How to Brainstorm with Mind Maps

Mind mapping is an excellent technique to support both individual and group brainstorming. It helps to organize unstructured ideas and thinking that emerge during the process. This article covers how to brainstorm with mind maps.

image of mind map with light bulb in the center featuring text "Brainstorming with Mind Maps" source: mindmaps.com

What is brainstorming?

Brainstorming is the process of generating and developing ideas. You might brainstorm ideas for a new product, solutions to a problem, or plans for your next vacation. There are many ways to approach this sort of creative thinking exercise, and there is no single technique for brainstorming. However, most effective brainstorming processes involve a progressive sequence of divergent (or ‘generative’), explorative, and convergent thinking.

How to brainstorm with mind maps?

Mind maps support all three stages of a “Diverge, Explore, Converge” brainstorming process. They help you to capture, expand, and refine your thinking in one coherent visual structure. 

Step 1: Diverge

The first part of a brainstorm focuses on idea generation. The goal is quantity. At this stage, we are not concerned with quality or fully formed ideas. We want to generate a volume of thoughts related to our topic, which we will bring into the next stage.

Let’s imagine we’re brainstorming ideas for a company event. If we’re using a mind map, then we’d put this as the central topic.  

At the center of the image is the central node of the mind map titled "our big event."

If you’re working alone, you can jump right into the process. Start to drop ideas into your mind map, aiming to create a big list of ideas. 

To help this part of the process, you may choose to introduce other techniques to trigger creative thinking. Some examples include flashcards or word association games. You can even add trigger questions in your mind map like ‘who, what, when, where, why, and how’.

The mind map is built out from the central node "our big event". The image now has several ideas springing from the central topic.

If you’re brainstorming as a group, it’s a good idea to get people working alone first. They can use sticky notes or a simple piece of paper. You don’t want them to be influenced by hearing or seeing ideas from other people. Brainstorming alone gives everyone a chance to get their original ideas clear before being influenced by others. 

Step 2: Explore

After you have lots of ideas, the next step is to begin seeing if and how they fit together. At this stage, you can develop concepts further. An easy way to start this process is to categorize your ideas and see what items you can batch together.

In our event planning brainstorm, there are several ideas that could be batched together under the heading of “Entertainment”. There may be another set of items that could be batched under “Food & Drink” and so on. 

The image is focused on "entertainment" which is one topic from the "our big event" mind map.

Mind mapping software is excellent for this part of the process. It helps you to quickly and easily batch items together. After, you can build on ideas by either adding, moving or editing the information. Once you identify the ‘Theme’ category, related concepts are triggered and added to that category. You can use the mind map to continue to build out topics and break items down into parts. This is a crucial part of the ‘explore’ phase. 

Step 3: Converge

The final step in the process ensures people come away from the brainstorm with clear priorities, goals, and next steps. Spend time determining which items should get attention, and use the mind map to identify tangible actions and next steps.

Use images or icons in your mind map to flag priority items, draw attention to ideas and prioritize to-dos. Graphics aren’t just fun. They are a practical way to enhance your mind map.

In the ‘Themes’ section of our mind map, we can start to define tasks for each topic. We could also use icons or colors to illustrate the ideas we like or don’t like.  

The image shows the topic "entertainment" built out with several ideas for music and entertainment.

Conclusion

There are several ways to brainstorm. Some techniques lack a clear way to record, develop, and prioritize ideas coherently. Brainstorming is fun and creative, but it’s also filled with long and complicated discussions. After the brain dump, it’s essential to turn those ideas into action. Learning how to brainstorm with mind maps supports the creative ‘Diverge’ phase, and the more practically focused ‘Explore’ and ‘Converge’ phases. This process helps people to see the developing picture and collaboratively build on each other’s ideas and thinking.

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