Archive for category brainstorming

Mind Mapping: Online Collaboration Tool


Note: This guest post by Richard Egan has a focus on education but the principles covered can easily be translated into other settings.   Collaborative tools like MindMeister are powerful ways to bring people and their ideas together.

Online Collaboration

Online collaboration has become very popular in both education and business. We now have the ability to easily and freely share all file types using different cloud based platforms.  People working collectively on a project or assignment no longer need to be in the same room or even in the same country for that matter.

Collaborative platforms have enabled educators to create online learning environments where students can benefit from sharing ideas and communicating with each other, their mentors and external organizations.

Mind Mapping and Online Collaboration

Mind maps are an excellent method for individuals to graphically represent and structure ideas or thoughts. It is a very valuable tool which can be used for project management, creating to-do lists, idea generation, planning articles or papers.

Mind mapping can be implemented for collaborating and brainstorming, it gives students a platform to work simultaneously and a facility for learning together. Introducing mind mapping to students is a great way to encourage group participation and when managed properly will generate great results.

Benefits of Collaborative Tools:

  • Easier project management
  • More informed decision making
  • Promotes critical thinking
  • Meetings and brainstorming sessions conducted remotely
  • Develop new skills for a business environment
  • Files stored in one place i.e. no waiting for a document to be emailed
  • Improved communication between students, lecturers and research groups

Collaboration: Mind Mapping Uses

Using mind mapping for collaboration presents students with the opportunity to share ideas with peers and to think creatively through social inspiration. I have made a list of some of the situations where mind mapping can be used as a solution for online collaboration.

  • Managing group projects
  • Class assignments
  • Sharing lecture notes
  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Study sessions
  • Group presentations

The video below is an example of multiple users collaborating on one map – they are creating an IKEA shopping list for their office. All changes to the mind map can be seen in real-time by all collaborators

Mind Mapping Example: Project Management

The next time you are assigned a group project in school or college I would encourage you to use a mind map from the beginning. To get started you can follow these easy steps:

  • Create a mind map with title of project
  • Invite all teams members to be collaborators
  • Have a brainstorming session with all collaborators

At this point you should have a map with many topics, ideas and tasks to be completed. The next step is to appoint a team leader who can:

  • Sort and structure all the information in the map
  • Delegate tasks, create deadlines and set reminders for each member

Once this has been completed you will have very quickly created a project plan and a great starting point for the project. In addition to this, create another mind map with all details of each team member i.e. contact details, to-do lists and daily schedules; it can then be linked to the main map. The purpose for this is that everyone can see what the other is doing, progress can be monitored and meetings can be easily scheduled to suit everyone.

Some of the mind mapping software providers also support smartphones and tablets meaning that members can literally participate whenever or wherever they may be!

Conclusion

Online collaboration is becoming ever more important and is being used by businesses all over the world to increase productivity and creativity. Following the principle that two brains are better than one many companies are taking advantage of new software being made available to them. Collaborating online has many benefits in education but it is also very important that students are prepared for such working environments after their studies.

New online collaborative tools are emerging every day with numerous platforms for saving and sharing files, conducting meetings and managing projects. Mind mapping is one such tool but with a bit of a difference, it is a visual tool. Not only can files be stored and shared on the cloud but you can also see and watch how the whole thought process evolved and how a conclusion was formed or how a plan was made. And because each collaborator can add to a mind map simultaneously no one person can dominate the direction or outcome!

This is a guest post created by Richard Egan, a mind mapping specialist at MindMeister — a leading provider of mind mapping solutions.

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Unclear? Use a Twitter Summary!


English: A Twitter tweet

Image via Wikipedia

Have you ever just stopped and thought, “OK, exactly, what am I doing here?”  Have you ever been asked to explain something and found yourself ramblings and your thoughts came out incoherent and and your thoughts are without any cohesion and almost on the verge of being labeled ‘verbal diarrhea’? (run on sentence intended for effect folks!!)

Force Some Discipline

There is a way you can attack this problem.  This idea comes from a book I’ve recently read call “Drive” by Daniel Pink.  (Good Read! Recommend it!) It’s one of the suggestions in the back of the book which you could easily overlook and just skiip by if you are not careful.

The concept is simple.  Use a tool, like Twitter, to force you to craft a message in 140 characters.  Twitter will only publish 140 characters of a person’s tweet.  It provides a nice clean interface with a gentile reminder of how many characters you have remaining.  It also provides you a negative number if you go over 140 characters, thus showing you how much you have to trim to have your entire message included in the twitter stream.  Twitter simply provides us a clean and straightforward page with the needed feedback to accomplish this task.

Twitter is not the focus

You could use any tool that gives you the feedback to understand how close you are to 140 characters.  Even the 140 characters are arbitrary and simply based on the fact that Twitter has this limitation.  I could also use any word processor that provide the basic functionality of ‘word count‘ .  You could write a simple Visual Basic program in minutes to perform the same task.  The tool is not the important factor here.  It is your ability to boil down your message to 140 charaters.

In the past we’ve talked about using elevator speeches, but this is more intense and to the point.  Only using 140 characters to create focus.

Twitter Summary Application

  • Front Office Staff – image the value you would bring if your responses were pithy and to the point.  How many of us have wished we met some of these staff in our travels.  Only to find out 2 minutes into a question answer session you picked the wrong person to ask ‘where the bathroom was?’ (exaggeration intended)
  • Meeting Prep – Wouldn’t we all like to come into a meeting and with a short burst from the moderator / facilitator know how much I need to pay attention?  In fact, I could then text my assistent to pull me out of the meeting in let’s say 10 minutes.  (Note to self: I bet I could write a quick program so that when I text mesage a certain code to it, it would then rendomly generate a ’emergency text message‘ to my department member’s phones  so I can get them all the hell out of there before they waste another minute not doing their jobs!) (exaggeration intended)
  • Event Planning – When I plan out an event, each hour has something it needs to accomplish.  I would suggest having a twitter summary for each hour so that each hour can be easily reviewed by the facilitation staff and the owner / sponsor of the event.
  • Calendar Management – wouldn’t we all like to look at a calendar event and not ask the question – what in the world is this here for and who authorized it to be on my calendar?  Well a twitter summary would help there also.
  • Instructions to Staff – I’ve also heard this one called ‘commander’s intent‘ as well.  It would be a short burst stating what is the ultimate outcome or goal is for an activity.  Sometimes these are needed so that if something goes wrong, the team, using autonomy, can make adjustments to still hit the mark by the end of the assignment.
  • Classroom Setting – excellent use of a few seconds to start out the class.  Let everyone know what’s going to happen in the class for the next hour to three hours.  (Also see Meeting Prep above – for you resourceful students – but don’t try it in my class – I have you turn off your phones)

Taken to an Extreme

Anything could be taken to an extreme.  For instance, imaging you walk into your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).  You ask, what you believe to be, a genuinely sincere, simple, innocent, open ended question and the response you get from behind the counter is “No”.  Not withstanding it was an open ended question, this all to common event, could simply be all the DMV’s in the world preemptively taking my advice to this pithy extreme before I even make this post available to the public (although I have my suspicions that this is not the case and something else might be going on)   So be mindful that this advice could also be taken to an extreme and you would want to avoid that s well.

Would love to hear how you could apply Twitter Summaries.  Leave a post and let me know.

Good Hunting!

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Idea Selection


In my posts “Start, Stop, Continue” and “Exceptionalism: Focus on the Never” I talk about brainstorming techniques that help organizations choose new ideas to improve on their environment. In the above post, the author fivewhys,  gives us some other ways of selecting ideas.

Good Hunting

Five Whys

This is part 5 in my series on brainstorming techniques

We’ve covered a lot of ground in helping your groups create a lot of ideas. But what do you do with them all? And how do you make sure that the ones you leave behind really are dud ideas? There seem to be two main camps here

  • choose your favourite, based on gut feel
  • evaluate all ideas according to some fairly simple criteria

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Make Some Magic


How many times do you find yourself in a slump.  We  need to shake off the old and create a new way of generating new ideas.  We need to make some magic, create some sparks, razzle and dazzle, have some fun!  When I read this post from Seth Godin it got me to thinking:

An end of magic

Arthur C. Clarke told us, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Head back to the 1800s with a Taser or a Prius or an iPad and the townsfolk will no doubt either burn you at the stake or worship you.

So many doors have been opened by technology in the last twenty years that the word “sufficiently” is being stretched. If it happens on a screen (Google automatically guessing what I want next, a social network knowing who my friends are before I tell them) we just assume it’s technology at work. Hard to even imagine magic here.

via Seth’s Blog: An end of magic.

How to Make the Magic

This is a fun exercise to take your team or department through.  You can read about the process in one my previous posts “Exceptionalism: Focus on the Never“.  But basically, take several idea lists you’ve created and follow the “Innovation Bonus Exercise” in the above post.  Then take some of those ideas and create you own little science fiction episode of “Stargete”, “Sanctuary”, or “Startrek” in which your team runs accross a civilazation with advanced technology like some of the crazy  items on your list and they now have to revewrse engenere it to gain the benefits of the new found technology.

You might be surprised how many of the way-out-there crazy ideas turn into actionable realistic projects for your team to investigate further.

It’s a fun off-site day, especially if you have a bunch of techie scifi geeks on your team!

Good Hunting!

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Techno Valentines Idea: Cloud Tags


Here’s an idea I worked on and provided my wife.  And it WORKED!  Generally speaking, create a thought stream of your loved one in any word processor.  Don’t worry about sentence structure.  Just type out any word that comes to mind.  Don’t worry about punctuation.  Don’t worry about duplicating words, in fact, that’s the point.  The words that are most important should be repeated naturally in the thought stream.

Wordle Tag Cloud

You can create a cloud at Wordle.net for this exercise.  Cut and paste your text into the box they provide.  Below I have included a cloud created from one of my blog post. (I don’t think my wife would want to put my gift to her on this, it was a bit intimate … hint, hint)

Ditch the Office: Next Week is National Telework Week

Good hunting and good luck!

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Start, Stop, Continue – Reviewed


When I hear in meetings that people don’t know why they are doing something or why a certain policy is in place I begin to wonder how much time is wasted on things we are just doing because we’ve always done them that way.  This post was triggered after reading “I can’t believe we’re still doing that” which brought back a lot of memories about team meetings that I facilitated and the frustration I had because there was such a resistance to change when confronting obsolete work.  Now I want to admit that I thought I had posted on this exercise in the past but after searching my archive I didn’t find it referenced.  Sorry about that.

Setting the Stage

This exercise is great when change occurs naturally in the workplace.  It does not need to be forced.  But I must admit, when I am called in as an outsider to facilitate change meetings it is very natural for me to use this tool.  If you are managing a team or organizations, there are still may opportunities to use this tool:

  • New Leadership – often a great time to realign your department or team when a new leader is ready to add a new twist or their own perspective to the role of the organization.
  • New Management – this is a great time to review ‘why’ we do things.  There are times when the past choices are allowed to be questioned as to why we are doing something.
  • Direction Change – often with new management or leadership comes a direction change and a time to evaluate past traditional work and possibly make changes.
  • New Team Member – sometimes a new set of eyes brings a new perspective.  And remember, those new team members have past experiences for you to gain from as well.
  • New Competitor – nothing can be more jarring than a new threat in the vicinity.  This change is ideal to reevaluate what the team is doing and make some needed changes.
  • New Capability – learning something new is a great time to make changes.  Sometimes it’s as simple as learning a new lens or gaining new tools or skills that allow you to reevaluate past norms.
  • Measurement Changes – remember always “you are what you measure” and at times those measurements tell you that something is wrong or something unexpectedly went well.  This is a great time to pull the team together and analyze the outlier.

Pick your change.  For the most part any change that occurs in your normal business cycle becomes an opportunity to evaluate your norms and possibly make some changes.  My only word of advice is that you don’t use “Start, Stop, Continue” too much.

Facilitation Instructions

You will need three surfaces, I tend to use three large tear off sheets taped to a wall, with each one title with one of there topics: START, STOP, and CONTINUE.  You will need sticky notes and writing materials, and sticky dots handed out to each person attending the meeting.

You will provide the participants a problem to solve  in which they must come up with ideas on how to improve something by stating things they would START, STOP, or CONTINUE doing.  Here are some suggestions for problems to solve:

  • How can we make this department better?
  • How can we reduced the total elapsed time of a specific process?
  • How can we reduce the duration of a specific task?
  • How can we improve the customer experience?
  • How can we reduce the returned product / restocking percentages?
  • How can we decrease the Account Receivable averages and improve cash flow?

Have the team write their ideas on the sticky notes and place it on the correct START, STOP, or CONTINUE sheet.

Facilitation Tip: This brainstorming session is sometimes best SILENT. As a general rule if there is a superior in rank or position in the room and someone may try to “impress the boss” by controlling the session, or an (opinionated) person who naturally commands all the discussions, then make this part of the exercise “SILENT ONLY” and limit the damage.

If the STOP page seems sparse after the activity is underway, then stop the team and force them to evaluate that specific area alone.

Facilitation Tip: If you have a process map already created for a specific process you are asking the team to improve then make sure the process is visible somewhere in the meeting room.  If you don’t have the process thoroughly mapped out then begin first by mapping the process into a swim-lane chart so everyone can understand what they are being asked to improve.

Group and Rank Suggestions

Have the team go through a nominal grouping exercise where they attached similar ideas together.  Allow the tam to challenge each other.  If an idea seems to fall into two groups then create a second sticky note and have the team move on with other groupings.  Then identify any associations between the grouped items (i.e. Item 2 can’t be started or completed without Item 1 having been accomplished first).

Then have the team vote on which items they think are best.  Give each person 5 or 10 sticky dots.  They can place dots on any of the grouped items.  They can place multiple dots on any one group if they feel strongly that a specific items needs more attention.  (Don’t let them place all their dots on one item though).

This will produce a list of items the group either believes are low hanging fruit or very important and need to be addressed.

We are looking for

STOP Sheet

  • Redundancies
  • Obsolete Steps
  • Eliminate Points of Failure
  • Reduce Inter-Departmental Hand-offs
  • Reduce Elapsed Times

START Sheet

  • New tasks in an existing process
  • New processes
  • Purchase new software / tools
  • New classes to educate staff
  • New Hire orientation updated lists

CONTINUE Sheet

  • All existing items not found on the STOP / START sheets that the team is already performing.

I hope you enjoy this exercise.  Let me know how it went.

Good Hunting.

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