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Creativity through mind mapping

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Mind mapping seems to have a built-in quality that helps with creativity. The freedom to add a new thought anywhere and draw connections, opens the mind and unblocks thinking.

(click the thumbnail for a full-size version)
Paul Foreman, the prolific mind mapper of MindMapInspiration says "Mind maps open the floodgates to creativity and are a brilliant format for thinking. Occasionally to fire the imagination, a new theme, central starting point or idea is needed. Whilst "thinking outside the box" has become a familiar term, harnessing ideas from the silence within may be a relatively new concept. Tapping into our inner resources can provide the necessary armory for idea creation. By using simple and basic meditation techniques it is possible to slow or stop the train of thoughts, combat over-thinking, encourage new avenues and unearth hidden potential. Being stuck for ideas on the outside could be the signal to look within."

"Coupling random words and unusual connections can make creative exploration fun and reveal some unique ideas." See the "Odd combinations" mind map on the right from "Idea Creation"[1] by Paul Foreman (click the thumbnail for a full-size version).

This ties in with one of Edward de Bono's suggestions (see below) for breaking the creativity log jam: Open a dictionary at a random page, pick a word, and then try to form a connection between that word and the subject of your creative intent. This can often take you off in a new direction with a lateral jump that might not otherwise have come to you.

A mind map about creativity

Serious Creativity (de Bono)    Interactive Flash    Interactive PDF

Edward de Bono's book Serious Creativity is seriously useful in getting the creative juices flowing. It's a fascinating read, but by the time you've finished, you won't remember it all, so here is a mind map to remind you of the key points:

There is a very cut-down image of a mind map on the right. The following two links open an active, much more comprehensive version of that mind map in a separate browser window. This map has expanding branches.

Interactive map: Flash (recommended)

     PDF (problem?)

Buzan's "one keyword per line" guideline and creativity

Writing a phrase can finish the thought. Breaking the phrase into keywords and then looking for intermediate junctions that suggest other words and therefore other lines of thought can open up your thinking.

This, then, is the essence of Buzan's justification for single keywords: Each keyword has its own associations. Explore those and you will enhance your creativity.

Take the mind map above about Serious Creativity. It has a node "thinking hats" referring to de Bono's Six Thinking Hats method. If instead there had been two nodes: "thinking" and "hats", we might have considered adding other nodes to thinking, like "organizing", "improving" and "wishful". The thought of de Bono's Six Thinking Hats would not have closed off the line of thought. Instead it would trigger ideas about other aspects of thinking that are covered in this book.

There are times when using this guideline is not a good idea (see one keyword), but mind maps for creativity is one where it can make a real and positive difference (along with Deep analysis with mind maps and ~Learning with mind maps).

There is one more thing to keep in mind: When you feel you're on a roll; the ideas are tumbling out; even writing seems to slow you down; then don't stop to obey the single-keyword guideline. The flow will likely dry up. Come back later and re-work those areas where you have phrases and you will probably be able to squeeze out even more ideas. This guideline is there to help you get more out of your mind map, not force you into a mold that ends up limiting your creativity.

Mind Maps are not restricted to words

(click the thumbnail for a full-size version)
Keyword mapping is great but a picture paints a thousand words. Key word maps are easy to produce with any of the mind mapping software tools. But since 2004 MindManager users and other applications have been able to run on a Tablet PC. These are great for drawing pictures but this function seems very under exploited. At a recent VizThink meeting we were challenged by the speaker to produce pictures not words about three questions. This is the record of one group's discussion. Each image is in a floating topic. This allows the images to be rearranged not to tell a story but to fit a good aspect ratio for displaying them all on one screen from a projector. . The full write up can be found at Forget the Text. Just use Pictures. MindManager and the Tablet PC does the job.

So what is the relationship to creativity? Show a series of individuals a keyword map and the responses will fall into a band. Show people a picture map and you get a much wider band of responses.

Another intriguing example of a 'wordless mind map' can be found here: "Figures humaine" (not having permission from the copyright owner, this cannot be reproduced in WikIT directly).

External links

A series of posts on some of the talented mind mappers included a survey and led to the discovery of more. As an illustration of the range of creativity that mind mapping can inspire, this group is outstanding.

Hand-drawn mind mappers Part 1
Hand-drawn mind mappers survey results Part 2
Hand-drawn mind mappers - New faces Part 3
Hand-drawn mind mappers - Final note Part 4


  1. Paul Foreman's Idea Creation book
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