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Mind Mapping Out the Box: Are You an Information Cartographer? PART I

In my humble opinion, if you use mind mapping software such as Mindjet MindManager, you are indeed an information cartographer. Trust me, I’m a Geographic Information Consultant by trade, and have been making and using maps of all sorts for 30 years. One of the reasons I started my company, Knowledge Mappers, was to explore the synergy between mind maps and geographical maps, for in the digital software environment, I have always been struck by the great similarity between them.

Mind Mapping: Creating Pictures with a Purpose

Let’s start with some dictionary definitions:

  • Information: Facts provided or learned about something or someone; what is conveyed or represented by a particular arrangement or sequence of things.
  • Map: A diagram or collection of data showing the spatial arrangement or distribution of something over an area.
  • Cartography: The science or practice of drawing maps.

But to put it simply, maps are just pictures with a purpose, and that purpose is two-fold:

  1. For the person making the map, it is a means of recording information visually – real world “things” and the relationships between them. Essentially to capture a snapshot in time. Depending on the subject matter, maybe this time next week the map would be different if we made it. In my analogy this is where true “mind mapping” sits, literally mapping the mind, your thoughts (or the groups thoughts), the things that make up the internal “mindscape” (as opposed to the external, geographic landscape) at that point in time.
  1. But a map is also a tangible thing, a document that helps quickly and visually communicate information about the structure and content of the “space” by the map to anybody viewing the map. This is where cartography comes in — the art and science of making maps, of communicating visually, using elements like shapes, symbols, colours, and all sorts of other things our brains are wired to interpret, as well as words.

It’s also where Knowledge Mappers comes in. My big thing is not reinventing the knowledge wheel, and you do that through knowledge retention – being able to record and store information in such a meaningful way as it can easily be recalled when you need it. You also do this via knowledge transfer, or the transfer of information from one person that knows it to another that wants to know it in such a way that it can be easily understood and synthesized into knowledge.

It is my aim in this new blog series to try and persuade digital mind-mapping software users that, as information cartographers, you can learn from the world of geographic map cartography, and that by applying a little bit of cartographic know-how, you can use your maps to retain and transfer knowledge more easily. Incidentally, the world of geographic cartography has, and still is, going through a rapid transformation brought about by digital technology that has caused the “cartographic rules,” fashioned over hundreds of years of paper (and cave wall)-based technology, to be brought into question. Does that sound familiar to any readers?

If A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words, What About A Picture Of 1000 Words?

I know what you are going to say to me though. “But Angus, my maps are just words! Sure — the words are arranged in discrete blocks, and there are connectors between the blocks showing a clear thought path through the words, but it’s just words, not pictures….”

Well my friends, I want to share with you a couple of pictures. The first one is a standard picture you will see on any school classroom around the world…


World Map_1920x1200


The second is a “Text Map Of The World” by Michael Tompsett. Click here to see many more examples of his maps at several different geographic scales from around the world.

Text Map of the World by Michael Tompsett


It’s just words right? You tell me! Incidentally, I lied about the thousand words thing. There are far fewer than a thousand words in the second picture, but they are literally the whole world!

I have both of these images on my office wall in large format prints. They remind me that there is more than one way of mapping the world.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post, coming soon! 

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