Secrets of Thinking Outside the Box: 27 Ways Digital Entrepreneurs Can Use Mindmapping

Tuesday, October 16, 2007 at 11:45am by Site Administrator

One of the most efficient and powerful methods for thinking outside of the box is mindmapping. Mindmaps, when done manually on paper, often look like a neural map – a radial network of connected ideas. In digital form, they’re even more powerful, allowing for "hyperlinks" between maps, to other applications and content, and to web pages. This is an ideal method for many business uses, but is often neglected by entrepreneurs. If you’re famliar with mindmapping, you can skip down to the list of suggested entrepreneurial uses. Else browse through the next few sections first.


Mindmapping stimulates both the creative and logical sides of the brain. The mindmapping process is easy: start with a central idea and think radially, adding nodes that might in turn have additional branches and nodes. In fact, this method is taught to school kids in some places, but often neglected by adults. Mindmapping is sometimes called radiant thinking. It frees up the mind from linear thought processes that a sheet of lined paper often imposes. A mindmap lets you branch off with many subtopics and variants. It promotes outside-the-box thinking – whether you do it on paper or with mindmapping software. Note: the term "mind-map" is trademarked by Tony Buzan, who did most of the early research on this method as well as wrote most of the books. Some references: Use Both Sides of Your Brain: New Mindmapping Techniques (originally published in 1974) and The Mind Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain’s Untapped Potential.

Mindmap Examples, Tools and Resources

You can see an example at Top 100 Foods for Productivity: Mindmap and several at Tubetorial. A mindmap outlining the article you’re reading is shown below. Also check out, MindMap Search, and College Degree’s 99 Mind Mapping Resources, Tools and Tips. Note that I have a personal bias towards using Mindjet‘s MindManager Pro 7, but there are many great mindmapping tools. Look for a big review, coming soon, at

Mindmapping - radiant thinking for entrepreneurs


Suggested Entrepreneurial Uses

The uses below can be accomplished with most mindmapping packages, even most free software. So they’re ideal uses for bootstrapping entrepreneurs. Please note that for most instances, I’m referring to software-based mindmaps and mindmapping, unless indicated as a paper-based use.
Information Organization

  1. General organization. Because mindmaps allow both lists (linear) and radial organization of ideas – that is, offer flexible data containers – they’re an ideal way of organizing large blocks of ideas into clusters of related ideas.
  2. Knowledgebases. Prior to building a knowledgebase for your business, accumulate ideas in a mindmap, in a non-structured way. This allows you to change clusters without "physical restraint", until you’re ready to finalize the concepts you’ve recorded.

Design and Planning

  1. Structured brainstorming. One of the problems of regular brainstorming methods is that people often "think inside the box". Since mindmapping frees up both sides of the brain, it often tends to be a better way of brainstorming. Record all ideas as they come, then later drag and move ideas into suitable clusters. If you’re working with someone remotely, try Comapping, which is is an easy to use, real-time, web-based collaborative mindmapping tool.
  2. Business plan design. See the big picture of your business more easily. Use mindmaps to record a dynamic outline first.
  3. Products and services planning. One of the big problems with planning a new offering to your customers is that you cannot always find the capital to offer all features. Use mindmaps to implement your plan for continuous improvement.
  4. Website architecting. Whether you have one or more websites, the natural hierarchical structure of a mindmap can help you design your site architecture.
  5. Editorial calendar. If you plan to have an active blog for your business, an editorial calendar helps organize your plan for future articles. Using a mindmap to develop the calendar makes it easier to revise before final draft.
  6. Create presentations. As with other text and visual content, use a mindmap to help organize and create presentations – whether just for your team or for venture capitalists. If you’re targeting the latter, you can use mindmaps to pull together resumes for team members, which is often a requirement for getting venture capital and sometimes business loans. (Or if that doesn’t work out, redo your own resume.)
  7. Create web resource maps. Because most mindmapping software allows hyperlinks from a map node to a website (not to mention, to other maps and applications), it’s easy to create a web resource. See a clickable example at Case Study: Bootstrapping an Online Information Business.
  8. Daily planning. Mindmaps are ideal for any sort of general planning you need to do, either for business or personal matters.

General Management Use

  1. Project planning. Mindmaps are an ideal way to break down a project prior to applying full-blown Project Management (PM) techniques. What’s more, some mindmapping packages can export a map to PM software. For example, Mindjet’s MindManager Pro exports to MS-Project and ConceptDraw’s Mindmap software exports to their Project software. Still more, you can link map nodes to web resources, documents on your desktop, or other desktop applications.
  2. Team management – hiearchies. Startup companies sometimes have very little in the way of management hierarchies. But as a bit of experience will show, functional hierarchies based on skillsets are a necessity. Map out your teams skills and explore some possible functional hierarchies.
  3. Task Management. A look around the blogosphere shows that a lot of people are becoming interested in David Allen‘s GTD (Get Things Done) principles. Mindmaps can help you to organize your to-do lists, manage and prioritize tasks. You can also manage/track teammates’ tasks
  4. Meeting management. Depending on the mindmapping software you use, you might have the option of an event reminder servic. A mindmap can provide a nice visual way to plan meetings with all sorts of players: team members, hiring candidates, suppliers, venture capitalists, etc. Mindjet’s MindManager Pro, for example, is tightly integrated with Microsoft Office products, and has a event reminder desktop popup service. You can also use mindmaps in a meeting, to present ideas or take notes.
  5. Information management. Generally speaking, mindmaps are ideal for organizing and managing structured information. A hard example: if you have an active weblog and multiple writers, use a mindmap to keep a daily list of draft article URLs that need to be edited then pushed live.

Problem Solving, Decision Making, Goal Setting

  1. Goal setting/ time management. With advanced mindmapping tools, you can specify node times – where a node represents a task/ milestone. Thus a mindmap can be used for goal setting (by mapping out subgoals) and time management (by tracking time taken).
  2. Problem breakdown. Imposing problems are more easily solved if broken down into manageable chunks. Fortunately, most of the better mindmapping software allows you to interconnect maps. So you can start with a broad-view map and attach detail maps to various nodes. Click on a node, and you’ll be taken to the corresponding detail map. This is ideal for what software developers usually call top-down development (general progresses to specific). This also allows you to focus on a specific sub-task, without clouding your thought process.
  3. Explore alternate options. Because mindmaps are so dynamic in nature, you can easily map out alternate solutions to a problem. You get a broad view, then can explored each option. This is useful in TRIZ problem solving. TRIZ is the Russian acronym for a technique that takes a specific problem, turns it into a general problem, finds a general solution, then finds a specific solution. With a mindmap, you can apply TRIZ but explore options.
  4. Spark creativity. Sometimes you’re looking to produce something creative that’s lurking just beyond mental reach. Start by accumulating a map of ideas until something creative sparks. Including not just text in your map nodes but also icons, pictures, screenshots, URLs.
  5. Planning aid for selling. Want to improve your sales effectiveness? Use mindmaps to map your territories and opportunities, and to catalog your action items.
  6. Thank you lists. Have a list of people to thank during the Dec-Jan holiday season? track them with a mindmap. Have a map with two nodes: sent and not sent. Moving names between, and have name nodes attached to an email address. Clicking on a name will fire up whichever desktop email client you have configured.

Research, Writing, Learning, Teaching

  1. Research. In a mindmap, maintain a sublist of web URLs that you need to review or otherwise research. In most mindmapping packages, you can doubleclick a node or its associated icon to cause the web page to display in your default browser. (For example, DeliciousMind is a hybrid application that converts your URL bookmarks into a XML format, which can then be imported into FreeMind.)
  2. Note-taking. In addition to accumulating ideas – as mentioned earlier – the more advanced mindmapping packages also allow you to attach text blocks to any map node. This ideal for note-taking during research, before you’re ready to produce an outline for a document you’re working on.
  3. Outlining. Once you’ve done your research and note-taking – whether it’s for documents, manuals, company policies, reports, or presentations – a mindmap allows you to very quickly and easily outline chapters, sections, etc.
  4. Writing. A mindmap can help spark the writing process – especially for your company blog – from a list of keywords, even aid in producing an editorial calendar (mentioned earlier). Or you can tweak the outline you’ve already produced and pull together and expand on the notes you’ve taken during research. It’s far easier to reorganize content visually, in a mindmap, than in a word processing document.
  5. Learning. When you’re learning a subject – which some entrepreneurs find themselves doing – a mindmap helps you to map out what you’ve learned and what you’ll be learning. If you’re a nomadic entrepreneur, you might want to even use a mindmap to learn a foreign language.
  6. Teaching/ workshops/ lesson plans. If you join the workshop circuit like many successful entrepreneurs, use mind maps to help produce your learning materials and to pace your lessons.



Sometimes, all you need is a list. But if you get into the habit of daily use of mindmaps for managing your entrepreneurial tasks, you’ll no doubt discover other uses of mindmaps than those listed above.

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    Comment by Marty McClure — October 17, 2007 @ 3:35 pm

  2. This is a great article on the applicability of mind mapping and MindManager. We are also pick fans of MindManager, so much so we integrated our Knowledge Generation technology within it. You might want to check out the Mindsystems ThemeReader for MindManager. It allows you to take any document and instantly create a thematic mind map of it, including a Synopsis, Detailed Summary, and the ability to locate every paragraph in the document that contains a topic theme you are interested in.

    You can get a free trial download from

    Arnold Villeneuve

    Comment by Arnold Villeneuve — October 17, 2007 @ 4:17 pm

  3. Raj,

    Excellent, excellent summary of what users can experience with the power of Mind Mapping.

    For business planning, maintaining client relationships and execution, people should be aware of these FREE templates from Visual Strategist:

    Comment by Kyle McFarlin — October 17, 2007 @ 4:37 pm

  4. Raj,
    G’day from Australia.
    Great suggestions for Entreprenuers – thnx. I used Mind Maps all through doing my Master’s of Entrepreneurship and Innovation – it really helped. (MEI is an MBA for Entreprenuers)

    I now teach Mind Mapping as part of the Creativity and Innovation module of the Masters and getting a lot of great feedback

    A lot of the guys have found it useful for
    - Opportunity Evaluation
    - Marketing Plan
    - working through the pitch/presentation to VCs
    - Business plans etc.

    Comment by Jennifer Goddard — October 18, 2007 @ 7:44 am

  5. Thanks Marty, Arnold, Kyle and Jennifer for stopping by. Jennifer, that’s fantastic to hear. More people should teach mindmapping.

    Comment by Raj Dash — October 18, 2007 @ 1:13 pm

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