Mind Mapping Software: A Simple Approach to Idea Management

Small to medium-sized businesses typically don't need an enterprise-level idea management system. What they need is a simple tool that enables them to capture, improve, evaluate and take action upon their best ideas. Mind mapping software is a tool that can help.

Mind mapping software is often viewed as a tool for capturing ideas – either brainstorming solo or in group ideation sessions. But few people give much thought to the ways in which it may be used to transform these ideas into action. Many small firms take a “seat of the pants” approach to the management of ideas. This type of visual thinking software can help ensure that good ideas don’t get lost and to can help provide a simple process to manage them.

Here are the ways in which mind mapping software can help your small firm to manage its great ideas:

Problem definition

Before you start generating ideas, you need to have a crystal clear definition of what the problem or challenge is. You can use a software-generated mind map to divide your challenge into its core attributes; doing so often reveals opportunities and ideas that weren’t visible before. Attack it with open-ended questions, such as the 5 W’s and H – who, what, when, where, why and how. These questions cannot be answered with simple yes or no answers and are great for probing your existing situation. You can also use a mind map to perform root cause analysis, drillind down beyond surface-level symptoms to the underlying real causes of the problem. Mind maps are ideal for deconstructing your challenges in these ways and for recording information and ideas as you do so.

Most mind mapping programs enable you to attach notes, files, hypertext links and even individual e-mail messages to map topics; this makes it possible to store supporting information in a relevant context within your mind map. If you need to refer to them later in the idea development process, these resources are only one mouse click away.

Ideation

Your goal at this stage of the process is to generate the largest number and variety of ideas possible. Lateral thinking and other brainstorming techniques and tools can be used ato help you generate ideas; the mind map can be used as a device to capture your creative output. Because it leverages the brain’s inherent powers of association, this visual thinking format makes it easy to envision “add-on” ideas and to see connections between related concepts. Popular techniques like attribute listing, in which you list a product’s characteristics and then mentally experiment with changing them, are an ideal match for mind mapping.

Mind maps are also ideal for maintaining an idea file, where you can record ideas and inspirations as they occur. Few ideas are completely original; often they are inspired by stimuli we encounter. In many cases, ideas we encounter in one context can be adapted to our needs and challenges. Over time, your idea file can grow into a significant storehouse of inspiration for future projects and innovation initiatives.

Improvement

Many people skip this step, but I recommend you invest the time to review, improve and add to your ideas. Step away from them for a few hours or a few days, and then return to them with a fresh perspective. Look for ways in which you can regroup, add to or combine ideas. This is how you get big ideas – by combining and improving smaller ones. Mind mapping software gives almost complete freedom to reorganize the content of your visual maps, making it easy to arrange ideas in ways that make the most sense to you. The very act of moving one idea adjacent to others can spark additional ideas. In this way, it’s a wonderful creative catalyst.

One fantastic technique that you can use to improve ideas goes by the mnemonic of SCAMPER – which stands for: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify/Magnify/Minify, Put to other uses, Eliminate and Reverse/Rearrange. It gives you a powerful, memorable toolkit of methods to manipulate your ideas and improve them. To use this technique in a mind map, place the idea you want to improve as the central topic. Next, radiate the SCAMPER attributes around it as first-level topics. Then spend time brainstorming around each word in the SCAMPER mnemonic. For example, for “substitute,” you could think about other materials, other manufacturing methods, other marketing methods, and so forth.

Evaluation

Once you have completed your brainstorming and idea improvement efforts, it’s time to evaluate them, so you can identify the ideas with the greatest potential. To do so, you need to first consider what criteria you want to use to evaluate them. Potential criteria may include:

  • Cost to implement
  • Time to implement
  • Resources to implement
  • Difficulty of implementation
  • How hard would it be for competitors to copy?

You can then develop a scoring scale for each of these attributes – say, for example, a scale of 1 to 10, and create branches to store the scores for each criteria of each idea. If you want to do more than just capture numerical rankings of your ideas, you and your team members can use topic notes to capture your gut-level reactions to each idea. That way, you always have access to the thinking BEHIND your thinking. Finally, you can then use special topic coloring, icons or other visual means to highlight the winning ideas.

Taking action

Many mind mapping software programs enable you to convert topics into tasks, and manage action attributes such as beginning and end dates, resources needed, the person to whom you’ve assigned a task, priority level and percentage complete. So your mind map isn’t just an idea capture tool; it can also be used as a dashboard you can use to actively manage your project, every step of the way.

For more tips on how to use mind mapping software in business, please visit Chuck Frey’s Mind Mapping Software Blog

By Chuck Frey

About the author


Chuck Frey Senior Editor, founded InnovationTools.com and served as its publisher from its launch in 2002 until the partnership with Innovation Management in 2012. He is the publisher of The Mind Mapping Software Blog, the definitive souce for news, trends, tips and best practices for visual mapping tools. A journalist by trade, Chuck has over 14 years of experience in online marketing, and over 10 years experience in business-to-business public relations. His interests include creative problem solving, visual thinking, photography, business strategy and technology. His unique combination of experience and influences enables him to envision new possibilities and opportunities.

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