Mind mapping your way to clarity

Welcome to my #Day6 post for the #YourTurnChallenge.

You’ve got a Big Idea. Maybe it’s for a new business or product. Perhaps a response to a disaster half a world away. Or, it could be an update to your resume.

Whatever it is, you’ve got to figure out how to get it out of your head and into some kind of document. It needs to make sense.

Who knows? You may need to show it to someone at some point, either for approval to get the budget for it, or a recruiter if you’re job hunting. Eventually, it’ll need to make sense to someone else.

Only, how do you get started? Where do you start? Sometimes there’s a clear beginning, but in most cases, there isn’t. It’s just an idea that needs clarity.

How I get clarity on a new idea – fast
When I have a complex idea I need to make sense of, I start with a mind map. It’s like white boarding but on your computer. Or slapping up a whole mess of Post-Its on a wall, only for them to get unsettled and lose their sticky identity.

Unlike most white boards and Post-It-based brainstorming, a mind map is easy to share, edit and collaborate on over and over again, even as the Big Idea matures and evolves.

what-mind-mapping-looks-like

This map was a brainstorm after a job layoff. I wasn’t quite at the point of taking a “skills inventory” yet, but I did know a few things I wanted in my life going forward.

How to get started mind mapping
I can’t live without mind mapping when I have a new idea, something to build or organize. It’s where I dump all related information, in no particular order. Just slap it up there, like this.

Let’s say you have a new product to brainstorm:

  • How did you come up with the idea – what’s the rationale for it?
  • What problem does it solve?
  • What does the competitive landscape look like?
  • What do its users look like? How do they interact with media?
  • What might its go-to-market strategy look like?
  • Etc.

You get the gist. The ideas are related, but their relationships may not be simple or linear.

Still, you might not know that until you lay them out next to each other, fleshing them out more fully. In fact, only once you’ve done that are you likely to see new relationships you may not have considered before.

Turning ideas ’round and ’round
One of the best parts of mind-mapping is turning your idea on its side, its back or completely turning it upside down. It forces you to look at in different ways. Most mind mapping tools let you move around the chunks of text, regroup them, whatever.

When you do this, I believe chances go way up that an even better idea will come out of this experience, because the rearrangement of your thoughts only challenges your initial thinking. It’s worth the time to play with your information and see what it looks like when you move it around.

By the way, I’ve had more than a few “aha” moments this way. But one thing you really learn: How much work or resources your Big Idea requires.

For example, one content development project I worked on required mapping out web pages and related copy needs for the project. Once we mapped it out, it was clear the job was bigger than I’d thought. Good to know ahead of time, right?

For the product launch example above, it might be the timing is such that certain key questions can’t be answered yet. Maybe the product isn’t ready for development under current conditions.

Mind mapping tools for budgets big, small or none at all
There are a bunch of tools out there – many of which I’ve tried at one point or another – that will help you document your Big Idea and put all its parts and pieces in order. Or reorder.

That’s the beauty of mind mapping – how much you want it to stretch your thinking is entirely up to you.

Here are some fairly current lists of mind-mapping tools – one general, the other with a design focus. I hope they help you find clarity as you pursue your own big ideas.

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