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March 9, 2010 – Thanks to Courtney Barnett for the update!

Thinking out loud: Mapping what I know

I want to map what I know.

I want to make what I know more findable. The reverse-chronological order of blog posts isn’t enough organization. Search is useful, but it’s not enough. I want to make it easier for people to learn my skills or take over my role so that we can all do more than I can do myself. In order to do that, I need to make it easier for people to browse and learn.

I want to map the gaps so that I can see what else I need to reflect on and write about. I want to write what I’ve learned before I take too much for granted. Mapping my knowledge is one way to figure out what else is missing. Answering people’s questions is another way. This is one of the reasons why mentoring is useful.

My ideal would be a visual, expanding map of what I know, with links to additional resources. It would distinguish between things I’m actively learning about and things I’ve archived. It would be easy to update. It would be easy to cross-reference. People could browse it from the top down, or they could search it. It would be back-linked from my blog so that people could see the context of what I’ve posted.

It’s challenging to think about that map in full, but I can start building small pieces of it. People ask me about exploring interests and passions, improving productivity, delegating, being positive, and connecting with others. I can use a mindmap to organize my thoughts as well as previously published resources. As I expand the map, the bigger picture will emerge.

This will be fun!

Have you come across people with similar goals? I’d appreciate any pointers to role models!

Visual organizers

I love visual organizers. 2×2 matrices, mindmaps, fishbone diagrams, even more interesting ways to structure and organize ideas… Just as a wider vocabulary helps you express more when you speak, a wider visual vocabulary helps you express more when you think and draw.

Here are some sources for inspiration:

Also interesting – tools: http://www.visual-literacy.org/pages/maps/mapping_tools_radar/radar.html

The work of self-understanding

I’ve been taking advantage of the company’s free e-counseling service to pick a counselor’s brain about marriage. When I told the counselor (Sue) about how I thought my way through tough situations by mindmapping, writing, and drawing, she asked me how I learned how to do that.

I don’t know. I remember reading books about mindmapping and note-taking when I was a grade-schooler raiding my mom’s books on productivity and learning. I found it to be a useful way of getting ideas out without having to put them in order first. Writing became my way of thinking through things I wanted to understand more, like my options for university or how I felt about a crush. Although this occasionally led to some embarrassment (like when my mom stumbled across my notes for the latter), it was a useful practice, and I’m glad I got into it.

I looked for interesting techniques, and I experimented with them. One of the classes in my mechanical and industrial engineering master’s degree turned out to have great insights into the limitations of the human brain and some tools for making better decisions, like decision tables. In Built to Last, I learned about the genius of the “and” – that even when it seems to be a choice between A or B, you may be able to find an option that combines the best of both. Books like Problem Solving 101 reinforced the value of making decision trees, examining your assumptions, and exploring your alternatives.

Diagrams, journal entries, drawings, and blog posts helped me think whenever I needed to understand something. When W- hinted that he liked me, I was so nervous, I prattled. It was only when I stayed up late to mindmap my thoughts and figure out what I felt that I could write my response in a letter. When my parents raged and wept with disapproval, I filled pages with mindmaps and lists of possible outcomes and ways to move forward. I use these tools for good stuff, too, drawing what an even better life might be like and writing about how I can help make it happen.

It’s not about driving emotion out of the picture. In fact, the logical structures of decision-making diagrams and tools can help you understand and harness emotions. By themselves, emotions can be overwhelming – a jumble of inchoate thoughts and inarticulate sensations. When you slow down and focus on a single thread, it becomes easier to untangle your thoughts. Even the seemingly logic-oriented process of listing pros and cons reveals your preferences and emotions, if you listen carefully to yourself. It’s not about the numbers of advantages or disadvantages you can list, or the objective factors you consider – in fact, you get even more valuable information when your instinctive reaction goes against what you think you should feel.

This is the work of self-understanding – of identifying and examining your assumptions, developing and articulating your intuition, and broadening your alternatives. Diagrams, journal entries, blog posts, and drawings are tools that you can use to externalize your thoughts, getting them out of your head and into a form that you can review and understand. They’re also useful when you need help remembering your reasons and sticking to a decision, or re-evaluating a decision when the situation changes.

Investing time and energy into learning how to make better decisions pays off, because you will make so many decisions in your lifetime. Reflection helps you separate external influences from what you really think and feel. If you ignore your intuition or bury your emotions under the pressure of external influences, it will be harder and harder to use those tools to make decisions in the future, and then you’ll wake up one day and wonder where your life went. On the other hand, the more you trust yourself, the easier it becomes to know yourself. Although making your own decisions means making mistakes along the way, those mistakes are invaluable because they help you learn more about your path.

Here’s where I like taking that one step further: I sometimes post these in-between thoughts and reflections (and mistakes!) to get more insights and to share what I’ve learned. This is scary. We don’t want to be vulnerable, and we don’t want to bore people with the details of our lives. But as it turns out, thinking out loud helps inspire other people. Like the way I learned to recognize assumptions, situations, and alternatives by reading books and blog posts about other people’s lives, people peeking into my life can use whatever insights they pick up to make their own lives better. It also helps other people see the value of reflection and self-understanding, and who knows what I’ll be able to learn from them if they build on that?

Good stuff. Try it out.

Trying out MindManager 2012 – Almost but not quite the right fit for me

Mindjet MindManager 2012 - Sacha Chua

(Click on the image for  larger version.)

I love the way that mindmaps let me get lots of information down quickly without worrying about organization. It’s easy to organize things after as the structure emerges. I often make mindmaps on paper, but I prefer to do my mindmaps on the computer. Working on the computer lets me reorganize items, expand and collapse branches, and read everything instead of rotating the map so that I can read text written at odd angles. (Besides, my scrawls tend to be hard to read the day after.)

I’ve been a big fan of mindmapping software ever since I came across FreeMind, a fast and free mindmapping tool. XMind became my new favourite when I found out about it. I wanted to give the premium mindmapping programs a try, though, so I gave iMindMap and MindManager a spin.

iMindMap was colourful, but didn’t quite fit the way I wanted to work. It’s definitely skewed towards maps with just one word on the branches, and I tend to write whatever I want to.

MindManager fit me better. I was delighted to find that MindManager had a good pen mode, allowing me to create, edit, and organize my map with my computer in tablet mode (look, Ma, no keyboard!). I could scribble things down, then convert ink to text and have fully-searchable and more legible notes afterwards.

I tried using MindManager in pen mode to capture a panel discussion. This was a bit of a challenge as I was actually on the panel in question, but I wanted to take notes anyway. I probably wouldn’t have tried this with other (non-tablet) mindmapping programs because the keyboard clicking sounds would have been distracting even if I had my screen tilted down (removing a barrier between me and others). The smooth gliding of a pen across a tablet screen is unobtrusive, and not all that different from writing on (somewhat glowy) paper.

As it turned out, the necessity of writing in the input box caused a bit more mental friction than drawing on a blank canvas in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro. (The input box size is configurable, but there are tradeoffs as you have to make your gestures outside the box.) I also ended up redoing the whole summary in Sketchbook because I wanted it to have more personality and a more compact layout. So no time savings for real-time visual notetaking, at least for me, although it was good to be able to reorganize points as needed.

I’ve also been using MindManager for keyboard-based brainstorming. It has a number of nifty features for project management and map navigation, but I haven’t made them part of the way I work.

MindManager’s handwriting recognition and pen controls are high on coolness factor and they’re pleasant to use, but considering that I can get the other features I care about for free with XMind, I’m not particularly keen on the $399 price for MindManager. Might be a good fit for other people, but I’ll hold off getting it for now.

Still, good to know what’s out there!

Related links:

Sketchnote about mindmapping: Rock the Monkey: Visual Facilitation Skills and Brain-based Learning–Chuck Frey

Learn more about mindmapping in this sketchnote of Chuck Frey’s Jan 14, 2013 webinar on Rock the Monkey: Visual Facilitation Skills and Brain-based Learning. Click on the image for a larger version.

20130114 Rock the Monkey - Visual Facilitation Skills and Brain-Based Learning - Chuck Frey

Feel free to share this! © 2013 Sacha Chua, http://sachachua.com (Creative Commons Attribution Licence)

Learn more about mindmapping on Chuck Frey’s blog, The Mindmapping Software Blog. You can also follow him on Twitter (@chuckfrey).

For more sketchnotes, see http://experivis.com/ and http://sachachua.com/blog/category/sketchnotes . Enjoy!

This post originally appeared on Experivis, the company I’m building around the idea of turning experiences into visuals.