What is a mind map, and how does it help our brain organize ideas? A mind map is a highly effective tool used by creatives, marketers, and project managers to inspire their teams. In addition to sparking employees’ creative juices, mind maps organize “timelines, dependencies, and responsibilities.”
It may sound like a farfetched business tool, but chances are you've used mind maps throughout your life. Whether it's a so-called "spider diagram" at school or planning out an essay in college, mind maps are very common — so much so that they even date back to the philosophers of ancient Greece and Leonardo da Vinci during the Renaissance.
While we all learn differently, many of us are much more attuned to visual learning, and mind maps use this to help us retain information more effectively. A 2002 study found that mind mapping improved the long-term memory of factual information in medical students by 10%, while another from the Mind Mapping Software Blog found that mind mapping can boost productivity by up to 23%.
Keep reading to discover what a mind map is, why it’s important, and how to use it to improve projects.
What is a mind map?
A mind map is an illustration with a keyword or phrase in the middle, lines connecting the middle to a main idea, and even more lines connecting the main ideas to details. Building out from the center, mind maps are often said to look like sunbursts or spiderwebs. Mind maps can have more than three levels (middle, main ideas, and details), but most stick with this model.
Human brains don't organize all information into one strict hierarchical tree. Instead, associations radiating out (or in) from different connection points help our minds navigate a vast information pool to make decisions quickly. When written down, these associations create a mind map, a powerful communication and creativity tool used by many marketing project management teams.
How to make a mind map
You may already be familiar with this tool if you’ve ever gone to public school, written an academic essay, or been diagnosed with dyslexia.
Here’s how to create a mind map in five simple steps:
- Choose the topic of the mind map and place it in the middle of the drawing
- Come up with three to five main ideas, then evenly space them in a circular formation around the mind map topic
- Draw a line from the mind map topic to each main idea
- Brainstorm supporting details such as ideas, tasks, and questions for each main idea
- Draw lines connecting each main idea to its supporting details
Once the first draft is finished, add each main idea as a phase to your project management software. Create related tasks with due dates and assign them to team members. Add any questions or related ideas to individual task notes.
Mind mapping examples
Effective brainstorming is all about starting with a clear purpose. In the following mind mapping examples, we’ll go over a couple of ways this tool can be used and the specific categories each team used to get the job done.
Creative agencies can use mind maps to develop a holistic business strategy that aligns marketing with customer service, productivity, and other key departments. In this mind mapping example, Hello Digital lays out three topics connected vertically, with their main ideas and details branching out to the right of the illustration. Here are the components the marketing agency uses in the productivity section:
- Topic 1: Productivity
- Main idea 1: Project management
- Details: Wrike and other tools they use
- Main idea 2: Office tasks
- Details: Supplies, cleaning, and maintenance
- Main idea 3: Environment
- Details: Collaborative, cubicle, by department
Thinking of their marketing, customer service, and productivity as pieces of one big puzzle and mind mapping it out accordingly allows Hello Digital to connect action with impact so everyone can understand it at a glance.
Independent filmmakers use mind maps to brainstorm “scenes, characters, ideas” as well as financing, production logistics, and target audiences. In this mind map example, the author builds their protagonist using one topic (the character’s name) and multiple main ideas, including:
- Romantic life
- Personal style
- Personality type
- Family history
The author says that the ideas formed here are easy to add to project management tools, which turn these inspirations into bite-size, accomplishable tasks.
What are the benefits of mind maps?
In project management, creative brainstorming is key to solving problems, coming up with clear roadmaps, and generating unique outcomes, all of which are easy to do with mind mapping.
Other mind map benefits for creative project management include:
- Making meaningful connections between ideas
- Collaborating with teams virtually or when spread out across the globe
- Giving every team member space to contribute and have their voice heard
- Having a visual and easy-to-understand subject map
- Organizing a wide range of data, dependent projects, and related tasks
What are the challenges of mind maps?
Mind maps are one of the most effective ways to encourage your marketing team’s best ideas, but they can be challenging to use at first. When learning how to mind map, it’s important to remember that this tool can be used for everything from big-picture business goals down to individual tasks within a subproject. Before your team begins brainstorming, agree on the mind map’s scope. If this isn’t clarified from the beginning, the mind map could be far too broad, narrow, or confusing for those who have to follow it later.
How to inspire your creative team to use mind maps
If your team is feeling rundown or uninspired, give their creativity a boost using the B.U.I.L.D. model. The B.U.I.L.D. model is an acronym that stands for: Being bored, Unwinding with a drink, Inspiring with color (i.e., using the psychology of colors and visual inspiration boards), Listening to music, and Drawing on paper. Doing these five actions in a row will help teams get out of their funk and develop better ideas for their mind map.
Next steps: Put your mind map to work with Wrike
Now that you know how to improve creativity, communicate better, and develop a foolproof project plan through mind mapping, it’s time to decide how you’ll organize it all with your team. Try Wrike’s two-week free trial and input all your ideas into one neat, organized chart so the whole company can visualize the project, tasks, and outcomes they’re collectively working toward.