Mindful Moderating (Part 6)

Getting Those Ideas Out Into the Open-

The Beauty of Mind Mapping

By: Jo Ann Hairston

Even the writer who finds the process effortless can have moments when they would happily write something if only they knew what it was they were supposed to be writing! Every writer can use help getting their thoughts organized whether it’s for a moderator’s guide, a final report or a planning session with your team.  Thinking back to my days in school, I can still hear the teachers pressing us to write an outline before starting a term paper or a book report and I always resisted.  How much more fun would it have been to have been shown mind mapping, also known as clustering, webbing, spider charts, etc.

Mind mapping in some form has been around for hundreds of years with the common belief that Albert Einstein, Da Vinci, Churchill and other big thinkers are reputed to use some version of graphic picturing in developing their theories and projects. Since the 1970’s, the term “Mind Mapping” is associated with Tony Buzan, a British psychologist, author and general personality.  He defines mind mapping as a visual thinking tool that can be applied to all cognitive functions, especially memory, learning, creativity and analysis. Mind Mapping is a process that involves a distinct combination of imagery, color and visual-spatial arrangement. The technique maps out your thoughts using keywords that trigger associations in the brain to spark further ideas. When I refer to mind mapping, I usually define it as a visual representation of all your thoughts on one page.  It is non-linear, meaning you can jump over to any topic to add to it as additional thoughts occur. You may also begin a whole new topic area at any time.

At RIVA, we teach about the different styles of organization that lead to creating Moderator guides.  Like the outlines taught by legions of school teachers, one way of planning a guide is to work top down.  You start with the main idea, develop the subtopics and fill in the gaps with details in a linear progression.  The alternative is bottom up thinking. Generate as many pieces or segments related to the idea as possible. After studying or reflecting on your mind map, organize them into a pattern that makes sense according to the project goals.


Creating the Mind Map

Traditional mind maps start with colored markers and a page laid horizontally in landscape format.  In the center of the paper is a box with the theme of the mind map written in.  For a moderator’s guide, this would be the purpose statement; for a final report it would be the key takeaway, e.g., respondents found the 2nd concept the most appealing; for this blog it would be the power of mind-mapping for market researchers.  Then as notions or ideas come to mind, they can be added in any order desired.

Tony Buzan recommends the following:

  • Lines that connect the boxes should be arched or curved rather than straight lines
  • For each new topic area, use a new colored box. It doesn’t matter where it  is placed on  the page.
  • Work in a generally clockwise pattern adding new boxes where needed.
  • It is important to limit boxes to 1-2 words which will foster more creative thinking and new relationships between words. When using mind-mapping to write a guide, it seems best to write the themes/topics/issues to be covered and use 1-2 words to indicate the direction of the questions. It doesn’t work to write the actual questions on the mind-map.
  • Use as many graphics, drawings and symbols as desired
  • Develop your own style

While there are software programs to assist [see below], early work with mind-mapping to learn the technique is best done by hand.  The primary reason:   Software programs involve typing and there is the desire to edit/correct when typing which slows down the “popcorn thinking “effect that is at the heart of mind-mapping:  allowing the brain to branch out over disparate data elements.  Quickly recording them by hand stops the mind from “fixing and editing” as you think.  When you’ve mastered the process – you can choose to use software or stay with colored markers!

Below is an example of a portion of a mind map developed for how I see and think about Houston, TX where I live.  It was created using a free software mapping program called SimpleMind +



Other things to consider when writing the mind map:

  • Avoid censoring thoughts and labeling them as non-productive at the time you are working, just add them in
  • Keep writing and creating or adding to the boxes as long as the ideas are still coming
  • If you are lucky, you will get to surprise yourself with some of your thinking as you reflect on the whole.



There is a great deal of information about mind mapping readily available.  For starters take a look at http://imindmap.com/company/, the website associated with Tony Buzan’s organization.  It offers classes and workshops and offers a free online class in mind mapping as well as a free trial program.  Another resource is http://www.mind-mapping.org/ a very dense website chock full of articles about the benefits of mind mapping and an extensive review of (paid) software. There are also lots of apps available to check out as well.  Try a few and see what works best with your style and needs.  And don’t neglect pen and paper or colored markers and the hand drawn map as an option either.



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