If you’re looking to be more creative in how you run your business, you can’t overlook this one essential tool: mind maps.

You might have used mind mapping at some point in your life in your student career, but rather than being simply a learning tool, mind mapping can be a potential-unlocking visual brainstorming tool.

Why does mind mapping unlock creative potential? Because it allows you to ask questions, to generate and visually connect ideas that were previously thought of as impossible to connect. Even if you’re not usually visual thinkers, mind mapping can make idea generation come to live for you and your team.

Mind mapping was popularized by pop psychology author Tony Buzan in the 1970s, but has been around for a lot longer than that. In fact, one of the earliest examples of a mind map belongs to a third century thinker, Prophyry of Tyros, who graphically visualized the concept categories of Aristotle’s works.

prophyry mind map Prophyry's mind map from Knowing Without Borders

The key elements of creating a mind map

Tony Buzan offers seven simple elements needed to create a mind map:

  1. Start in the centre of your blank page or whiteboard, as this will give you the freedom to spread out and express yourself more freely.
  2. Use an image or picture for the central idea, in order to stimulate your imagination.
  3. Use colours. They add energy to your mind map, which in turn stimulates creative thinking.
  4. Connect the main branches to the central image, second-level branches to the first-level branches and so on. This will help you make associations between ideas.
  5. Make your lines curved rather than straight. Straight lines are not stimulating for your brain.
  6. Use one key word per line. Single key words give your mind map more flexibility and allow you to focus in on the essentials.
  7. Try to use as many images as you can throughout.

Of course, some of Buzan’s elements favour the visual mode over other modes of thinking and expression. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some credit to his ideas, even if you’re not a visual thinker yourself.

The working world is mostly dominated by the written word: this is how we often communicate with each other and how we often receive and disseminate information regarding our work. So when it comes to unlocking our creative potential, it might be worthwhile to add a visual component in addition to the usual verbal one. 

Taking mind maps to the next level

Tony Buzan’s elements are general guidelines on the logistics of creating a mind map, rather than creativity enablers. To take your mind mapping to the next level, you can make use of some creative devices that will help you find ways to connect the unconnected:

  1. Shift perspective: if you’re looking for fresh ideas, you might want to get as far away from your regular thinking patterns as possible. Try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing the issue from their perspective. Encourage your team members to do the same. If your team members already have a certain degree of comfort with each other, you can directly ask them to share their perspective from their individual mode of thinking and point of view. 
  2. Create loafing time: if you’re setting a time limit on creativity - either yours or that of others - you might as well completely forego your creative time completely. Allow yourself and your team members to take a break from formal idea generating. Napping is a great way to reset your brain, as is going for a walk or listening to music. You’ll be more likely to come up with great ideas when you’re less pressured to do so.
  3. Change environments: instead of having your usual team brainstorm meeting in a board room, try to change the setting and see if it also changes your thought process. For example, go to a nearby cafe or a park. Keep a small, portable whiteboard handy that you can use in any setting.
  4. Use humour: it’s a powerful way to open up creative thinking, as it takes some of the pressure off thinking creatively - especially in a work setting. You can start your brainstorming session with your team with a funny video related to the idea you’re working on and you can continue carrying on the humour throughout your mediation of the brainstorming activity. 

Leading a mind map brainstorming session

Leading brainstorming sessions can be a difficult task, as it might seem impossible to get everyone’s creative wheels spinning at the same time.

But with mind mapping, brainstorming sessions allow for greater flexibility - both for the moderator, who can easily include everyone’s contributions under different branches, and for the participants, who can build on each other’s inputs and use each other’s ideas as starting points.

Of course, positive encouragement is absolutely necessary for building a community of creative thinkers who are comfortable sharing their ideas with each other. But be weary of the point where encouragement impedes critical thinking, which will result in fewer ideas, often of less quality.

Since creativity is not an exact science, you won’t always get a winning result out of a brainstorming session, especially when a whole team is involved. Yet it’s important to continue practicing it for two reasons. First, guided practice will usually improve how your team approaches these brainstorming sessions, making them more comfortable to put their creative hats on. And sharing ideas often as a team in a safe space will build trust among team members, which will result in more creative thinking in the long run.

Have you used mind mapping as a brainstorming technique - individually or in a group? Has it improved your creative energy? Share your experience with us in the comment section!

Photo credit: INPIVIC Family, cc