Years ago I was blown away when a facilitator at one of my clients began a very large meeting (dozens of people) to problem solve a very large issue (data management) by laying out an incredibly ambitious agenda for a very short meeting.  I remember feeling, “Oh no – she’s setting herself up to fail!”  I had just started working at the client and felt powerless to intervene and save her from herself.

She then opened a weird looking page projected onto a large screen and invited people to brainstorm on the major data management challenges they faced.  As they did so, she was furiously capturing them on the page, organizing them and reorganizing them as the list of ideas grew, and as one idea sparked others, or was refined by the “wisdom of the crowd”.  As she did so, people became more and more engaged, and after a hectic 15 minutes or so, she had a page full of ideas beautifully organized into 5 major themes.  Just getting them organized like that, in a chaotic, but emergent way was something of a breakthrough for all in the room.  The excitement was palpable!  She took one of the themes and moved into solution brainstorming mode with the group.  At the end of the one hour meeting, there was excitement, engagement and a level of commitment to working on the solution ideas that had been generated.

My fear that she was trying to do to much, with too large a group, in too little time was completely unfounded.  She was a very good facilitator, but the real secret was the tool she was using – MindManager mind mapping tool.  I bought the tool at the very first opportunity, and have used it ever since.  Virtually every colleague I’ve ever worked with who has seen me use the tool has likewise become a user.  And most clients that have seen me use it, quickly become users.  (I wish I’d owned a piece of Mindjet!)

Over the weekend, my colleague Kimberly Hatch pointed me to MindMeister, a web based and collaborative mind mapping tool (although with Google Gears, you can also use it offline).  I’ve been playing with it and am equally blown away.  It is elegent, powerful, and completely intuitive to use – certainly if you’ve used mind mapping before.  Here’s a trivial example of what a simple map looks like:

Over the next couple of weeks, I will try an experiment and set up a Mind Meister mind map and invite visitors to this blog to work with it – adding and revising – and see where the experiment takes us.