Sometimes they’re called brainstorming tools; other times, they’re called mind-mapping apps. Whatever you name them, this software genre helps your business generate, execute, and share creative ideas and business strategies with both colleagues and clients.
Mind maps – which bear a passing resemblance to flowcharts, org charts and decision trees – generally launch from a central topic and then branch out into related subtopics or nodes. Depending on the scope of your project, each node could spawn a mind map of its own.
Here’s a look at the benefits of mind mapping, what to look for in an effective mind-mapping program, and the best mind-mapping apps for your company.
A mind map is a visual brainstorming form that allows you to get all your thoughts, ideas and concepts clearly in front of you. You can create a mind map with a simple pen and paper or within a mind-mapper program.
You begin a mind map with a central concept or subject. From there, you’ll branch out related ideas in an irregular fashion, using lines and colors to enhance the central point.
Mind-mapping apps emphasize ideation, thought processes, concepts and relationships. They can be text-focused packages that resemble traditional whiteboards or visual apps that let you conceive, track, connect and systematize ideas in colorful trees, linked diagrams or flowcharts.
Mind maps help notetakers visualize the relationships between concepts, and uncover topic depth and permutation. Mind mapping is often superior to outlining for brainstorming, as it allows you to relate concepts in a more creative and ad hoc way.
For problem-solving, mind maps let you visually analyze aspects of your issue to discover and evolve alternative solutions. Those who seek task and project management software tools can benefit from mind mapping because it lets you observe and analyze your tasks from a different perspective.
You can even use a mind map to envision, set goals or plan a future project.
Mind-mapping tools have a slew of benefits for communication, learning, expression and collaboration.
Instead of struggling to memorize words on paper for an important presentation, a mind map will help you retain information through its visual material representation. In fact, centuries ago – before we had the writing tools and computers available to us today – Greeks and Romans utilized a memorization method called loci. With this method, they would visualize information stored in a particular place in their mind, much like Sherlock Holmes demonstrates in the BBC series Sherlock.
Mind mapping is similar to loci, as it helps you recall a visual of your mind map rather than attempting to retain a substantial amount of text.
Mind mapping is a great way to enable purposeful learning. With mind mapping, you’re not just reading words straight off a page; you’re actively stimulating your brain through the brainstorming process.
You can even use mind mapping during employee engagement team exercises or meetings. Have each of your team members make a mind map to learn everyone’s views on a subject. You could then compare them to see where there may be missing elements between new and existing ideas.
It can be easy to put words on a PowerPoint presentation and call it a day. However, to better engage your audience, you may want to consider creating a mind map with them during a presentation or revealing a completed one.
If you’re pitching to a potential client, they’ll be able to visualize your ideas better when you show them a mind map. A mind map can also help you plan a marketing campaign or create a content calendar.
Another science-backed mind-mapping benefit is providing an effective way to understand a complex subject. Strategic planning, for instance, involves multiple moving parts that can be difficult to follow, depending on the scope of the project. A mind map can streamline strategic planning by uncovering correlations and giving you a bird’s-eye view of the process.
Mind maps are a flexible way of organizing your thoughts, and you can use them in various ways – such as to evaluate past projects and plan new events. The nature of mind maps makes it easy to change and readjust them as needed. Review mind maps with your team at the start of each meeting to ensure all the information is current.
You can use a mind map to evaluate past projects, plan events, prep for presentations or brainstorm ideas with your team.
If you’re scouting around for the best mind-mapping app, here are some things to consider.
When looking for the best mind-mapping app, consider ease of use, price and interoperability.
We evaluated mind-mapping apps and chose our top nine tools. Here’s a look at each of them.
Coggle is an online mind mapper that you can use in any desktop or mobile browser. You must first create an account and log in with Google, and then you can start creating colorful diagrams.
The free version gives you three private diagrams, unlimited public diagrams, more than 1,600 specially designed icons, unlimited image uploads and the ability to auto-arrange branches. The Awesome and Organization tiers are available for $5 and $8 per month respectively, adding advanced features like chat history, high-resolution image uploads, collaboration, multiple start points, bulk export, user and data management, and branded diagrams. Visit Coggle’s website for more information.
With XMind, you never have to worry about being confronted by a blank screen. Available for Mac, Windows, and iOS, the software gets you up and running immediately with a collection of themes to choose from and modify.
The app features advanced rendering coupled with a library of original stickers to make your diagram intriguing. Markdown support offers easy text formatting. Saving your maps as vector PDF files lets you enlarge and print a map, or you can share it directly to Evernote.
XMind’s Pitch Mode allows you to brainstorm, generate and present all in one place. The full version of XMind – mobile and desktop – costs $39.99 per person for six months and $59.99 per person for a year. Visit the XMind website for more information.
While Mindomo is purposely targeted for teachers and students, its simplicity and logic make it ideal for small businesses. The app features unlimited mind maps and task maps, online storage, Dropbox and Google Drive integration, embedded audio and video, password protection, auto-sync with iOS and Android apps, and up to 12 import and export formats. The detailed concept maps and outlines can help you gather and analyze data for your business.
Available on all desktop and mobile platforms, Mindomo’s free version gives you three maps, which include collaboration, email notifications, mobile apps, an RSS feed of your changes, presenter mode, icon and image galleries, and chat.
Premium, Professional, and Team versions (for five to 100 users) are available for $5.50, $13.50, and $16.50 per month respectively. Paid versions offer guest user and editing capabilities, multiple users, a team interface, and a team folder. All data is encrypted and backed up daily. The mobile apps are free. Visit the Mindomo website for more information.
Lucidchart provides sample maps that let you start almost immediately with the app’s drag-and-drop interface. You can also use the flowcharts, org charts, data-flow diagrams and process maps for your small business.
Lucidchart supports group chat and comments, revision history, and embedded documents in a wiki, website or blog. It integrates with Google Apps and Drive, Jira, Confluence, and Visio, among others. The app encrypts and backs up your data and stores it in secure data centers. And since it’s an HTML5 web app, you’ll always have the most recent version.
The company offers individual and team subscriptions for $7.95 and $9 per month. Visit the Lucidchart website for more information.
This AI-powered brainstorming tool for Mac and Windows offers a palette for your visual and creative thought process. Different map views – Task Canvas View, Kanban Workflow, and Whiteboards – are available to fit your project. A detailed side panel lets you choose graphic elements – like line and background color and width, font face and size, and central images. You can save ideas for later in the Idea Bank.
Ayoa’s task management board can be viewed traditionally or based on a timeline. You can also transform branches into tasks, complete with real-time collaboration.
The Ayoa Pro version costs $10 per user per month, and the Ultimate version is $13 per user per month. Visit the Ayoa website for more information.
MindNode for Mac and iOS is one of the most intuitive apps where you can dump the contents of your brain. Anything you can think of that relates to your topic, even just peripherally, can be included in your mind map via the Quick Entry feature.
Smart Layout ensures that all your ideas – in words, images, links, tasks or notes – are properly placed and legible, letting you make the conceptual connections you want while maintaining flexibility with a drag-and-drop interface. You can add styles to text and nodes, and use built-in layouts and themes to visualize complex information.
You can work either on the desktop or in the iOS companion app, as sharing and syncing with iCloud Drive lets you access your documents on all your devices. MindNode also supports import and export for various document formats, and you can upload an interactive version of your documents to the company’s servers.
The app offers a free map editor, or you can pay $19.99 a year for MindNode Plus. Visit the MindNode website for more information.
The web and iPad Popplet app is simple and fun for school kids and business owners alike. You’ll appreciate Popplet’s assistance in brainstorming, planning projects, generating ideas and taking notes for your small business. Idea cells – popplets – let you name a topic, color-code it, adjust its text size, draw or add an image, and move it around the board.
When you sign in to Popplet, you see some existing examples that you can use as models, but you can freestyle your own just as easily. The company’s free plan offers one popplet. A monthly plan for unlimited personnel costs $3 per month; a yearly plan is $19.99. Visit the Popplet website for more information.
An attractive and intuitive mind mapper, MindMeister stands out for its ease of use and flexibility. The web app includes major template categories for general business, education, entertainment, productivity and technology. It also offers immediate business-oriented charts for brainstorming, project plans, and an org chart. MindMeister appeals to virtually any kind of business, and a built-in series of short tutorials gets you up and running quickly.
A free version lets you share, collaborate and import up to three mind maps. The Personal, Pro and Business versions are available for $4.99, $8.25 and $12.49 per month respectively, offering features like unlimited mind maps, file and image management, PDF and PowerPoint export, teams and admins, and custom styles and themes. Visit the MindMeister website for more information.
Some small companies like their mind maps super simple, while others love the detail of delving deeply into their brainstorming plans to tease out a variety of options and outcomes. MindManager is a high-end, multi-featured mind mapper that streamlines the complexity of your chosen task by providing templates to get you started.
You can use MindManager for creative problem-solving, productivity, information, knowledge, task and product management, and business planning – dressing up your map with graphic and media elements. The dynamic web link feature lets you share maps inside and outside the company.
MindManager’s Essential plan, a web version of MindManager for $99 a year, is best for individual projects and productivity. Its Professional plan, which is $169 per year, offers the latest versions, newest features and collaboration tools. Visit the MindManager website for more information.
Sean Peek contributed to the writing and research in this article.