Jamie Nast, author of the popular book Idea Mapping and the Idea Mapping Success Blog, is one of the most world’s most prolific trainers and speakers on the topic of visual mapping. In this interview, she explains why it

Jamie Nast, author of the popular book Idea Mapping and the Idea Mapping Success Blog, is one of the most world’s most prolific trainers and speakers on the topic of visual mapping. In this interview, she explains why it’s critical that executives learn to express their ideas visually, using hand-drawn idea maps and mind mapping software, and the risks of not doing so.

Chuck Frey: You conduct workshops on idea mapping on a regular basis. What are the most common misconceptions that attendees have about idea mapping?

Jamie Nast: I think there are several:

  • Idea Mapping is a right-brain skill. No, idea mapping is a whole-brain skill that leverages the natural way the brain associates information.
  • You need to have drawing skills. There are definitely people who create beautiful maps, but they can be sloppy and ugly and still fulfill the purpose for the creator.
  • Never heard of this kind of tool and wish I’d learned this when I was in school.  It’s not really a misconception, but it’s a very common response – especially if it is the first workshop for a new client.
  • Using color and imagery is unprofessional. No, using color and imagery leverages both sides of the brain and makes the idea map more interesting and memorable.

Chuck Frey: What are they most surprised to learn from your workshops?

Jamie Nast: This can take multiple forms. I have extremely different activities to help people overcome their disbelief that they can learn new skills. These include 3 drawing activities, 3 memory activities, 10-12 idea mapping activities, and learning to juggle. Once someone has that “ah ha” moment in any one of these areas, it’s like watching a light bulb go on. They are very surprised when they learn to count to 100 in Chinese or draw a portrait of a human face.  In the last year or so I’ve added a rather intense activity which results in an idea map of their life vision/mission. That also has a powerful impact.

If I had to summarize the biggest take-away, it would be opening their eyes and mind to a world of possibilities.

Chuck Frey: What is challenging executives today, and how can idea mapping help?

Jamie Nast: At every level of the organization the challenge is how leaders can get their arms around an overwhelming amount of information, make sense out of it, and then take the appropriate actions. Professionals are often immobilized at the thought of tackling major tasks.  An idea map can become an image that houses all the necessary data on one piece of paper. This enables the brain to see connections between ideas that would not be apparent in a linear document. Once the map is created, you can step back and “think about your thinking.” You may decide to re-organize or move things around now that all the information is out of your head and on the map.

Executives are responsible for an incredible amount of communication. An idea map can not only clarify the executive’s thinking, but it can also be a much clearer and memorable way to share ideas.  The other constant challenge is making processes, people, and organizations more productive and efficient. Through my experience and also your research we know that idea mapping can help in all of these areas.

Chuck Frey: What is the risk if executives don’t use whole brain thinking in their work?

Jamie Nast: The results from successful whole-brain thinkers speaks volumes. The risk? It’s everything – the company, the people, the clients, and ultimately their job. Competitors will bury them.

Chuck Frey: Why isn’t idea mapping more widely accepted today? Do you think it will ever reach mainstream executives? Or will there always be a “great divide” between linear thinkers and visual thinkers?

Jamie Nast: To this day the majority of people have not heard of mind mapping or idea mapping. So it’s not so much a lack of acceptance as much as it is a lack of awareness. That being said, the lack of acceptance stems from several things:

Resistance to change. We’ve all been trained to take linear notes. Most brains are wired neurologically to continue with this habit even though it doesn’t reflect the natural associative nature of the brain. In order to adapt idea mapping, it means changing how I think, and taking the time to create a new habit. Many people don’t like change or claim they don’t have the time to learn.

Minimal excellent training resources. There are pockets of training organizations that teach various mapping tools, but frequently it’s a 30-minute introduction or a half-day at the most. In my experience that is not enough time to help people understand why idea mapping works, how they get created, some of the road blocks (and how to overcome them) and allow people to experience that “ah-ha” moment.

Not understanding how to apply idea mapping. Much of the earlier writing on this topic didn’t take the applications into the business world to a great degree. Professionals wanting to try mapping had to take a lead from seeing an example of planning a garden or a trip to tackling a strategic plan or solving a problem as an organization via this technique. I felt like this was a major missing piece. That’s why I included business examples in my book from 21 professionals around the globe – all different applications.

Fear of being viewed as the person who takes weird notes. There are some people out there that don’t want to be alone in their mapping, but I think most of that is behind us now. The pioneers have paved the way.

Idea mapping has started to hit mainstream executives. Bill Miller from Nationwide is a good example of this. Larisa Brigevich, Director for Franklin Templeton, is another. I’m sure there are many others, but I’m definitely seeing a shift. For many years I felt like I was pulling people along – proving to people that this is an excellent tool. Finally about a year ago, I was teaching at a large automotive company here in Michigan and I had a participant say, “I’ve been on the wait list for two years. I’m so excited to learn these skills because I feel like I’ve been missing out.” Now people are waiting to get into classes. Last time I checked, there were over 100 people on the wait list.

Because most individuals were trained to write in a linear fashion, they continue to believe they are linear thinkers. Every time they say they are linear thinkers they reinforce that belief. The truth is that all of us are visual thinkers to varying degrees. The divide comes from an unwillingness to look at the visual side. Just as it is critical to use both left and right brain in combination, the most successful people will learn to blend the linear with the visual.

Chuck Frey: Your career includes a stint with the Buzan organization. How did that influence your thinking as you wrote your book, Idea Mapping?

Jamie Nast: Vanda North is the Founder and former CEO of the Buzan Centres. She was and is a great mentor. The most influential thing she taught me was that when we are teaching, it’s all about the participant and creating the best learning environment for them to gain the maximum from the material. It was with that in mind that I wrote the book. It was all written with the reader in mind.  I pulled from all my experience in teaching over 16,000 professionals world-wide and asked myself “how can I make this clear, complete, simple, and yet powerful for the reader?” I wanted it to feel like I was bringing the idea-mapping portion of my workshop right to the reader.

Chuck Frey: In what ways have you moved beyond the “traditional” Buzan model of mind mapping?

Jamie Nast: There is still a rich heritage in mind mapping, but we’ve moved away from the laws that govern mind mapping and frustrate users. For example, one of the laws states that a branch should hold only a single key word because a single word can generate more thoughts (sub-branches) than a phrase. Although this is true, it doesn’t transfer into the practical business world. I can’t remember any client ever creating a map around a single word. Instead, the central words/image needs to clearly depict the topic/dilemma/project, etc. This same thing applies to any branch in the map.

Chuck Frey: Where does mind mapping software fit into what you teach?

Jamie Nast: It’s crucial. I demonstrate MindManager in every class and also follow-up with links to freeware. It completes the puzzle and gives options other than hand-drawn idea maps.

Chuck Frey: Are there certain applications where hand-drawn maps are preferable to software-produced ones, and vice versa?

Jamie Nast: Absolutely! The major benefits of hand-drawn over software is the kinesthetic element that engages memory in a greater way. You also have more freedom with the imagery. Others have said that there is a level of enjoyment that comes from the drawing – something they don’t get to express in other aspects of their work.

The benefits of the software are also numerous. Editing without redrawing, hyperlinks, attachments, virtual collaboration, and integration with Microsoft products are not possible when drawing by hand. Whether it is hand-drawn or created using software, the bottom line is that the purpose for creating the map will help determine the best method.

Chuck Frey: Tell us about your Idea Mapping Kit. What does it include, and what does it enable people to do?

Jamie Nast: The Idea Mapping Kit was designed primarily for my workshop participants, but I’ve also made it available to the public. It is half the size of a normal binder that includes a set of 10 Staedtler markers (they are the best in the world), heavy blank card stock to eliminate bleeding markers, a zip-locked plastic pouch for extra supplies, a 4-color pen, a back pocket, and a business card slot. It enables idea mappers to have all their tools for hand-drawning together in one location.

Chuck Frey: How has your thinking about idea mapping evolved since your book was published in 2006?

Jamie Nast: Converging on “the trio” and the value of partnering. Let me explain. The trio is Idea Mapping + MindManager + Microsoft. I suppose every author of a book focused on teaching a skill wonders if people will “get it” without you standing over their shoulder. I’m humbled to say that many people have shared how it has benefited them.

A single-dimensional user is familiar with one leg of the trio. For example, there are many software users that don’t really understand the brain theory behind why it works so well. Software users also don’t leverage the availability of imagery and color, because they haven’t been taught about how it impacts memory and communication. When writing the book I considered myself a 2-dimensional user because I used idea mapping + software. In the words of Kaye Nightingale, a Microsoft Master Certified Instructor from the UK, “it wasn’t a light bulb that turned on – it was more like a lightning bolt.” Kaye’s lightning bolt experience brought the third piece of the trio into the light. By combining the use of these three, there is a synergy that occurs that doesn’t happen in the one and two-dimensional worlds.

During the writing of the book I never had a website, didn’t know what a blog was, and Facebook, Squidoo, and many of today’s social networks hadn’t been invented yet. I was a technical and internet novice. I wrote the book pretty much focused on teaching others to learn idea mapping with some emphasis on the use of software, and I included a trial version of Mindjet’s MindManager. They were a crucial partner in this book. Together we have been able to introduce organizations to a much more complete picture.

My thinking about idea mapping now involves how to teach and share via webinars, my blog, and other internet-based training avenues. Partnering with people like Kaye and other organizations around the world make us all better and enhance learning for everyone.

Chuck Frey: Your blog seems to be heavily focused on examples of mind maps. How important are examples or case histories for people who are learning how to do this type of visual mapping?

Jamie Nast: I think it is one of the most important learning advantages. Very early on in my teaching which began in 1992, I started collecting examples from participants. Whenever possible I would have guest speakers come and share how they applied idea maps and other learning from the workshop to their work and life. The credibility that the stories brought into the classroom gave people practical as well as unusual ways to apply idea mapping. As they saw more examples, it sparked ideas of how they could implement the tool for themselves.

Chuck Frey: What excites you, as you look at how mind mapping is evolving and growing in acceptance?

Jamie Nast: Several things excite me:

I’ve believed this tool could have a major impact since 1992. I can finally say with confidence that it is here to stay, and I’m blessed to continue to make a serious impact on people both personally and professionally.

This will provide more opportunities for my Certified Idea Mapping Instructors around the globe.
It is extremely rewarding to witness people have break-through learning experiences. It may seem like I would get bored teaching the same material over and over again. But each experience in different, each organization is different, and every individual is different. What a rush!

I enjoy unmarked territory. I can’t wait to see new applications and examples of idea maps, and share them with the world for our mutual gain.

I always anticipate my next workshop which at the moment is back to Boeing. For information on my next public classes in the UK (October 6-7, 2008) and Palm Beach, FL (December 8-9, 2008), please see my website.