One of the topics that came up during the course of our wide-ranging discussion was the growth of remote work. In other words, a growing number of knowledge workers are enjoying the flexibility of working in locations other than an office, thanks to advances in a number of technologies, plus global economic pressures.
We talked about what this implied in terms of how business people are using mapping software. On the one hand, it’s great that software-produced mind maps can be used as project collaboration tools. Multiple team members can contribute to a MindMeister or Spinscape mind map, for example. And programs like MindManager include a rewiewing feature that enables you to see who made changes to a shared map and to accept or reject those changes. These features support geographically dispersed teams and their need to work together to develop and implement projects.
Mind maps vs. PowerPoint presentations
But there’s a downside to map sharing, too. Mind maps are much like PowerPoint presentations: If you listen to someone speak and view their PowerPoint slides at the same time, you get a lot out of the experience, because there’s a strong connection between the words and images on screen and the what the presenter is saying. But if you view the same deck of slides on their own, they are much less meaningful, because you’re missing the context behind them – which the speaker normally provides.
Similarly, a mind map is a very personal creation. You have a deep understanding of the meaning of each topic and subtopic, because you created it and it’s larger context exists in your mind. However, if you send that mind map to a colleague, chances are very good that they won’t be able to extract as much meaning and knowledge from it as you intended. For example, you may have added some icons to your mind map with specific meanings in mind. But your teammates may interpret them differently.
How did business process mapping get where it is today?
This led Mark and I to a brief discussion of flow charting, a form of visual diagramming used to map out business processes. Its users have a shared understanding of what each shape and connector type means, and how to use them in consistent, meaningful ways. How did this happen? Was there an organization that developed a set of standards? Was it promoted by one or more software vendors who develop flow charting software? Or did this shared visual vocabulary just evolve over time, to the point where it is a de facto standard today – a grassroots set of guidelines that most people follow today? There is nothing like this for mind mapping software, perhaps because it is fairly young in its evolution and is just starting to catch on in major companies.
Getting back to the trend of remote work, more people on small teams are collaborating remotely, rather than face to face. That is driven by the growth of people working from home, in cafes and other off-site locations, armed with a laptop and a broadband Internet connection. That makes it much more difficult to talk together about what the author of a mind map intended when they structured and embellished a map the way they did.
So my question to you, the readers of this blog, is this:
Is remote work driving a need for a set of standards or a common global visual vocabulary for the elements that make up software-produced mind maps?
Please share your opinions in the comments area below.