I'm taking a correspondence course and the current exercise involves creating a mind map of a particular topic, my thoughts about "the earth." Mind-mapping is a method of focused brainstorming that appeals to my right-brained, intuitive brand of logic. It's my way of getting beyond the ease of thinking in a linear fashion. Mind-mapping allows my mind to meander in directions I probably wouldn't go if I was just making a list. The technique makes me realize there are powerful connections which interlace my thoughts.
I learned the term "brainstorming" from the teachers who conducted a gifted and talented class for third- through sixth-graders in my public school system. As a third-grader I thought of brainstorming as a peculiar metaphor. The idea that storm is going on inside your head (at a time in my life when I had few responsibilities or hardships) seemed amusing. I played with the concept and honed my skills to the point where I hardly do any project these days without using some form of brainstorming. It has become second nature to make lists of ideas, to compose rough outlines for an article, or to ask a group to call out ideas before making decisions about the project at hand. I am employing this bag of tricks even before I realize consciously that I'm brainstorming.
Some of the brainstorming techniques I learned back in elementary school tend to emphasize linear patterns of thought. Linear thinking is not all bad, but more recently I've needed a method to push the limits of my mental box when confronting a problem. When you make a list, it's easy to discount "weird" ideas that don't seem to belong with the other concepts or judge them unfairly. Mind-mapping, on the other hand, allows for more possibilities and multiple pathways to connect individual thoughts.
There seems to be a host of mind-mapping software on the market, but I have never seen or used any of these products. For me, colored pencils or markers and the physical act of drawing out the connections makes the most sense to me. Yet, words are not the only way to make a mind map.
Some of the very first mind maps I created were made as collages--pasted bits of newsprint or magazine pictures laid out and then glued to a page. I remember doing a very powerful mind-map about my personality for an assignment in 9th grade psychology class. I know it surprised (alarmed?!) my teacher with the sophistication of its themes--very unlike what most of the girls in my class did with their pictures of clothing, hairdressing appliances, favorite bands and movie stars. I wanted to ask my teacher, "What do you expect? I grew up in a household of artists!" My "personality" collage had landscapes. Images of fire and of ice stood beside exotic foreign countries I read about and wanted to visit. And, yes, a picture of my favorite band, too. It really stood out when taped up on the blackboard beside all of the others.
I have used collage to make other mind maps over the years, to the point where the combination of language and image speak in complex metaphors to me. Collage is a medium which many people find easy to learn. I've taught collage to a number of different age groups and found that people take to it because they are well-versed at assigning meaning to images, perhaps more than with words. In the western world's culture of over-stimulated vision, the images of our printed media are icons of consumerism. People find the images that make sense for them instinctively, like when they find something they want in a store at the mall. It's fascinating to see what images draw and speak to us through random collage.
I wonder if any of the authors on mind-mapping have ever considered collage as a technique akin to their own. I suspect that the Cubist artists of the 1900s and Pop artists of the 1960s would have likely seen their works as "mind maps" if such a term was known to them. Perhaps, the Surrealists of the 1920s would have appreciated such an approach even more. Many of the Surrealists held that no thought could be an accident. That the mind always understood the interconnectivity of thought at some primordial level.