Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Using MindGenius to write a book

Wayne Stelk
Wayne Stelk, Ph.D, President, Innovation Management Solutions, LLC has been using MindGenius to write a book. Here he talks about the process he has followed:

In what may be an act of folly, I’ve decided to write a book. It will be a non-technical book for managers who work in the knowledge economy. The topic of the book is how humans think compared to how computers think. As Web 2.0 evolves into Web 3.0 (the “Semantic Web”), successful managers will need to know the difference between i-think and e-think.

The primary problems I’ve encountered in writing this book include organizing my research and having the source information at my finger tips as I write. The source material includes scientific studies, newspaper articles, government reports, interviews, and so on. The number of discrete information items numbers in the thousands. In many respects, my problem is similar to any organization that wants to organize its “intellectual capital” into a readily accessible knowledge-base. And ultimately, this is the challenge of the Semantic Web: creating knowledge representation schemes so that individual pieces of information can be organized into a conceptual framework that allows the end-user to access meaningful categories of information, not just scattered pieces of information. When viewed in this context, my little problem of organizing information for my book is a nano-microcosm of a far larger problem of organizing all of the information available globally through the Web.

MindGenius (MG) has become a mission-critical solution to the problem of organizing my research – a true folly-buster. I have used other tools to gather information, such as EndNote, Evernote, and OneNote. But the search and retrieval across tools has proven impossible and I was losing track of what information was in which bucket. Because I had long been interested in mind-mapping software, I decided it was time to explore this option. I went online to look at the various products and quickly settled on the many cool features offered by MG. Having purchased MG a few months ago, I am more than pleased with the product and I keep finding new solutions for old problems.

My first use of MG was to organize my book chapters and chapter sections. Because MG is so visual, it was easy to put my thoughts on the screen, move them around, and re-formulate ideas. Having discovered the joy of outlining, I began to explore more advanced MG features, such as: categories; category maps; project management; resource management; cost allocations; and indexing. I did this through a variety of “test” applications (see Image 1). 

  • For example, I would create four Level 1 branches (A, B, C, D),  then added Level 2 branches (A1, A2, A3; B1, B2, B3; C1, C2, C3; etc.), and then added additional levels.
  • With this simple structure, I could play with building categories, assigning them to different items at different branch levels, and generate linked maps.
  • I could then create category maps to see how the items grouped, and export these items to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Project Manager.
  • Another important lesson I learned was that I could copy a branch and its sub-branches in one application and paste it (with all of its notes, categories and attachments) into another application. In other words, I could build new applications from earlier applications.
Fig. 1 Sample Test App
Please click for full screen view
Since the test structures were simple to construct, I could explore all of these advanced features in a few brief sessions of less than 15 minutes each. In other words, by playing with test applications, I quickly came up the learning curve for using MG to the max.

Having developed fluency with MG, I returned to my book project and began transforming my book outline into a one-stop-shopping information repository. For each section within each chapter, I wrote the topic sentences as sub-branches. I also created sub-branches for each reference used in the section. I then attached the source document to the reference branch, or I could paste source text into the “notes” feature of the branch. The symbol of the pencil in the branch lets me know that I have populated the notes field (see image 2).
Fig. 2 Sample Topic Outline
Please click for full screen view

By converting my simple outline into a comprehensive information repository, I made a giant leap forward in organizing the information for book writing. Now, I could write text and quickly attach reference material. And because MG is a visual product, I could easily move (or copy) text and reference material to some other section of the document as I edited the flow of the topics. While my MG application worked well as a project organizer and information repository, I decided that I needed to go one step further by creating a knowledge-base (KB) that would function as a higher-level information source not only for my book project at hand, but also for all future writing projects.

The difference between a project –specific information repository and a KB is that the organization of reference material for a project is specific to that project. Also, a particular information source might be used in more than one location, thereby creating a redundancy that is useful within the project, but less useful in “one-stop-shopping” for information. Plus, the logical structure of a MG project application is necessarily specific to the project. Because a KB has a more universal logic-structure, it can be used for many projects related to the KB domains.  When properly constructed, a KB is a universal representation for some aspect of your world – personal or organizational. In technical terms, a KB becomes an “ontology,” a knowledge representation scheme that can be shared (or mutually constructed) with others who might be family members (family and household information), friends (book clubs, competitive sports leagues), or organizational managers (value chain, products, policies and procedures). The development of globally-useful ontologies is a core challenge for the creation of the Semantic Web. However, personal or organizational KBs are far smaller and scope and easier to build.

I found MG to be an ideal environment to build a universal KB for my writing and consulting projects. The key to robust KB construction is creating levels of branches that identify domains and sub-domains. Specific points of information (documents, notes, Web-links, etc) can then be created in branches that are attached to a domain-chain. Here is one example of a domain-chain that goes from general to specific: Technology, Computers, Hardware, Smart Computers. In this example, I have added instances of source material to the “Smart Computer” branch (see Image 3). Besides the Technology domain, other high level domain branches in my KB include: Systems Theory, Network Theory, Information Management (see Image 4 showing the Info Management chain), to name a few.
Fig. 3 Segment for Technology
Please click for full screen view

Fig. 4 Segment on Information Management
Please click for full screen view

Besides the creation of domain branches, another important feature in constructing a KB is the use of “categories.” You can create your own selection of categories using the Analyze tab and selecting “Edit Categories.” There, I created “tags” that assign category attributes to the points of information. For example, in Image 3, I have two articles on DNA computers, to which I have assigned a “biology” category. By creating a Category Map, I can find the articles on DNA computing under the Technology domain and the Biology domain (see Image 5). By using categories to assign attribute tags, my knowledge-base is a multi-dimensional representation of my research that can be searched using domain chains, category assignments, or key words.

Fig. 5 Sample Category Map
Please click for full screen view
MindGenius has allowed me to organize my thoughts and research in a way that is intuitive, visual, and retrievable. Besides being useful, it has been fun to see my “mind product” taking shape on the screen. My KB application and my book application will grow together through a dynamic process of adding information and moving information as my own knowledge increases and as my book takes shape.

You, too, can create applications like these by developing your own test playgrounds and by inserting your own creative juices – all with no programming skills. Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. It's going to take some absorbing and playing with, especially the stuff on a knowledge base.

MindGenius said...

Glad Wayne's article is of interest - let us know if you have any questions on the process once you've had a chance to digest it and we would be happy to answer them, or ask Wayne if he can help.

Anonymous said...

A fascinating insight into knowledge management, thank you.
I appreciate the complexity of controlling and managing all the sources of the technical information, but when attempting something similar, I find myself wanting to make "links" from one (piece of data) to another, and I end up with a screen of spaghetti!
Did you consider "links"? I ask this, because I'm sure that you must have, but I didn't see a reference to it in the article, and I'm wondering how you addressed the issue.
Kind regards,

John Smith

MindGenius said...

Hi John, thanks for your comment. I will pass it onto Wayne and ask how he deals with links in his research.

Anonymous said...

Hello, John,

Thanks for your comments. The challenge of creating a knowledge-base is one of deciding how domains of information/topics fit together in some logical trail. That's why I suggested going from general domains, followed by branches with more specific domains. One should flow to the other. Branches can get long and many (spaghetti), but that is the value of the "focus" feature. Select the branch of interest as the "focus" and you simplify your map. The other challenge of a KB is finding the info you need among the many branches. This is where your categories are important. So, you can find what you want by either following a series of branches or search for the information by categories. I hope this helps.


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