Core Dump

Published Date
01 - Feb - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Feb - 2006
Core Dump
Think about how your brain gets clogged when you're halfway into a problem. You know enough to keep you going; but you don't know enough to be able to get to the answer right away. There are so many different aspects to think of, so many different lines of thought!

Sure, there are a blessed few whose brains are built like libraries-everything is classified, categorised, and put in its place just so. For the rest of us, well, we'd like to see our brains splattered in front of us (in a strictly non-mafia-hit sense, of course). Then, perhaps, we could sort all those thoughts into neat little piles and make sense of them.

In the Harry Potter books, Albus Dumbledore uses a "Penseive"-a bowl of sorts-into which he puts his thoughts and memories for quick and easy reference. We aren't so lucky as to have magic on our side, but there is hope for us yet.

It's All In Your Head
In the 1960s, Tony Buzan, a British popular psychology author, popularized a technique to help students take down their lecture notes in a way that was quick, easy to read, and that wouldn't put them to sleep when the time came to study. It was called the mind map.

The idea behind the mind map was that the brain doesn't think in one straight line-it starts at a core idea, and different trains of thought burst forth from there. One idea gives birth to so many more, each then resulting in another.  And this is exactly what a mind map is supposed to represent: one central theme, and the links between all the various thoughts under that theme.

So rather than taking copious notes, Buzan advised students to sit down and draw these strange structures, claiming it would help them. In a mind map, rather than using full sentences, one employs key words and phrases, which are easier to remember. They can also use colours to distinguish between different lines of thought. Pictures have a way of sticking in our minds, so even though mind maps end up being chaotic, their visual representation registers better in our minds and is easier to recall.

I Want To Make One Too!
Mind maps are really easy to make-they were meant to be. How they finally end up is usually unique to the individual-the structure he uses or how he highlights his ideas-but all follow the same general idea. It all begins with the goal at the centre-the topic of a lecture, the theme of a board meeting, or an idea for your next article. You work outwards from this idea, jotting down key words, and connecting each thought to the next one in that line. If there are two lines of thought that share a relationship, make sure that you mark this link with an arrow. Ideally, a mind map is drawn very quickly, without pausing to judge or review what you've put down so far-this way your mind map becomes a truer picture of your thought processes.

The most effective mind maps are those that are heavily visual-if there is any idea you think needs some attention, make sure it gets it! Use colours, images, anything you can do to highlight it. And if one line of thought exhausts itself, just move over to the next-you can always

Concept Mapping 
The concept map is another technique to get your thoughts out on paper in a simple, easy-to-understand way. Though it looks quite similar to the mind map, it is different in that it shows the relationships between different concepts rather than follow the hierarchical tree-like form that mind maps take. These relationships are represented by using a phrase to link the concepts-something like "is opposed to" or "is much better than", and so on. While there is software out there built specifically for concept mapping, mind mapping software that allows for flexible structures (like Mindjet MindManager) could also be used to build concept maps. 

come back if something strikes you later. Most of all, remember that it's your mind map, and you have all the freedom to make it in your own special style.

What Is It Good For?
For students, the original targets of the concept, the mind map is a very effective way to summarise information, be it notes in class or while sitting in the library studying. It also comes in handy when its time to slog it out for the exams-having everything arranged out in front of you registers better on one's mind. College life can get hectic sometimes, and a mind map could help you organise your day better-plan out lectures and study times, and perhaps things might not seem so chaotic.

Struggling with an important decision-like buying a house-but worried about whether you've thought of everything? Putting it all down on a mind map will let you look at your thoughts and help you see the bigger picture.

In the office, mind maps are a great help in brainstorming-just throw everything out on the mind map and look at it at leisure to pick out the more appealing ideas. They are also popular in meetings, where they can be used to steer discussions in definite directions rather than having everyone talking away wildly and wasting time.

It isn't just organising thoughts that mind maps are useful for. They can also be used to plan out tasks and projects, highlighting the most important aspects and assigning different tasks to different people. And it isn't just students who benefit from the visual aspect of a mind map: presentations, too, can be made effective with a mind map that shows the entire structure of the information you want to convey.
The Tech Way 

Most mind mapping software  lets you  easily
highlight ideas using special icons and colors

The Tech Angle

A large part of our lives is now is spent in front of the computer, and it is not hard to guess that even the art of mind mapping has found its way here. The unfortunate part about mind mapping on paper is that the size of the paper sometimes just isn't enough for complex maps. Things can get quite messy, trying to squeeze in a thought here and an idea there, and we don't really want to have the additional burden of planning out space on a sheet of paper. And in the mad rush of our lives today, we shouldn't have to sit with coloured pens and pencils to make the mind map more engrossing.

Mind mapping software tools have become quite powerful today, while still keeping in mind that people need to do this really quickly. No matter how complex your mind map becomes, it will always be neat and you'll never be short of space. Creating sub-topics or topics at the same level is usually mapped to an easy keyboard shortcut, so you don't need to keep switching between keyboard and mouse. Adding colours and images is just a couple of mouse clicks away, so there's no need to rely on your (probably appalling) drawing skills. Mind map getting too big? The maps are built as tree structures-you can collapse or expand your sub-topics so you only see what you want to.

Your Happy Helpers
There are many tools out there to help you make mind maps-from the simple, free ones to the really powerful that cost as much as $250 (Rs 11,500)! A free tool that caught our eye was FreeMind, which is simple, neat, and very easy to use. It offers all you might need-special icons, colours, and even a 'cloud' that encloses each line of thought. Extremely useful, we think, for the individual. However, your mind map can only have a very simple layout-it doesn't allow you to play with the structure. The keyboard shortcuts are easy to learn and quite logically placed.

Aquick review of FreeMind-We decided to do this in the software itself

For someone looking to incorporate mind maps as a business tool, we found Mindjet MindManager quite impressive. It allows for huge flexibility in the structure of the map, and also provides templates for different types of business scenarios-meetings, decision making, to-do lists, and the like. It also provides numerous options to make your mind map visually appealing, so can be used to make some very interesting presentations.

A quick review of MindManager 6.0-again, done in the software itself

You can find both these on this month's Digit CD and DVD.

If you're off the beaten track, FreeMind also comes in a Linux and Mac OS flavour as well- try In the paid category, you would find ConceptDraw MINDMAP and Softneuron Mindmap for your alternative OS needs. Both of these can be ordered from (don't let the link fool you-the page is actually for Mac and Linux)

Old Way, Tech Way
We love technology here at Digit, but sometimes even we must concede to the old way. True, mind mapping software has taken an already popular concept to new heights, but at the end of it all, there really is no substitute to seeing your ideas laid our in your own hand. There is a special joy in getting involved in drawing your own mind map-something software cannot offer. So if you're going to be using a mind map, we recommend software to get things done quick; but really, you should get your hands dirty once in a while.

Team DigitTeam Digit

All of us are better than one of us.