Lessons from mind mapping the cars of the world

A mind map is a great tool, and mind maps should be a key part of any knowledge/concept worker’s tool kit.  To supplement the hand drawn maps that are scattered throughout my notebooks and across whiteboards, I primarily use two pieces of mind mapping software:  MindManager (Pro 6) and Personal Brain (5).  (In the interest of completeness, Inspiration also has a home here in the Miller household, used by the boys for their school work.)

Recently I’ve been working on a mind map of the Cars of the World (personal, not work related). When I first started the map, in Mind Manager, it seemed like it would be a pretty straightforward exercise. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this might not be as straightforward as I originally thought.

My original intent was to simply provide a kind of “quick reference guide” for my son to the makes and models of cars typically seen in the US. I envisioned what would essentially amount to a big poster of cars, and chose MindManager to execute.  My first thought was to have countries as the first sub-topic level, but a quick hand-sketched map convinced me that I should have the continents as the first level with the countries at the second level, and the car make/model falling under that.

Here’s a snapshot of part of that map so far (it is, to put it mildly, a work in progress). Click on the map for full-size image, or here for the MindManager .mmap file:

cotw-snapshot

As seen in the snapshot above, I started out by simply listing the various brands of cars associated with a given country. For the European brands, this worked out OK since no one country has an excessive number of unique car brands.  This is not the case, however, in the United States or Japan where there are many (many) different car brands. Subsequently, the list of brands shown on the map under the U.S. and Japan were quite lengthy. Having lived in the U.S. all my life, it was easy for me to further divide the various U.S. brands into parent companies, I’m sure the same can be done for the Japanese brands.

The snapshots below give an idea of how the two options look on the map.

cotw-north-america-and-asia

Of course, once you start bringing the actual car companies into the discussion the question of how to represent takes a whole new turn.  For example, Chrysler is indeed a US company, but as a result of recent events is now owned by Fiat, and Italian company.  Obviously it doesn’t make sense in the context of this map to move Chrysler and its brands under Italy on the map, any more than moving the Opel (Germany) or Holden (Australia) brands to the U.S. because they are owned by GM (at least, I think GM still owns them).

Mind Manager does have some tools that allow you to connect and establish relationships between individual topics, but I found that to really track and display a large number of relationships and groupings of topics The Personal Brain is a more useful tool.  I threw together a quick brain showing some of the relationships I’ve mentioned, unfortunately my Brain 5 trial has expired and it looks like I’ll have to either reinstall v4.5 or buy 5 before I can export to HTML and post it here.

Like I said at the beginning, mind maps are an effective tool.  As this “simple” project shows, though, you still need to put a little bit of thought into exactly which type of mind map tool you use and how you actually use the tool to come up with your desired product.

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