By Ashley Marron
The invention of Mind Mapping is commonly attributed to Tony Buzan, an English author and educational consultant whose 1974 best-selling book, Use Your Head, popularised the idea of mining the brain’s hidden resources to organise and structure thought more effectively. In the same year he fronted a 10-part BBC series on the subject, read entirely from an autocue dressed in the kind of long-lapelled jacket favoured by Hutch (Starsky wore a cardigan) and Bodie in The Professionals.
From such relatively unsophisticated beginnings, Mind Mapping developed and is now used by millions of individuals, businesses and organisations globally to plan and execute projects from the smallest to the very biggest. The introduction of personal computers, tablets and smartphones into every aspect of our lives has had the effect of revolutionising Mind Mapping, moving it from being a graph-based method of making connections and assisting memory, to being one of the most powerful management tools available.
Mind Mapping software allows us to prepare, create and deliver presentations, to facilitate personal or group brainstorming sessions and to outline projects, plans or life. What makes it particularly effective is its ability to connect to any other digital resource, including Word documents, PDF files, folders on computers, internet addresses, mail addresses, images, video, etc and to share its results instantly with anyone around the world.
The mind map is no longer a straightforward overview – it has become a virtual resource allowing us to make instant connections, to create insight, overview, and clarity. Mind Mapping software is particularly relevant to problem solving in business because of its ability to help entrepreneurs articulate, consider and formulate responses to complex problems.
Anyone who’s started a business knows that before a penny is earned you must answer a series of challenging and seemingly unconnected questions. What are the first steps I need to take to launch a successful company? How can I evaluate the market? How can I produce something I know customers will want to buy? How can I make my business stand out from the crowd? How can I make it profitable? How can I grow my customer base?
All these problems need to be planned for and solved, which requires understanding, imagination, creativity and resourcing. Finding order in such chaos can be achieved by visualising your goals, developing ideas and converting them into actionable solutions.
Mind Mapping allows you to take an overview of your putative business, to see the bigger picture and identify connections you might otherwise miss. As an entrepreneur, seeing your business model mapped in advance is a liberating experience, helping you to form new ideas by association and to chart a path through the confusion.
After you’ve chosen your Mind Mapping software, the next steps involve drawing your business idea in the centre of the map and creating a separate branch for each your business goals.
Supposing you want to open a coffee shop, you might identify two initials goals – earning enough money to pay your overheads and yourself a small salary while making your coffee slightly cheaper and therefore more competitive, than the coffee shop in the next street.
Shortly after opening you realise you have a problem. Your local bakery supplier, who brings cakes and biscuits to your shop daily, has decided to retire and the other nearest supplier is in another town, an hour’s drive away, and they don’t deliver. The supplier doesn’t open until 9am, meaning you won’t arrive back to open until 10am, missing the busiest period of the day.
You create another branch for your problems and write them down. Visualising your goals and problems in a mind map will make it easier for you to brainstorm ideas and to arrive at solutions. Consider one problem at a time and write any potential solutions that occur. It doesn’t matter if some of your ideas seem random or impractical, the aim is to get your mind working.
Start with the first problem on your list and begin free-associating possible solutions. Don’t limit or edit your thoughts, write down whatever springs to mind and keep going even when you think you’ve run out of ideas.
For the problem of how to get supplies of cakes and biscuits to your shop without closing it during busy trading periods, you realise there is actually a very simple solution. The products have a long shelf-life and so you can buy your supplies for the week every Sunday, when the coffee shop is closed.
You can now create a third branch of the mind map for ‘Solutions’, drawing a line to connect problems with respective solutions.
You realise that, if you buy your cakes and biscuits in bulk, you will get a better deal from the supplier, meaning that your costs are lower and your profits higher. That’s another problem you can check off the list. Then it occurs to you that you could strike similar deals with your suppliers of coffee and milk, meaning even lower costs and even greater profit.
At this point you realise you now have enough money to hire a member of staff to manage the shop and that you could open a second shop. It’s a considerable investment that will require a bank loan but it’s one that would pay off and could put your competitor out of business. Now you have your first action point.
You decide to review your goals and you see that by striking more competitive deals with your suppliers and changing your delivery times, you have become more profitable, allowing your business to expand. Having two shops, it’s important to have a marketing plan so that people become familiar with your brand. From this you identify the need to have a website, social media accounts and that you learn how to blog. You add all of those as action points to your mind map.
By outlining clear action points based on the solutions you’ve identified you now see the benefits of your mind map, allowing you to visualise your business from a better vantage point and to find solutions to whatever problems might hinder you achieving your goals.
You can share your mind map with your new colleague, your bank manager, website designer, your suppliers and anyone else with whom you wish to collaborate, holding brainstorming sessions and benefiting from their input.
Your Mind Mapping software alerts you to due dates and action points that need to be addressed to turn them into specific tasks. As your coffee shop business develops you continue to update your mind map with fresh ideas, problems and solutions, remaining flexible and open minded.
Ashley Marron is CEO of East Kilbride-based MindGenius, a management software tool for small and medium sized enterprises. MindGenius 2018 was launched in April 2018.