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Behind the Scenes at Biggerplate Unplugged: A Q&A with Liam Hughes

This year, Biggerplate — curators of the world’s biggest mind map library — is hosting their annual mind mapping conference in Mindjet’s hometown of San Francisco. We sat down with founder Liam Hughes to get the details on this hugely popular event, taking place on March 20th.

1. Give us a little history lesson on you, Biggerplate, and mind mapping.
Biggerplate was started as a part-time project back in 2008, after I discovered mind mapping software at university, and had the initial idea to create an online resource for students to access academic content in mind map format. After letting the site run for a couple of years part-time, we committed fully to the project in 2011, and have gone on to build Biggerplate into one of the leading sources of mind mapping content and community in the world. Our map library contains thousands of free templates and examples for business and education, and we now have a member community of over 60,000 mind mappers from around the world!

2. Tell us about the upcoming Biggerplate Unplugged conference. What’s the value for attendees? What can they expect?
There really is no other event like this, dedicated purely to mind mapping, where experts and practitioners gather together in one place and share their learning and experiences of using mind mapping in different contexts. The peer-to-peer learning is something that people seem to have found valuable at previous events, in addition to exploring (and shaping) the possible futures for mind mapping and visual working.

3. How did you go about choosing experts to speak at this year’s event?
We’re lucky because we are never short of speaking proposals, and the San Francisco event was no different! We had lots of great proposals submitted, and have tried to select from these a mix of speakers and topics that will provide the best balance, and most useful breadth and depth of perspective for attendees. We’ve got some great software-focused perspectives from people like Michael Deutch from Mindjet, some broader ‘visual thinking’ perspectives from renowned authors David Sibbet and Jamie Nast, and some really practical use case perspectives from a lawyer, a project manager, and a senior HR professional. So hopefully, we’ve got something for everyone here.

4. Other than listening to mind mapping thought leaders and industry pros, what business or career opportunities are there at BPUN?
It’s not often you can have a peer-to-peer, or business-to-business conversation with someone about mind mapping without first having to explain what it is, and Biggerplate Unplugged is therefore quite unique! Attendees have a great starting point and shared context (mind mapping) for conversation about their respective worlds, and there have been some really commercially and personally valuable outputs as a result. One attendee from the IT sector said the event directly influenced his strategic planning for the year ahead, a mind map trainer we know secured a training contract from another attendee he met, and we even had two people collaborate on writing a new book after exploring a shared idea at our event.I have always said there is a shared mindset among people who use mind mapping, which is open-minded, collaborative, and innovative. We are therefore always confident that the result of getting people like this in the same room will always be creative, interesting and unexpected!

5. How does Biggerplate believe mind mapping ties in with modern business innovation and the ever-changing market landscape?
We believe mind mapping is the missing link in many modern business processes, and particularly relevant when a process requires the gathering and sorting of ideas and information into tangible outputs. This ‘gathering and sorting’ stage is often done poorly (or not at all) in organisations, where people instead launch straight into document writing, decision-making, or project planning without first getting their heads around all of the information and knowledge related to the situation. Strong innovation outputs are usually built on a foundation of many small ideas and pieces of information, potentially from a variety of sources, and often (seemingly) disconnected. There are people all over the world trying to handle this information with the wrong tools, and they therefore struggle to understand all the information, or turn their ideas into action. In a huge number of cases, the tool that would be most suitable is a mind map, and the challenge for us (and companies like Mindjet) is to demonstrate this in ways that are practical, context-specific, and grounded in the real-world.

6. What role do you believe mind mapping will play in the future of work? Do you expect the process to evolve? If so, how?
I think the core mind mapping process (organising information hierarchically around a central topic) will more or less remain the same, and this is a good thing: It’s actually the real power behind the approach. I think the next stage in evolution will be less about improving or changing the process itself, and more about identifying and demonstrating the contexts in which it is a relevant process to employ. We do not think mind maps could or should be viewed as the best tool for every situation, or (necessarily) as the end-point in themselves. Instead, we’re trying to understand which processes are best aided by a mind map, and at which stages in larger processes should people switch to or from a map into some other medium. Essentially we believe evolutions in the mind map process will emerge from better understanding of the context-specific ways in which people are using them, and looking for ways to enhance the impact in these situations.

7. What about this year’s BPUN conference are you most looking forward to?
I’m really pleased with the overall line-up of speakers and sessions we have planned for this event, but in particular, I’m really interested in the interactive session that David Sibbet will be running. He’s one of the biggest names in the world of visual thinking/working, and has been for a really long time, well before ‘visual thinking’ was known in the way it is today. I think it’s going to be really interesting to get a perspective from someone who sits outside of the mind mapping world, but who clearly overlaps with it through his focus on visual tools and visual working. I think this will be a really thought-provoking, but enjoyable session, and I’m really excited to see David in action!

Interested in attending BPUN 2014? Get your tickets here.

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