Emperor’s Mindmap

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by gagilas

I am aiming to get some flack for this, but I do not really get gushing over mind maps.


Wait a minute– I all for the power of sketching out ideas, of brainstorming on visually on paper, of thinking visually– see I do it for planning projects, web sites:

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

But to me, that is visual thinking, not mind maps, the stuff people crank out of software and web tools, the neat diagrams with text labeled boxes and ovals and lines.

I guess what I bristle at is the assumption that they are always useful– for everyone. I see them in people’s blog posts, especially mind maps of talks, and I glaze. It is ideal activity for the mindmap maker– but looking at the map on its own, I have no context. It is not my map, nor can I make it mine.

It is as good as getting someone else’s slides for a talk and not the talk. Just as I almost never sit through an archive of a webinar, I have never looked for more than 30 seconds at a mind map, before shrugging away.

It is like someone telling me I can understand their trip if they just toss me a map with the places they visited highlighted.

I crave the context. The story.

What I see is a mish mosh of boxes, texts and lines, yet I do not know what is important– as usually depicted, all content seems to have equal weight.

The 2 dimensionality could be a limiting factor too, it restricts what you can connect because of the available space. but I think a 3D mind map would make me even more queasy,

It’s not that I discount mind maps are useful tools for many people– just do not assume they are as meaningful for others.

So here is my challenge- I am ready to be criticized, to eat crow, to see the light, to scream mea culpa, but send me an example of a mind map that on its own can convey an understanding… If it changes my mind, I will eat cat food.

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by KayVee.INC

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I’m the same way, but I also have a hard time understanding comic books, or anything framed visually by someone else. I always had a hard time with text books in school, because I couldn’t figure out when to read all the little figures, and side bars, etc.. I need a pile of text and time to make my own meaning.

  2. I was with you until your last paragraph. I agree that a mindmap / concept map is *most* useful for those involved in the creation of the map. That’s why I like to have my students create maps, either on their own or collaboratively.

    Learning something from someone else’s mindmap is hard work, and usually requires that person to walk you through the creation of the map. That’s how I use Prezi in my presentations. The Prezi makes a bit of sense on its own, but it makes a lot more sense when I’m there to talk about the ideas.

    I’ll agree that your hypothesis holds in general, but might there be a mindmap or concept map that illuminates a subject without someone to narrate it? I’m open to the possibility that such a thing can happen.

    Here’s one mindmap that comes close, I think:


    Of course, I’ve cheated a little since there’s a bit of narration here in that Ian Beatty (the designer of this Prezi) has designated a path to follow through the map. His narration isn’t there, but he does lead one’s eyes through the map, which, as I said, is a bit of a cheat, given your challenge.

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