Earlier this week, after reading Chris Brogan’s excellent article on the Open Forum website about how he uses mind mapping as a planning tool for his small business, I got to thinking about what makes mind mapping truly unique and essential as a business tool – one that meets the needs of today’s leaders and managers.
Next, I got to thinking about the forest and the trees – how mind mapping software is uniquely able to give you a high-level view of your project, knowledge or information, with all of its major topics collapsed. But yet you can also drill down to an amazing level of detail in just a few mouse clicks. In other words, you can take a broad overview of the forest and the surrounding area, or you can zero in on a single tree, a single aspect of your project. It’s up to you.
That, in turn, got me reflecting on the tools we use to get work done, and how they shape (and sometimes limit) the ways in which we think. I realized that most of the productivity tools that we take for granted – for creating documents, spreadsheets, presentations and tracking a variety of projects and data – inevitably push us into a “details” mindset. We get very focused on crafting the next paragraph, the next screen, the next e-mail. But most of us rarely step back to look at our work from a more strategic level – to look at the entire forest versus an individual tree.
Think about it for a minute: What software tools do you use in your job? Do they help you to focus on the bigger picture – or on what a former client once called “the glorious minutiae?” Here’s a summary of the tools I use at work and their primary focal point:
- Microsoft Word – trees.
- Microsoft Excel – trees.
- Microsoft PowerPoint – trees.
- Microsoft Outlook – trees.
- SugarCRM – trees.
- Mind mapping software – trees and forest.
See what I mean?
(BTW, I’m not picking on Microsoft – I just happen to work for an organization that uses most of their products. These focal points apply to almost every program in these software genres)
Don’t be a tree hugger
That’s not to say that we’re trapped into the role of being “tree huggers.” We control our mindset. But it’s all to easy too be lulled into complacency and to focus on the project/detail level. Inertia takes over; we feel busy, and so we conclude that we must be effective. Um, maybe not.
Unless we consciously force ourselves to do so, we rarely step back to look at how our projects and priorities fit into the bigger scheme of things, to think strategically and creatively about our business.
How can you maximize your value?
Ironically, our greatest potential value to our employers and our customers can be found by thinking strategically about our organization, the industries it competes within, the customers and constituents it serves, and the trends that are even now starting to reshape its future.
Let’s be honest: If you’re a manager or leader and you’re not thinking strategically, you’ll probably be toast in 5 years or less. Focusing on projects and their details is fine when the status quo is the norm. But change is happening far too quickly today for us to stay in head-down, churning-out-the-projects mode.
If we want to be successful, we need to pay attention to the bigger picture – to the forest instead of the trees – because that’s where most of the opportunities are. In fact, it’s actually up to us to make these opportunities via our creative thinking and problem solving abilities!
Fortunately, mind mapping software makes it easy to view both the forest and the trees. It supports our need to think creatively and strategically about what we do for a living in ways that other types of productivity software can’t.
For those of us who want to make a difference in the world, in our lives, in our jobs and for the people we serve, that makes it a very important and valuable tool indeed!