Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Think About It!

There are many skills a person requires to be successful in their business life. It is hard to decide which skills are more important than others, but one could argue that it depends on each individual, their job role, aims, goals and other personal and situational factors.

However, I am sure that we would all agree that one of the most important skills, one which is inbuilt into our very being from the moment we’re born, is thinking skills.

Peter Drucker, the world renowned management consultant, educator and author, is credited with introducing the concept of “knowledge worker”.
This term has been debated and argued about for decades now and has many diverse definitions.

However, generally the term is used to describe people at all levels whose work involves problem-solving, analysis and decision-making.
Research indicates that “knowledge workers” in the main are the ones that come up with new ideas around innovation, new processes, new ways of working, new products, services and so on.
Research also points to two main skills of a “knowledge worker” - effective communication and thinking skills.

“Is that not all or most of us?” I hear you say.

When I think about it, if you were to take a walk around most of todays business premises, I would suggest that you will find a “knowledge worker” at most desks, huddled around meeting tables, on calls to customers, chatting at the water dispenser, talking in the corridors, in discussions with bosses and colleagues – it seems most of us are indeed employed to be that “knowledge worker”.

Without getting involved in a deeper debate as to what or who a “knowledge worker” is, I am comfortable with the concept of that type of person needing to be an effective communicator and also possess excellent thinking skills.
In my opinion thinking is one of the life-skills which is central to being an effective worker-contributor, regardless of vocation or role. We could include skills associated with processing information and data under the “thinking skills” umbrella.

Adapting a model published by Latimer and Noble, 1996, I have mapped out some of those thinking and information-processing skills and how they can apply in a practical sense…

(Map created using MindGenius)

If we were to reflect on the above skills and match them against the skill requirements for our own roles, key responsibilities and functions, and if we were to consider for a moment the practical day-to-day application of these skills (as indicated in the map above), I dare say we would be ticking a lot of them off as applicable to us personally.
At this point there are 3 key issues beginning to emerge for me:
1. Surely we should be seeking to recognise the thinking skills we have and map them against the ones we need to fulfil our role and responsibilities?
2. Should we not be open and honest (and dare I say realistic?) about identifying skill gaps and opportunities to improve on those thinking skills?
3. We need to equip ourselves with strategies, tools and techniques to ensure we utilise those thinking skills to optimum effect
Entering into a fuller discussion on the above aspects would necessitate more editorial space and more of the readers’ time to read and digest (I simply cannot afford either luxury!), so allow me to touch briefly on the latter aspect – tools and techniques for equipping us as “knowledge workers” to deploy our thinking and information processing skills to best effect.
To qualify “best effect” – to contribute to “Know / Comprehend / Apply / Analyse / Synthesise / Evaluate” processes (above) in ways that increase efficiency, effectiveness and productivity within our own role and our overall contribution.
If the experience of using mind mapping in business and education contexts (not to mention the many years of experience of helping clients in a variety of disciplines) has taught me anything, it is an impressive proven methodology for enabling, improving and boosting the thinking processes.
(Map created using MindGenius)
I have heard the “excuses” of “I don’t think that way”, I’ve been tackled on the “right brain v left brain” concepts, I’ve even had the “mind mapping is for geeks” joke….
However, for me, if we open our minds, put age-old preconceptions or misconceptions to one side, what business mind mapping, specifically mind mapping software (such as MindGenius) offers, is an intuitive, creative, and highly visual “virtual whiteboard” to capture your thinking. This is explicitly our thinking around any topic, initiative, plan, problem, opportunity, project and any other daily task or activity requiring clarity and focus in the all-important upfront thinking stage.
Also, it is about adopting a platform that allows you to drill into sufficient detail, see patterns, themes and linkages, gain better understanding and give you a springboard to better prioritisation and well-informed decision making.
Even if we took advantage of this increased efficiency and productivity just for the upfront thinking stage, it is also worth highlighting that modern business mind mapping tools then propel our thinking into other productive outputs – prioritised plans, task management, project scheduling and reporting, documents and reports, presentations and so on.
It is no wonder that millions of people globally are taking advantage of business mind mapping and giving themselves a considerable edge over those sticking to alternative, manual, static and less creative traditional methodologies.
 You may be thinking that I’m labouring this point, but just consider for a moment how something  so natural, so organic, so taken for granted – the thinking process - can sometimes be the very rock on which problems, solutions, innovation, and even the way we communicate with others, founder and break up on.
I wonder if it’s because we don’t take the thinking process seriously enough?
I wonder if it’s because we think we can be heroes all the time by getting to solutions and finishing work and projects quicker?
I just wonder if sometimes we could have prevented errors, mistakes, broken promises, failed deadlines, etc, just by taking time to “think things through thoroughly”? 
To be that well-rounded, truly effective “knowledge worker”, we must seriously consider adopting such a proven and specifically-designed “toolkit” to help us really improve the way we apply our thinking – business mind mapping – think about it!

Author Bio: Jamie MacDonald, Head of Client Development at MindGenius. He is a highly experienced trainer, facilitator and coach with over 20 years’ experience in training, organisational development, HRM and performance improvement.
Jamie specialises in the application of MindGenius business mind mapping software as a catalyst for enhanced personal, team and organisational performance and productivity.


Mind Mapping Software for Studying

What is a Mind Map?

A Mind Map is a graphical, visual, mapped representation of ideas, knowledge and information. It enables you to think and organise your ideas in highly visual, creative and engaging way. Typically, the layout is hierarchical, starting with a central idea or topic and all associated ideas connected and radiating out from the centre.
In a studying, learning or information-gathering situation, as an example, start with your central topic or subject and then organise your thoughts and associated knowledge around it.


Why Mind Mapping?

Mind mapping is a fluid, visual way of capturing notes, ideas and knowledge. As the map builds, its structure and layout provides a layering of the subject matter, from an overview around its first level, then drilling down and expanding out into hierarchical details of the topic and sub-topics.
This enables students to gain a better understanding of the subject matter and allows them to add new ideas, identify connections and relationships.
The use of colour and imagery also adds to the mapped information and helps with retention and recollection of facts.

Mind mapping is used universally by people in all walks of life, particularly by students, to capture knowledge ideas and information. In addition to use for studying and learning, mind mapping is particularly useful to organise thoughts and ideas when planning and writing assignments or project work.

For clarity and focus on information that needs to be explored and clearly understood, the mind mapping methodology allows you to identify links, themes and relationships – enabling a focussed approach for analysis, prioritisation, problem-solving and clear, well informed decision-making.

Benefits of Mind Maps

Mind mapping is a very useful learning tool to help students in any learning environment with their thinking and understanding of any given topic or subject matter.
Studies and Research findings prove that mind mapping:
• improves long-term memory and memory formation
• provides an effective study technique
• significantly improves recall compared to conventional note-taking and learning methods
• improves students’ ability to generate, visualise and organise ideas
• encourages creative thinking

The proven practical benefits of the mind mapping approach include helping students to:
• brainstorm and capture ideas, knowledge, information, facts, problems, etc
• capture, understand and work with information quicker and easier
• spot trends, patterns and relationships between ideas and facts
• organise information and ideas easily and more effectively
• take comprehensive notes to aid recall, recollection and revision
• better plan tasks and projects

Mind Mapping as a Study Aid

Mind maps, as visual representation of knowledge and ideas, and mind mapping as a creative and engaging methodology, dramatically improves many aspects of learning and studying, including:

• essay planning and writing
• problem solving
• revision and studying for exams
• note taking
• planning and managing projects
• brainstorming ideas 

• generating creative ideas
• data analysis and interpretation
• creating and planning presentations
• understanding complex issues
• personal organisation
• prioritising and decision-making

Mind Mapping Software

Whilst the origins of mind mapping are based on drawing and utilising mind maps on paper, visual mind mapping software tools (e.g. MindGenius) have greatly automated and enhanced the whole process. Mind mapping software brings a decades-old methodology firmly into the 21st century and enables a more visual, effective and more function-loaded way of building, manipulating, analysing and working with knowledge maps.
Students using mind mapping software now have access to a whole new world of creativity and are able to create highly visual maps, work easier and more efficiently with large amounts of information, handle complexity and are able to gain better understanding of information and produce outputs of a higher standard easier and quicker than ever before.
In addition to this, mind mapping software packages now integrate with MS Office and other applications for converting maps to other outputs such as MS Word documents, MS PowerPoint presentations, project plans, etc.

Mind Mapping for Assisted Learning

The length and breadth of uses of the mind mapping approach for learning and studying is vast. It is also worth highlighting the great use and value in mind mapping in the Assisted Learning environment.
There are many positive results emerged as a result of research into the use of mind mapping in this area. Results prove that mind mapping is ideal and very helpful for learners with Assisted Learning needs. Mind mapping can be used to support students with course work, literacy and developing various strategies to cope with a broad range of Assisted Learning difficulties and challenges…
• the process of building maps and disseminating information can help build understanding on any topic
• can be used to classify information and work out the information to be included in essays and projects
• the ability to add colour, graphics and imagery aids retention and memory recall
• good motivating tool for those who do not like writing or find writing difficult
• allows students to see all the information in context, with words, pictures, links, etc
• supports personalised learning to complement different learning styles

To view the maps above and many more on Biggerplate, follow these links -

Author Bio: Jamie MacDonald, Head of Client Development at MindGenius. He is a highly experienced trainer, facilitator and coach with over 20 years’ experience in training, organisational development, HRM and performance improvement.
Jamie specialises in the application of MindGenius business mind mapping software as a catalyst for enhanced personal, team and organisational performance and productivity.


Did You Know...You Gain Better Clarity and Focus by Re-Structuring Map Content

In most cases, after we have captured and mapped a mass of ideas, knowledge and information, we need to re-structure our map in order to aid understanding and bring focus and clarity to the exercise (e.g. we may need to clarify areas of complexity; we may need to prioritise; or we may need to reach decisions and or outcomes).
Re-structuring of a map is achieved by moving branches either in order or sequence within the same level, or moving into different levels and parent/child relationships.

How Can I Move Branches and alter the Map Structure?
• Simply Click and Drag the branch you want to move
• Drag the Branch to its new location
• Use the Branch shadow to preview where the branch will drop if you release the mouse
• Release the mouse-click to complete the move

Apart from the Core Branch, any Branch can be moved in terms of order and hierarchy, thus providing the ability to group themes, re-structure part or whole content, provide better clarity to the subject matter

An Example…
Below is an example of how a large brainstorm of improvement ideas was re-structured, by simply “dragging and dropping branches” into agreed subject-heading branches…

Re-structuring a Map and grouping is a highly engaging and beneficial collaborative exercise for a group/team to actually carry out. It encourages communication, aids understanding and the end-result is a more focussed, clearer outcome.
Another Method…
Below is an alternative method of grouping this brainstorm, of improvement ideas. This time the group/team were asked to decide on a value for each item captured in terms of “High, /Medium or Low Impact” on the business. The Map content was re-structured on that basis and finally the Map layout was changed to “Affinity Layout” to assist with clarity and better understanding of the outcome…
(This re-structuring can of course be achieved by using the Categories from the “Analyze” Ribbon and creating a Category-Centric view)
Whatever methods and MindGenius functionality you use, the key point is that clarity and focus on any complex topic or subject matter can be simply achieved through Map re-structuring.
Help on moving and re-positioning Branches is available within the MindGenius Help content area in the “Tools” Ribbon.

How To Export to MS Word...

MindGenius provides the ability to export a Map to MS Word.
This function is particularly useful when preparing a document, article, briefing, report or assignment.

This “How To” Guide outlines how you can set up and use the Export to MS Word function…

Where will I find this export function?
The export to MS Word function is available via the “Microsoft Office” menu on the Export Ribbon: 
• Switch to the Export Ribbon
• Click on the Microsoft Word button
• Enter a File Name and location to save the document
• Set Export Options (see below)
• Click OK

An alternative way would be to use the File / Export option on the Application Drop-Down Menu
The Basic “Rules” for Exporting a Map…
• The “Core” Branch will become the title of the document
• 1st-Level Branches will become “Heading 1” Paragraph Headings
• 2nd- Level Branches will become “Heading 2” Sub-paragraph Headings…and so on
• Notes (input into the Notes Editor pane) will become Text against that particular Paragraph
Using a “Sample” Map, here is an example of how a Map exports to MS Word…

Export Options…

The following options are available on export (tick to select):
• Launch MS Word on completion – to launch the document in MS Word once the export has completed
• Use a Word Template – if selected, Heading styles in the selected MS Word Template will be applied to the Map
• Respect MindGenius Font Styles – Map Styles and customised Branch Styles in the Map will be retained
• Branches below Level "xyz" use in normal text – instead of becoming Paragraph Headings, the Branches in the levels you select will appear as normal text
• Insert an Image – an image of the Map will be inserted into the MS Word document. It will be split at Page Breaks if used and may also be split at each Level 1 Branch (which makes the image size more manageable)
• Put each Image on its own Page – if selected, a Page Break will be inserted at each Image. The Page Orientation used may also be specified for these Image Pages
• Export Range – Current View or Entire Map – to export the whole Map, select “Entire Map”; to limit the Map to the Current View (respect Focus, filters, etc) select “Export Current Map”. It is also possible to choose whether to respect a Branch’s collapsed state; if “Expand Branches” is selected, then a collapsed Branch’s child/sub-branches will be exported
• Only export Branches with Notes – to omit Branches with no Note Text
• Omit Branches with no Sub-branches – to omit Branches with no children, i.e. sub-branches
• Property Options -  select any additional Branch Properties to be exported. This information will appear next to the Branch in the export

Tip for best results: The default settings will give good results on exporting a Map to MS Word.

How to Use Question Sets...

MindGenius provides a selection of pre-installed Question Sets.
Question Sets are available for a range of subjects and purposes such as strategy, planning, essay writing and writing a business plan, among others.
Question Sets are key questions on a range of subjects designed to help you explore that topic more fully, and help you build your map quicker by prompting you with key questions that help to ensure a thoroughly explored topic. They also ensure your map is well structured and stays on track.
Question Sets also help you get the most out of your Template maps.
You can also create your own customised Question Sets.
This “How To” guide outlines how you can set up and use Question Sets… 
Where will I find and select Question Sets?

Question Sets are available via the Question Sets menu on the Home Ribbon:
• Switch to the Home Ribbon
• Click Question Sets to show the Question Sets Menu
• Select a Question Set
The selected Question Set will be loaded into the Question Set Task Pane on the left hand side of the screen Question Sets
How Do I Create My Own Custom Question Sets?

Question Sets are created via the Edit Question Sets command on the Tools Ribbon: 


To create a new Question Set:
• Switch to the Tools Ribbon
• Click Edit Questions Sets
• Click the New Question Set icon
• Enter a name for the Question Set, or select an Existing Question Set on which to base yours
• Click Create

Once your Question Set has been created, you can begin adding or editing Questions…
To add or edit Questions:
• Switch to the Tools Ribbon
• Click Edit Question Sets
• Select the Question set to edit by selecting it from the left panel
• Select a Question to edit or select the Set title to add a new Question, then use the Edit Question, Delete Question or Add Questions icons
• Click Save to finish editing

How Do I View Custom Question Sets: 

 To view your Custom Question Sets:
• Switch to the Home Ribbon
• Click Question Sets to view the Question Set menu
• Select from the Custom Question Sets sub-menu (as opposed to “Installed”)
• Select a Question Set to view
The selected Question Set will be loaded into the Question set panel of the Task Pane


Branch Properties Can Be Formatted and User-Defined

Map Branch properties can be formatted and user-defined to suit individual needs and to add colour and various properties to any/all branches. This provides visual enhancement, highlights areas of importance and enhances  learning experiences, among other benefits.  These properties include:
• Font properties
• Branch Shapes
• Fill colour
• Branch Connectors
• Auto Colour
• Branch Spacing
• Copying and Pasting Branch Styles


Where Can I Find the Branch Format Functions?

The formatting functions are located on the Format ribbon.

Font properties of branches are changed via the Font command group on the Format Ribbon. This includes Font type, size, foreground and background colour.
(Multi-select should be used to change the properties within multiple branches)
Branch shape and Fill colour can be customized through the Branch Appearance command group.
(From the Branch Shape tab of the Branch Appearance dialog you can change: Branch Shape; Line Style; Line Width; Fill Colour and Boundary Colour).
In MindGenius colour can be used to enhance the meaning of a map as well as to help it look good. Colour, for instance, can be used to code or categorize a map after a brainstorming session, to make a particular part of the map stand out or to create an association to aid memory.
Branch connector type and styles for the whole map are set via the Connector Type menu on the Format Ribbon.
Auto-colour is used to highlight each thought-path in your map by assigning a different colour to each Level 1 branch.
Auto Colour is turned on and off via the Auto Colour toggle command on the Format ribbon.

The spacing MindGenius places between child branches and their parent and between sibling branches can be adjusted. The horizontal or vertical space between branches can be increased or decreased.

To adjust Branch spacing:

• Ctrl+Shift + Up Arrow will increase vertical spacing
• Ctrl+Shift+Down Arrow will decrease vertical spacing
• Ctrl+Shift+Left Arrow will decrease horizontal spacing
• Ctrl+Shift+Right Arrow will increase horizontal spacing

The style of a branch can be copied and applied on to other branches in your map. Branch styles are pasted via the Paste Style command on the Home Ribbon.



Improving Life Skills – The MindGenius Way

Each time I take a look into our customer base profile to gauge the depth and breadth of MindGenius use and adoption, I can’t help but be amazed at the range of age groups, job roles, work disciplines, application, uses and benefits.

Recent discussions with a colleague around this issue challenged me to pause and think “beyond the product” about the wider, bigger picture around the dynamics of what is actually taking place in our customer base.

Continuous feedback from across our varied customer base confirms the basics of what we would expect from users who have carried out their own thorough research around their specific needs, requirements and how MindGenius can meet these. Not unexpectedly it points to confirming that MindGenius delivers in the key aspects and across a wide range of applications:
• Helps to manage information  overload
• Increase productivity
• Brings clarity and focus to tasks, activities, etc.
• Raises the quality of work and outputs overall

However, it could be argued that whilst important and impressive enough, that list could be interpreted as high level and quite general. If we scratch below the surface, we start to uncover some real and telling uses and benefits – ones that really impact on individuals and groups and contribute to wider and far-reaching benefits.
We in fact discover that the use of MindGenius actually impacts on people’s core skills – it acts as leverage and a catalyst to the way people actually…
• Think through problems and challenges
• Improve a range of planning and organisation activities
• Approach learning, studying and knowledge management
• Cope with, manage and work through change
• Research topics
• Generally perform in more efficient and productive ways

What we see happening is when users engage with the combination of the MindGenius functionality and the mapping methodology, it becomes an intuitive and effective “way of working” that provides visualization, clarity and focus that alternative  linear, static and less creative and engaging methodologies simply do not provide (in fact have the opposite negative effect).
So, whether you are young, mature, in education, in business, office based, in management / leadership, or whatever, the MindGenius approach will augment your own skills and approaches, and in most instances help you noticeably improve them.
Going back therefore to my original viewpoint of “beyond the product”, the use and adoption of the MindGenius methodology simply improves the way we tackle these everyday tasks, activities, challenges and plans, etc.
The map diagram above is a quick brainstorm of the various areas we can prove the impact as a result of some of the ways our customers apply MindGenius. These areas are vital Life Skill aspects. Think of how many times you, or someone you know, at home, in education, or in business need to display or even improve on these Life Skills… if our research and customer feedback highlights real and tangible benefits and results in each one of these areas / skills through the use and application of MindGenius, we surely cannot afford to miss out on availing ourselves of the opportunity to further improve the way we work, perform and generally apply our personal armoury of Life Skills?
If you feel you are possibly not getting the best of MindGenius in these all important Life Skills, or you know someone who could benefit from being introduced to or increasing their use of MindGenius, we have the experience, knowledge and practical Know-how to help – just get in touch – we’d be delighted to hear from you!
There are numerous Resources both within the MindGenius product Help and with the Resources Section of our website www.mindgenius.com
We also provide advice and professional training and consultancy services to help you get the most out of MindGenius and its applications for many personal, business and education uses.
Contact us anytime on

Author Bio: Jamie MacDonald, Head of Client Development at MindGenius. Jamie is a highly experienced trainer, facilitator and coach with over 20 years’ experience in training, development, HRM and business improvement.