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Chris Harman

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Information overload: Mind mapping software

business_brain

Suffering from information overload? Chris Harman explains how mind mapping software can help individuals and organisations to work smarter and manage projects more efficiently.

The phrase ‘participatory culture’ has been defined as a ‘new way of life that lets people create and circulate self-made content such as video, audio, text, and images’. The culture has been taking shape in the form of popular social networking sites like Facebook, Flickr, and Wikipedia, which have encouraged mass participation and collaboration. The participatory culture is changing the way people and the media communicate and engage.

This participation-effect is also extending its influence into the enterprise. Many of us are finding we need to interact, form on-the-fly communities, and convey self-made content and contributions between ourselves, encouraging a participatory culture to encourage employees within teams to work together in a new and different way. Teams in today’s modern workplace are being asked to deal with the pressures of ad-hoc projects, information overload, and high-performance. 

As individuals, we are becoming increasingly susceptible to information overload. Each day we are exposed to 300 emails on our Blackberry, spam on our computer, instant messaging conversations, and heaps of tasks coming from phone calls, text messages and face-to-face meetings, often resulting in four or five pages of to-do lists. And the challenges are precipitating new technologies and communities to assist the participatory activity. If only you could add some memory to yourself, in the same way you can add memory to your PC, to cope with the piles and piles of information you need to remember.

Making sense of the information

The answer could be nearer than you think as this is where mind mapping software lends itself extraordinarily well; in fact it could almost have been invented for the purpose. Mind maps are a simple way of managing the information, then understanding it, using it and regaining access to it over and over again whenever you need it.

Mind mapping software gathers unstructured information and thought processes and groups them under easy to access headings and sub-headings, so that all topic-related items are linked. Also, any heading or statement can have a hyperlink to a document, providing instant access to the most relevant or up-to-date file, making mind mapping software the perfect tool for working smarter and managing projects more efficiently.

Project management, which is initiation, planning, execution, monitoring/control and completion, requires a high level of collaboration and communication and therefore is an ideal application for mind mapping software. In any project there are constraints pulling in different directions: cost, time, and scope, so less time might mean more cost and reduced scope for the project. Then, of course, there is the real fly in the ointment – people. Most projects involve people who have to be motivated; people who have to do things on time and within cost; people who have to be stakeholders for the project and so on.

In large projects, and even some small ones, the people involved might not all be at the same location or even on the same continent, let alone working for the same organisation. The project manager, who may have that as his or her full-time job or be someone designated for this particular project, has to create a vision of the project, organise the resources required (money, people, materials, space, energy, communications etc) and then keep everything on track and to a required quality through to completion.

Data organisation

This generates a lot of documentation in the form of minutes, reports, presentations and spreadsheets. All of these are subject to regular update and change, so the project manager has to ensure that everyone involved not only has the information they need for their contribution, but that they are all looking at the same issue of each document at any given time. The logical answer is to have software that organises all of this data.

The objective is to manage information effectively and improve performance. From communicating the big picture to tracking minutiae, nurturing and capturing creativity, producing personal and team gains in productivity and effectiveness. Taking just one aspect alone, conservative estimates by IDC (the global market intelligence company) suggest that an organisation with 1,000 employees wastes at least $2.5m every year by failing to find existing information, searching for outdated information, or recreating information. Keeping all documentation related to a project linked to the project map ensures that project management does not exacerbate these problems.

Leveraging a business’s participatory culture also creates the ‘architectures of co-operation’ avoiding the problems of traditional knowledge management (KM). The biggest asset of any enterprise is what people know and the problem has always been that they keep going home with it.

Conventional KM has always attempted to create the infrastructure for knowledge sharing in the enterprise but its limits are the limits of understanding of the firm. KM assumed everybody was prepared to give up what they know. Perhaps the real value of mind mapping software is the ability to meet these KM challenges in a motivational way.

Chris Harman is director, NEWS general business at Mindjet

One Response

  1. Mind mapping
    Chris,
    I could not agree more. I am a recent convert to mapping, and it helped me secure a high grade in my MSc as I mind mapped every lecture I attended and all of my research etc. I am now continuning the concept into my business life, with great success also.

    What I do find surprising however, is many of my work colleagues have rarely heard of or adopted such techniques, which I find invaluable, in their own working days. Maybe we should introduce to school curriculums as it would have certainly helped me with my A levels…

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