also provide you with tips on how to apply them when creating your mind maps.
Rule #1: Make it as clear as possible to as many people as possible
Rule number one sounds obvious. But it’s surprising how many people ignore it in their day-to-day work. Most people organize information and ideas based on what’s quickest and most convenient for them. Clarity suffers.
To achieve clarity on your team and in your organization, it’s critical to name, organize and document things so that they are as clear as possible, as immediately as possible, to as many people as possible.
Marissa says this is rule number 1 because it forces you to put clarity at the forefront of your thinking.
As she explains, if you set things up so they’re convenient for you, you’ll tend to put your own brain and quirks ahead of clarity. You understand the meaning and context of the contents of your mind map. Others don’t.
How to use this rule when creating mind maps: Imagine you’re looking at your mind map from your audience’s mindset, base of experience and knowledge and biases:
- What’s understandable?
- What’s not?
- How can you make it more clear for them?
Rule #2: The more obvious, the better
Rule number two of achieving clarity is to make it as obvious as possible. Here’s how she explains this principle: The more you have to explain the system, documentation, name, or way something is set up or organized to someone else, the more it’s probably in need of being simplified, streamlined, and/or clarified.
Even if something seems obvious to you, if others get stuck on it, are confused by it, or can’t follow it, then it’s not obvious.
Obviousness is a matter of function, not form. It doesn’t matter if something SHOULD be obvious. It only matters if it IS. Once again, this principle reinforces the importance of mentally putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, figuratively speaking. It may be obvious to you, but not to others. You need to view your mind map as they would.
How to use this rule when creating mind maps: Review your mind map. What’s NOT obvious? What takes too long to explain? Ruthlessly simplify it. One way is to find a metaphor or analogy that works – that explains one thing in terms of another that your audience is familiar with.
Rule #3: The 2-year rule
This rule adds a time element to the concept of clarity. According to this rule, everything should be as clear and obvious two years from now as it is today.
As Melissa explains this principle, a quick note, a shorthand file name, or an abbreviated reference might make sense to you today, but it’s probably going to be foggy (at best) two years from now.
She also adds that if your information violates the 2-Year Rule, it probably also violates rule number 1… and probably isn’t following rule number 2 either!
How to use this rule when creating mind maps: Imagine 2-year-from-now-you is viewing your mind map. Imagine all of the context, all of your current understanding of it is gone. It WILL be two years from now. What topics, notes, abbreviations and other forms of shorthand would be unclear? Fix them!
Rule #4: Simplify – but don’t sacrifice clarity!
Rule number 4 is to simplify wherever possible, but only as much as clarity allows.
Here’s what that means: More words don’t automatically mean more clarity; but short does not automatically mean simple or clear. In other words, there’s a happy medium you need to strive for.
Another example of this principle has to do with abbreviations, acronyms, and shorthand, which may be convenient for you, but often sacrifice clarity. Incorporate them only when they follow the other 3 rules.
To summarize this rule: Make it was simple and concise as possible. No longer than necessary. But don’t sacrifice clarity.
How to use this rule when creating mind maps: Fortunately, your mind mapping software provides an incredibly flexible canvas for exploring and experimenting with your ideas. Duplicate a branch with all of its content. Then try to simplify and clarify its contents. If you go to far, you can use your application’s “undo” command to back up to a previous state. If your attempt at simplification is a complete failure, you can delete the branch entirely and try again. Remember, you’re playing around with a duplicate branch, not the original one.
Rule #5: Everyone and no one are temporary
The final principle of clarity addresses the issue of organizational change and its impact on clarity:
Decisions about your organization, documentation, or systems should NOT be based on the “everyone” and
“no one” of your business.
Why? Because they tend to be inherently temporary. They assume that your business won’t change in size, scope, or personnel. Obviously, that’s a bad assumption, especially in this day and age!
How can you utilize this rule when creating mind maps?
- Try to anticipate future needs when you create your mind maps.
- Minimize use of specialized jargon.
- Make sure your topics have a logical flow that nearly anyone can follow.
- Clearly and concisely explain what needs it.
- Be ruthless about eliminating information that doesn’t add value to your mind map.
A closing thought
If you’re going to share your mind map with others, consider creating two different versions:
- A more detailed one that contains all of your research, supporting information and resources.
- A significantly slimmed down version that only contains the information your audience needs to know.
This gives you the best of both worlds: Your audience gets a clear, concise, easy to understand mind map that meets their needs. But you also have a more detailed version, so if you ever need to go back and re-connect with your thinking or research, you can still do so.
This article is excerpted from the F.A.S.T. Framework for Effective Mind Maps e-course. For more details and to sign up for it, click here.