lug 25 2008

Mind Mapping everyday

Some months ago I discovered the concept of Mind Map, since then I found mind mapping useful in a lot of things mainly in my professional activities, for example:

  1. project management
  2. keeping track of things to do (ToDos)
  3. notes keeping
  4. support on thinking processes
  5. acquisition and organization of software requirement
  6. change logs management
  7. software bug management
  8. design of PowerPoint presentation design
  9. organization of blog posting

With this post I'm starting a series of posts describing my personal experience with this tool.
In the following there is a short introduction about Mind Maps, in the next posts I'm writing about my personal way of doing things by means of mind mapping.

Introduction

From a very simple theoretical point of view a Mind Map is a graphical representation of concepts, ideas and, in more general, objects that can be cross-referenced in a tree-view fashion.

The term "mind map" derives from the idealization of the way the brain stores information. Thanks to this similarity the way of depict things in a mind map can help the brain to learn and memorize.

Graphically a mind map is a tree, in short a series of connections between nodes from a root down to leaves. Each node is labelled with a text representing a concept. Any leave is labelled with a text representing a specific detail from the general concept.
Over this simple rapresentation everyone can add personal embellishment like images, icons and colors  with the intent of making a map closer to the personal way of memorization.

The customization stimulates specific areas of the brain by means of optical signals, making the storage of information simpler.
Due to the natural difference between human beings, the customization able to trigger the brain to best memorization can differ from one author to another. This imply that a really effective mind map made by one person can produce less or not any effect to another.

The customization is a big problem in building maps useful to teams. In a following post I'm going to expose my personal ideas about this topic.

Someone try to find a strong connection between the concept of the Mind Map and the synapse/neurons structure, I don't personally find so relevant this similarity.
I indeed prefer to imagine that our mind is best suited to manage information hierarchically, in a top-down fashion or, in other words, from groups to details.

I can well understand that my mind stores my friend names under the class "friends" and, up to one level, under the class "known people". Thinking to my friend Mickey Mouse my mind run fast from "known people" down to "friends" and finally finds the folder about mickey mouse.
In this model a mind map can actually help us in storing information in a way they can be retrieved in short.

My "known peoples" map

My "known peoples" map

Size and Density of information

It is demonstrated that a normal human being can effectively pay attention to a finite number of items at the same time. This number varies from 3 to 7. This topic is detailed in:

http://www.musanim.com/miller1956/
http://news.softpedia.com/news/The-Limit-of-the-Human-Mind-84585.shtml
http://www.livescience.com/health/080428-working-memory.html

This is also the reason why communication's gurus tell us not to exceed with the number of concept expressed at the same time. I think to the famous rule of thumb used in PowerPoint presentations: "max 5 topics in the index, max 5 items in a bullet list, max 5 box in any schema, ...".

Applying this rule also in mind mapping a node has 5-7 child nodes. Because the mind map extend from one root down to an unlimited number of child levels, the total number of information contained in the map can be huge.

Suppose that the real information is stored only in the last level of the map (leaves) and the mean number of levels is 3, if we divide any node in 5 child the total number of information is: [pmath size=12] 5^3=125[/pmath] (the power 3 of 5).

Normal brain cannot manage this amount of information if it is stored in a unique "box", but the scenario change radically if the information is grouped and retrieved by progressive details from root down to leaves like in mind map. I didn't find any specific term to call this mode of access information, I like to call this "clustered access".

From a pure technological point of view this organization of information obtained by means of a mind map is really efficient because it is a smart trade off between "random access" (the faster) and "sequential access" (the simpler). I understand that the brain evolved in this direction.

How to build maps

It's clear that, even if the classical approach to mind maps implies the use of paper and pencil, it is intriguing the use of maps by means of software.

There are a lot of software specifically designed to assist in the build process of a map.
Fortunately there are also some open source versions. My preferred is FreeMind because it is free, cross platform and user friendly.

What's next

In the next post I'm writing about how to keep track of things to do by means of a mind map: my ToDo map.

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