Use Your Head

Mindmapping

Mindmapping takes brainstorming a step further. This method uses brainstorming to spark ideas and solutions. But instead of generating a long list of possible solutions, mind-mapping creates a structure that displays the links and associations among concepts and ideas.

As Higgins describes it, mindmapping is a simple process: Write the name or description of a problem in the center of a piece of paper and draw a circle around it. Next, brainstorm each major part of the problem, writing ideas on lines extending outward from the circle. As you think of more ideas, add branches to the appropriate lines. You'll eventually end with a map whose lines can be traced back to the central issue, but you'll also be able to easily visualize interrelationships.

Richard Wycoff, president of Quadron, a Santa Barbara, California, communications software company, is an ardent proponent of mind-mapping--and not just because his wife, Joyce, wrote one of the best-known books on the subject (see "Additional Resources" on page 62 ).

Wycoff uses mindmapping for everything from composing memos to charting his company's future. "At one point we needed to decide how to include two different concerns into our company strategy. One: what to do about existing customers and product lines, and two: how to take a new direction by raising money and creating new technology," he says.

Using a software program called Inspiration (see "Additional Resources" on page 62), he drew a mindmap that outlined the main headings of the plan: executive summary, the company, markets, products and services, sales and promotion and finances. Then he mapped items associated with each section. By the time he finished, Wycoff knew exactly what information to assemble and how his plan would be laid out.

Before he started using mind-mapping techniques, Wycoff, like many people, tended to be unfocused and shoot from the hip. "Urgency took precedence over thought and planning," he admits. "But this tool helps me to focus and get work done quickly." No kidding; Wycoff turned out the structure for his business plan in only half a day.

Mindmapping makes a lot of sense for people who are new to business and who know they need to create a business plan, but are frightened by its complexities and unsure of how to start. Simply place the words "Business Plan" in the center of a circle in the middle of the page and see how quickly the connected ideas begin to flow from your head onto paper (or computer screen). If you've done even a little research on business plans, enough appropriate thoughts should surface to start you on your way. As you begin to think about each section of the business plan, make the title of that section the center of another mindmap. You can write the business plan directly from the mindmap or turn it into a more formal outline before proceeding.

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This article was originally published in the December 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Use Your Head.

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