Posts in Mind Mapping
Three little ideas I use to unlock myself so that I can mind map
1.   I've come to realize, I sometimes drift into a mode of thinking too hierarchically - as though I'm trying to write an outline - and not collect ideas in a map. I remind myself to dump ideas out and not worry about where they go or how they get organized or what belongs where. Once I don't feel tempted to organize and edit as I draw and write, my ideas free up.

2.   I often begin with a blank piece of paper - not in a notebook - because I get agitated with the first draft or two - and a blank piece of paper feels disposable to me which is even more freeing. When my ideas begin to gel - I either draw the map in a cleaner form in a notebook or if I've become attached to what I drawn, I paste (tape) the map into my notebook.

3.   I like to think and play with singular words. What I mean by play is that I'll have a word in mind that encapsulates what I'm thinking and then I think about related words and opposite words to see what else comes along. I often look up words I know perfectly well to see what nuance about a word I have forgotten - that alone - brings more ideas sometimes.
Figuring out what's related
When mind mapping it can be a challenge to figure out what's related to your central idea. For example, if you start with your question or challenge in the middle, the next step is to figure out what branches are relevant. It's a similar problem we face in testing - if you have a question about the product (for example: "How will it behave under stress?") you have to figure out what aspects of the product or your testing relate to that questions (for the stress example: performance, basic functionality, security, batch processing, realtime processing, etc...). This is why I know many testers who do mind mapping, it exercises the same muscles we use every day as testers.

So how do I figure out what's related to my central idea? I think I use the following guidelines:

  • What similar questions or problems have I solved in the past? (Might branch to other questions or problems...)

  • What might I need to know to answer the question or understand the problem? (Might branch to areas of study, specific books or websites, or abstract research topics...)

  • What tools or data might I need to be able to solve the problem or answer the question? (Might branch to software tools, sets of data, or other key resources I'll need access to...)

  • What might I need to do to answer the question or better understand the problem? (With this one I'll list verbs... these might be labels on branches to other items...)

  • What results will I need? How will I know I'm done answering the question or solving the problem? (Here I'll list out what success looks like, or completion criteria...)

  • How do various elements I've drawn affect other elements? (Here I'll draw connections and show positive or negative correlations between elements I've drawn... sometimes that helps me uncover something I've missed...)

How do you figure out what's related to your central idea?
Getting a mind map started
I'm stealing today's tip from Brian Johnson of Brian has some good advice on getting started with a mind map:
Take out a blank piece of paper. Write your question/challenge in the middle. Draw a circle around it. Now, think about ideas related to that challenge. Draw “spokes” out of the center—each with one idea on it and let your ideas flow…

That advice resonates with me. I think that's how I normally find myself doing a mind map. In addition, Brian recommends Michael Gelb's How to Think like da Vinci. I can agree that the book is well worth the read.