Mind mapping comes in from the cold

This is going to be a tricky post because I have strong, and possibly irrational, views about the topic. Feel free to comment if you want to throw additional light on the subject.

First of all, the subject is Mindjet’s new release of MindManager. I’ve delayed this blog by a few hours in order to respect an embargo. The product is being launched today(Tuesday). It gives the traditional ‘mind-mapping’ metaphor a bit of a shake up and, I believe, will give people a reason to consider using it.

Before I explain, you need to know where I’m coming from. I started mind-mapping in 1975. Tony Buzan wrote a BBC book called ‘Use Your Head‘. For me, it was a life-changer. It introduced mind-mapping and a lot of other insightful stuff about the way we think, learn and communicate.

Here’s an example mind map drawn by Paul Foreman, based on Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats:

Six Thinking Hats

Six Thinking Hats

(If you’re interested in Six Thinking Hats, take a look at Paul’s information sheet on the subject.)

I used mind-mapping diligently first as a course developer, then as a project manager for International Computers Ltd (ICL). When the PC came along, I even wrote a program called BrainStorm, which attempted to mimic paper-based mind-mapping but in a way that overcame what I saw as its weaknesses: its inability to scale, its rigidity (it was hard to rearrange a paper map) and its lack of self-awareness (I wanted to be told if it already ‘knew’ something).

As you can imagine when outliners and visual mind-mapping programs came along and started grabbing all the publicity, I was mightily peeved. But, 25 years since its launch, people still buy BrainStorm. I’ve been so busy with other things recently that I am in the final throes of handing the business over to an American company.

I still have some of the same issues with my erstwhile competitors, but perhaps I don’t feel them so keenly. Anyway, I thought this backdrop would help you interpret my remarks on MindManager 8.

Yes, it’s a visual mind-mapping tool. And, as such, it helps you lay out your thoughts, manipulate them and tack on new information, in context, as you discover it. And I know many people who are content to use it at that level and be done with it.

But I think that some of the new changes will increase the program’s appeal to everyone. MindManager now gives you a single place to hang out. If you want to turn a map into a bit of writing or, indeed, vice versa you can run Word right there inside the MindManager environment. You can do the same with Excel and PowerPoint. You can drag and drop stuff between the applications.

At a stroke the program becomes more acceptable to the vast majority of PC users. Web pages and PDFs can similarly be rendered within the MindManager environment. This is good stuff. It saves you rushing hither and thither as you switch back and forth between thinking and doing. Although not too quickly or you won’t get much done.

Two other things are worthy of note because, once again, they help the MindManager user engage with the outside world without leaving the program itself. One is the ability to quiz databases and pull the results right into the mind-map. The other is a collection of search capabilities which look inside mind-maps and their associated documents, integration with Google or Microsoft desktop search and the ability to hoover up the results of online searches from companies like Google, Yahoo!, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and others.

Finally, you can share your maps with others even if they don’t have MindManager themselves. You can publish to Adobe PDF files, PowerPoint, Word, web pages and Flash, which you can embed in your own web pages.

Mind maps are easy to understand and these options represent a great opportunity to spread the word. To Mindjet’s advantage, if people like what they see.

This has not been a comprehensive look at the program – I concentrated on the new stuff and, even then, deliberately left out the task management aspects – but it does show that this is a powerful program that knows its place in the world. And, for some users at least, I suspect it will be at the centre of theirs.

Update 14 Nov: At the time of writing, I used an internal build of the software. The release build does not allow interaction with embedded Office documents on my Vista and XP test machines. MindJet has replicated the problem and hopes to get it fixed by Monday. But I’d get the free trial rather than splash out for the time being.

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