Do you learn better using visual tools, auditory tools, both or none of the above? The methods people employ to most effectively learn, teach and retain information have spawned countless pedagogies and methodologies in both academia and the corporate world. Since the first flow charts and pie charts were developed during the 1970s and 1980s, visual displays have been used to explain complex information in simple illustrations that people find useful and easily digestible. 

Mind mapping is one method that helps people arrange ideas and concepts around a central theme or premise; it’s utilized in small and large companies alike to identify and achieve key goals. More specifically, as stated by the inventor of mind maps, Tony Buzan, “A mind map is a thinking tool that reflects externally what goes on inside your head.” 

In addition to issues such as maintaining consistent cash flow and recruiting top talent, according to Forbes, innovation ranks among business leaders’ top 10 worries. Fostering creativity and harnessing ideas for effective problem solving, and illuminating a path to real results are the primary endeavors that mind mapping seeks to achieve.

Mind Mapping 101 

If you’re wondering what exactly a mind map resembles or looks like, think of a tree with twisting branches extending from its trunk (a good representation is the title image above). A mind map is essentially a drawn-out diagram that flows out from a central idea represented as a word or image. Extending from this main idea are the “branches” of the mind map, which contain related concepts. 

You can add additional ideas—or “twigs”—to each of these branches, which represent more distant concepts along the edges of the map. Regardless of the number of “branches” and “twigs” you end up with, the main idea remains central to whatever goal you’re seeking to accomplish or tackle. 

Nevertheless, the first step towards realizing the benefits of mind mapping is to actually create one. Below are six steps to creating a mind map that you can use to support creativity and critical thinking within your organization. 

1. Create Your Central Idea 

Ideally, it should be an image, since for many individuals, images have a much greater impact than text or spoken word. The central theme will keep your group grounded and focused on the key subject matter; it will also help you remember the small details later on during the process. You can start by using one of the many mind-mapping software tools available (see a few suggestions mentioned below), or start drawing your mind map on a simple sheet of paper. Be sure to have some color pencils and/or markers nearby! 

2. Add Main Ideas 

Next, start adding your “branches” by drawing lines (thick and curvy are encouraged, since these are meant to represent the structure of your brain) that extend from your central idea. So if your central idea is “Sales Meeting,” start adding branches such as “location,” “attendance,” “food,” “date,” etc. 

3. Add Some Color and Images 

Imagery is what truly drives mind mapping, since visual learning can be a powerful tool and stimulus for brainstorming. Also, consider drawing your branches and ideas in different colors to make your mind map more stimulating and easier to remember. 

4. Draw “Twigs” or Smaller Branches From Your Mind Map’s Main Ideas 

Associate keywords with each of your “branches.” These will help build out your second- and third-level ideas. Single words or titles are preferred, since they provide more clarity and can generate many other associations and connections. For example, under “Location,” you can put “Miami” or “Seattle” as ideas for your meeting’s destination, and from these ideas, you can create smaller branches for specificity, such as a certain Seattle coffee shop or a Miami cafe. This should spark new ideas and thoughts, adding more power and flexibility to your mind map.

At this point, you can start connecting two seemingly unrelated topics with each other using arrows or other written indicators. Or you and your team members can continue adding as many “branches” and “twigs” as you deem necessary to help you reach a conclusion in an organized and creative manner. 

Applying Mind Mapping to Your Business 

Besides being used as a brainstorming tool, mind mapping can help your organization to: 

  • Outline or recall main ideas and topics from a meeting, conversation or research.
  • Draft presentations and construct a solid framework for papers, speeches and other persuasive documentation.
  • Gather and structure ideas around group work and large meetings. 

If manually drawing a mind map isn’t feasible, there are countless apps and software programs for both desktop and mobile devices that can help you create and get the most out of them. These include Mindjet, MindMeister and Mind42. Some services are offered for free, while others might require paid subscriptions to unlock some or all functionality.  

There are also several books you can purchase or borrow from your local library that offer tips for improving your mind-mapping techniques. Below are some suggestions to help get you started, or you can visit Think Buzan for further mind-mapping best practices and resources.