The place of mind maps and traditional writing in the creative process

Some days ago I had a discussion with Niall about mind maps. We were talking about the fact that mind maps are far more flexible than linear notes. However, one method could be better than another depending of you and your needs. I mused about the place of mind maps and traditional writing in the creative process.

Vincent Ryan Ruggiero in his book The Art of Thinking describes the creative process in four stages:

1. Searching for challenges

  • “The first stage of the creative process represents the habit of searching for challenges, not at one specific time, but constantly. Its importance is reflected in the fact that you can be creative only in response to these challenges that you perceive.”

2. Expressing the problem or issue

  • “The objective in this stage is to find the best expression of the problem or issue, the one that will yield the most helpful ideas “A problem properly stated,” noted Henry Hazlitt, “is a partly solved”. Because different expressions open different avenues of thought, it is best to consider as many expressions as possible. One of the most common mistakes made in addressing problems and issues is to see them from one perspective only and thus to close off many fruitful avenues of thought.”

3. Investigating the problem or issue

  • “The objective of this stage is to obtain the information necessary to deal effectively with the problem or issue. In some cases, this will mean merely searching your past experience and observation for appropriate material and bringing it to bear on the current problem. In others, it will mean obtaining new information through fresh experience and observation, interviews with knowledgeable people, or your own research.”

4. Producing idea

  • “The objective in this stage is to generate enough ideas to decide what action to take or what belief to embrace.”

Now, what are the places of mind maps and traditional writing in these stages?

At stage one, the mind maps are well designated to answer to the need. Mind maps would be created each time we face a new challenge, each time we see a problems or an issue with a certain process. What is important to remember at that stage is that we need to constantly review the mind maps we have done, we need to find links between them. It is important to find these links because it will help us to view the problems or issues with a different eye.

At stage two, mind maps are also privileged. The links previously found will help us to aboard the problem or issue with many perspectives.

At stage three, mind maps always best fit the need. However, in this case what we like is the flexibility characteristic of mind maps: their ease updatability. As Niall said, they are much easier to update than linear notes. Then we can easily update old mind maps facts with new ones.

For the stage four, I will divide it in two sub-stages: (1) the act of producing many ideas and (2) the act of defining some of these ideas. In the first sub-stage, the mind maps or free writing always have their place. We do not need to bother us with clarity; the only things we need are ideas, many of them. However, we will eventually need to clarify them, to structure them for us and for other. We enter in a stage of writing for others. In this sub-stage, we try to refine some of our ideas. We need to put a light on some of them; we need them to be reviewed by our peers. In this process we will ask ourselves many questions. We will write and rewrite our most promising ideas. In this stage, the mind maps of these ideas are here to help us to make a plan for the writing. However, they are useless for their presentation to others. Mind maps are the expressions of our cognitive process but are worthless to others and lack depth. The traditional writing will structure, refine and deepens our ideas. It will make them clear and usable for their communication to others.

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