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Mindjet User Spotlight: Angus McDonald

Name: Angus McDonald
Title: Founder & Managing Director of Knowledge Mappers Ltd.
Social links: Facebook TwitterWebsiteLinkedIn

How did you hear about Mindjet?

I first heard about mind maps and Tony Buzan in about 1997, during a training session organised by the personnel department at my work. For younger viewers, 1997 was in the days before the world wide web, so if you wanted to find out about anything you had to get a real book from either your local library or a real bookshop! So, I bought Tony Buzan’s book, and soon I started to make mind maps in my personal life to map books I was reading, etc. When I relocated back to my native Scotland and set up my own Geographic Information consultancy in 1999, I started using mind maps in my work life too. After a while and now with my own computer, I suddenly had an epiphany moment — I thought, “I wonder if anybody has produced software to make mind maps?” Well, after a web-search, I downloaded the free trial of MindManager 2002 and I was off on my digital mind mapping journey!

Thirteen years on I am still a MindManager user. Yes, I use other software tools, but I have always found MindManager to be the best, most versatile information mapping software available.

What do you primarily use it for?

– “Corporate Brain.”  I have a single “corporate brain” map in which I record all the information that is essential to run the business on a day-to-day basis. It’s especially good for recording essential information that can easily get lost in the mix, such as:

  • URLs and log-in details to “my account” pages for the many business services I use — banking, telephone, VAT &  tax returns, etc.
  • Software licence keys (always a god-send after a hard-drive fail and complete reinstallation).
  • Potential new clients, tools, etc.

– Consultancy Clients And R&D. For my consultancy work, I use it to keep track of clients and jobs. Because of its non-rigid structure, it’s perfect for recording information “ad-hoc” and “on-the-hoof” for a complex client base who are at different stages of our School Travel Health Check spatial analysis service. We are constantly developing and refining the analysis process and subsequent product offerings to the clients, and MindManager is an integral part of the development process — from desktop research into new tools and techniques, to mapping the ever-changing procedure for undertaking the analysis process. I’m sure this is true of many small businesses; that, as you grow, your products, services, and supporting tools become “as well as” rather than “instead of,” — so the number of things and processes you have to keep track of keeps on growing and growing!

– Knowledge Resource Indexes. Finally, for our knowledge map download store, I am using  MindManager to produce index maps of knowledge resources that enable easier information discovery and therefore quicker knowledge transfer. Resources are usually web-based but we can also map clients internal intra-nets etc. These make use of MindManagers ability to handle large maps with multiple hyperlinks. The biggest so far has been a complete web-map of all European Union body websites with over 17000 branches!

What is your favorite feature and why?

Again, it won’t be a surprise that I have several favorite features in MindManager:

– Integrated browser. A feature I have only found in MindManager, this means you never have to leave the MindManager environment when doing your desktop research. With our maps as a starting point, it’s a simple job to action new information as you discover it, using all the other tools of MindManager. Creating maps is also much easier when you are just repeatedly doing a “drag and drop” from the browser.
– Large maps.  It’s great to be able to add to maps as you go along, confident that it’s not going to fall over (yet). As I said, 17,000 branches is the biggest so far!
– Multiple hyperlinks on a branch. I have only recently discovered this feature (which again I have only found in MindManager), but suddenly this opens up so many possibilities for my maps as resource indexes. Without having to create another branch just to record another hyperlink related to the same topic, my “drill-down-through-the-formal-topic-hierarchy” maps can become very “deep” indeed, as well as being very “rich”.
– Variety of  map structures over and above the standard “radial branch.” Touched upon already but again, it opens up so many possibilities.
– Versatile visual formatting. As well as the physical layout, the ability to vary the visual formatting of individual map components (and sub-components) so much such as text, branches, call-outs, relationships, floating topics, etc. opens up the possibility of proper information cartography. In other words using visual formatting (color, style, etc.) of content to convey further information about that content to the viewer. This ability will only improve with the introduction of a much expanded image library with MindManager 15.

I have a parallel existence as a Geographic Information Consultant, where I use my cartographic skills to design geographic maps to transfer information to end-users to help them solve problems. Cartography is as much a science as an art, and there has been much research over the last few years into how the human brain discovers and absorbs new information presented visually, and uses it to solve problems (I recommend Dan Roam’s book “Back of the Napkin” for some more information about “visual thinking”). With a little extra effort, the same cartographic skills and principals can just as easily be applied to digital “mind maps” for the mutual benefit of the mapper and end-user alike!

Is there anything the tool helps with that was unexpected?

The main thing I didn’t expect to be able to do when embarking on digital mind mapping was have the ability to create such a variety of different “map” structures, but due to the versatility of MindManager, I can. The guys at Mindjet are thinking beyond the basic concept of mind mapping.

For example I was amazed that I could use MindManager to create a “map” that mirrored the structure of the Periodic Table of Elements. As with our Solar System map discussed below, suddenly you’ve got all the information about all the chemical building blocks of the universe at your fingertips on the one virtual page. Wow!

It’s really all about having the vision to say, “I wonder if I can create such and such using MindManager?” — and then having the tenacity to go and try it. Even if you can’t get quite what you want, you’ll usually end up with something you can use, and you’ll have learnt a hell of a lot about the software in the process. Personally the vision is never a problem for me, it’s the physical creation that usually puts a spanner in the works. I spend a lot of time “on the ragged edge” of my software tools, but with versatile software like MindManager, I always relish the challenge of bending it to see what I can create with it next!

Tell us about your map.

This is perhaps my personal favorite “Knowledge map” that I have created over my mapping career to date. I certainly think it’s the most beautiful one and it’s the closest thing to a “proper” geographic map I have done. It’s a map of our Solar System with links to the relevant articles on Wikipedia. The principal planetary bodies and regions are sub-branches in a tree structure off a main branch for the Sun. Sub-branches in standard “right map” structure show:

– Natural Satellites (Moons) with orbital distances in km’s from the parent body)

– Associated Minor Planets (or Significant Bodies if a region)

– Planetary Ring Structures (if present)

The orbital distances from the Sun (perihelion and aphelion), of all objects are given in Astronomical Units (AU) for reference if they are quoted in Wikipedia. This turns it into  a semi-geographic map – bodies are in the correct position relative to each other and distances are given where known. Everything in a map has to go somewhere right? So why not put them in the order that they naturally occur rather something arbitrary like alphabetical order?

As with all my maps, its purpose is many-fold:

– Online Navigation / Research Tool. Be it for business, education or personal use. Users can quickly navigate their way around the Web to a trusted information source without all that time wasted in wading through search engine results. Unlike our “proper Research Maps” though, the branches in this template map are only linked to one information source so it remains to be seen how Wikipedia is regarded by experts as a “definitive” information source about the Solar System. We may bring out a proper, “multi-resource” Solar System Research Atlas at some point in the future if there is a demand (would be glad to do this as a bespoke project for you guys at NASA if you are listening!).

– Definitive Index List.  The same information that aids navigation is also the definitive list of all such things as far as is known. Well as close as we can get it! As mentioned in the notes to the map, modern automated astronomy techniques means that the rate of discovery of new objects in the Solar System now far outstrips the capacity for the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to formally name them and for Wikipedia to create pages for each of them, so our map will always be playing catch-up!

– Information Recording Tool/ Digital Scrapbook.  Once users have found what they need they can copy relevant information from the source into their map as new branches or branch notes, or just add further hyperlinks to the specific page. Thus users can create their own detailed, bespoke map much more rapidly by building on top of our basic framework than they could do if they started completely from scratch.

– Public Education Resource –  Expert and non-expert users alike can discover “new” information about the planets and other bodies and phenomena that make up this big old beautiful Solar System of ours. Because of the visual way in which the information is presented, they will perhaps make connections and discoveries that they wouldn’t otherwise have done if just wading through the typical Wikipedia text-based article.

In short, “Dude, it’s the whole of the freakin’ Solar System in a single, virtual page!!” I still can’t get over that fact and I don’t think I ever will. As a trained Environmental Scientist I have a natural “schoolboy curiosity” that’s always open to discovering new things about the universe we live in, and to help others to do the same!

This map is available to download from our online map store. As a special reward for Mindjet Conspire readers, you can receive a 50% discount — just enter the code ‘Conspire-1’ at checkout.



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