The Sign Of The Four – How Mind-Mapping Turned One Blog Post Into More

(Originally posted 2012-02-26.)

Given I’m not paid to blog, and given I’ve no real motivation to maximise my blog post count, the frequency of posting is just "what it happens to be".

In that spirit this post isn’t about how to "game" blogging statistics (and it itself isn’t a gratuitous attempt to increment the count by one). 🙂

What I want to convey is my experience with mind-mapping software, in the hope it’s useful to you. It’s also not a review of a specific piece of software, though it’s inevitable my take on one particular piece of software will come into it.

Let’s get the "piece of software" element out of the way…

I use MindNode Pro on both Mac and iPhone. It’s two separate pieces of software that talk to each other. (I think the iPhone software would work well on the iPad but I haven’t tried it so don’t know if it takes advantage of the better "screen real estate".) The "that talk to each other" piece is significant in that you can work on a mind map on the move on the iPhone and then transfer it to a perhaps more powerful environment via Wireless. And back again. Successful "round-tripping" is very important.

So what’s "Mind Mapping" and how am I using it?

To me a mind map is a hierarchical organisation of ideas – in a branching tree format. The term suggests literally mapping your mind which is a rhetorical stretch and a half. But to me it’s just an attempt at organising a set of thoughts. Not being a particularly linear thinker some structure like a tree is reasonable – but a more generalised net is probably better for me.

My experiment was to see if I could create a better-structured blog post: At the time the post I had in mind was, frankly, a mess. It may still be – but it’s a better-organised mess. 🙂

So I started MindNode Pro up on the Mac and proceeded to dump ideas – breaking each idea down into sub-ideas. In the diagrams that follow you’ll see each idea is expressed in very few words.

When I "folded" up sub-trees I ended up with this:

The result was unexpected – a set of four sub-trees, each of which it was clear to me could be its own blog post – but only if I had enough material to make each worthwhile. The whole point here is there’s a natural division into four.

If you "unfold" the second sub-tree you get:

This is a fairly typical sub-tree – although the biggest one is sub-tree one (which creates web real estate issues so I chose the second one instead). So it actually re-inforced my view the material would be too much for a single blog post. Hence the four-parter.1

Trees are all very well but how do you make a post flow? This is part of what I’m going to term "Mind Map Debugging". That’s because there’s a little more to it than that:

  • Flow

    With (at least) the software I’m using you can cross link between tree nodes . I contemplate doing that – perhaps using dash lines – to see if I traverse all the important nodes with a reasonable flow. (This is sounding awfully close to the Seven Bridges of Königsberg Problem but I think that’s taking it too seriously. 🙂

    What I actually did was to eyeball the mind map and see if it flowed. Each sub-tree seems to flow well and the entirety feels right, too.

  • Rebalancing

    While doing formal tree balancing is pretty much pointless here, I do think that I might’ve needed to "rebalance" the four sub-trees if they were seriously imbalanced. Otherwise the four blog posts might’ve been one large one and three small ones.

    But this isn’t arbitrary data but rather blog posts fitting into a conceptual whole: The root node needs to stay the root node, in this case.

You can see the way my mind is working here:

  • The tree paradigm has some (admittedly) weak contribution to make – in thinking about mind mapping.
  • You could apply mind mapping software to other forms of tree depiction: I might well do that for data centres with machines in, which in turn have LPARS, then workloads, then address spaces, then transactions…

So there are lots of possibilities here.

I actually did use the ability to transfer mind maps between Mac and iPhone – adding a small number of nodes on the phone. This post was made possible by the fact you can selectively export parts of the mind map to a bitmap. So, I think the idea of mind maps and this particular implementation worked well. Next stop: FreeMind, which I’ve installed on my Linux work laptop.


1 and hence the "The Sign Of The Four" reference in this post’s title. It’s taken from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes novel. (I’ve tended to call him "SirACD" on Twitter.) 🙂

Published by Martin Packer

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