Brainstorming Ideas, Mapping and Modeling Software, Creative Thinking Software, Visual Thinking Software

Brainstorming Ideas, Mapping and Modeling Software, Creative Thinking Software, Visual Thinking Software

Brainstorming Ideas, Mapping and Modeling Software, Creative Thinking Software, Visual Thinking Software




Here are some extracts from the more comprehensive support system whch comes with Visual Concept.





Once you begin to acquire fluency in the use of the software you may wish to expand the ways in which you can apply it. Below we describe methods by which Visual Concept can add value in personal and group interactions. We start with inputs to the process, look at the processes themselves and also at how they are applied and then look at outputs. Inputs can be either a whole concept which is then filled out or, alternatively we start from the content to discover the whole.


  • Annotating – capturing the essence of a talk, interaction, article or presentation to understand the whole.

This is a fundamental capability and a good way of developing fluency with the software as well as with a way of thinking that reveals the structure underpinning good communication. It simply involves capturing as objects key points as they are presented. An article might, for instance, be highlighted to show the important points that are to be entered as hexagons. They can then be clustered to reveal the underlying structure of thought. With a little practice this can be done live for a talk although a tape recording may enable the detail to be checked. This way of note taking differs little from what you might do with a notepad, except that the clustering you can do subsequently is what makes this method so powerful in revealing, not only what someone has written but also the structure of their thinking.

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  • Storyboarding – a way of creating the whole and expressing your meanings perhaps as the outline for a talk, presentation or article.

The reverse of annotating, storyboarding is powerful as a way of unfolding a future you want to create. You can begin by deciding the main message you want to get across or the outcome you are intending and enter that as an object. Enter next the structural elements you intend to use – these may be no more complex than Beginning, Middle, and End. Middle is the part you are most likely to want to elaborate and under this you may want to insert a series of clusters for each main aspect or argument you want to present – for instance they may be chapter headings for a book. Then get down to filling each cluster with all the pieces of information and sources that support the argument. Use the Notes facility to add another layer of detail – the content of each paragraph. Now put a time base to your story and consider whether you have the best sequence. From your storyboard you can write the story or play it out in reality. By using the save as text file facility you can produce something approaching your final document.

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  • Information gathering – When addressing any issue it is important to find out whether you know all that you need to know and where you need to find out more.

Assumptions may well need to be checked against reality. The information needed in any situation will be a function of the issue being addressed. Plotting your information as a model should enable you to identify not only where information is complete and verified but also where information is assumed and where it is absent. If you know what you do not know, you can embark on ways to fill the gaps.

Try using colour coding to express the degree of certainty of each item. That will reveal where you may need research or verification. Plot the main areas of concern as clusters and enter the information needed in each area. Check each aspect to see what more you need to explore and what action will elicit the necessary information. Provided this is done in a spirit of enquiry you are likely to discover useful material.

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  • Brainstorming - generating ideas by bouncing them around - free association.

The idea of brainstorming is to get beyond the mindset that limits what can be done. It starts with a statement of the problem to be addressed. This initial statement is worthy of careful attention, as it will colour much of the output.

Brainstorming can be a one person exercise in which case you work direct onto the computer but it is likely to be more creative if you bring together a very varied group of people – varied in their background and type as well as in their expertise. In this case you will probably enter ideas into the computer in parallel with using flipcharts or MagNotes as the medium for the group to capture their ideas. You may find it useful to have a warm up exercise to energise the group. Each idea is written down so that it can be a trigger for other ideas. It can speed things up to have more than one scribe to capture the ideas. If the group gets stuck use a provocation or other technique to keep the action going. Half an hour should be long enough provided you have managed to avoid discussion, which tends to slow things down and is not really brainstorming.

With the session over you can dismiss the group. You should now have fifty to a hundred ideas that can be filtered or, better still, modelled. Modelling should suggest further ideas and enable some ideas to be integrated as possible solutions.

With practised skill you will be able to scribe straight into the brainstormer on the computer, using a projector to enable people to interact with the list displayed. Then you can involve people in the modelling process as they can direct you where to place hexagons in relation to one another, label the clusters and so on.

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  • Prioritising – monitoring and changing priorities of a complex workload -
  • methods for tracking what is currently most important and where your resources should be focused.

There is a balance to be struck in all our affairs between what is more or less important and what is more or less urgent. Importance is a matter of consequences irrespective of time and urgency is a matter of what needs to be done soonest. A difficulty is that priorities will often change dramatically in the light of unfolding events and incoming information.

Write each task on a shape. A simple matrix can plot importance on one axis and urgency on the other enabling each task to be positioned. The four areas thus defined – neither urgent nor important; urgent but not important; important but not urgent; urgent and important; will enable you to decide where little or no energy should be expended and where energy needs to be directed in the short term to avert long-term crisis.

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  • Problem Solving - Identifying the cause of a situation that is sub-optimal and determining actions to resolve it.

Except in the simplest situations, problem solving is an iterative process and usually demands creativity. We start with the problem as it comes to our notice and need a divergent mode of thinking to explore the nature of the problem. From this we may converge on a re-statement of the problem – a problem solving brief. Now we can again use divergent thinking to generate a multiplicity of possible solutions. Again, in order to progress we need to converge on a solution that will gain the commitment of whoever is providing the resources and has a stake in the outcome. As we enter the implementation phase we again need to be open to learning – action rarely goes according to expectations – and with rigorous attention we can ensure completion of our process.

This switch from divergent to convergent thinking is greatly facilitated by use of Visual Thinking. We can map our progress and make corrections to our activity. With VISUAL CONCEPT to help with integration of diverse contributions we can afford to be a little less prescriptive in our approach and more open to new possiblities. Modelling the problem field will enable us to identify root causes or structural faults so that we tackle the real problem rather than its symptoms. Similarly modelling solution factors will enable us to optimise our interventions coherently.

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  • Decision Making – A decision is an act of will – commitment to a course of action. Good decisions need a foundation of good information and judgement based on wise counsel. Behind every good decision is a good thought process.

Decisions are particular points at which thinking converges. For such convergence to be fruitful it is necessary first to diverge. Both divergent and convergent modes of thinking are supported by visual thinking methods so that better decisions can be reached more quickly. Decisions require judgement and judgement needs to be based upon understanding. Such understanding will usually be greatly assisted by the provision of comprehensive information in the form of, or derived from, maps and models. Whereas a decision maker will not usually want to know all of the divergent thinking behind the choices laid before them, they will want to feel that no stone has been left unturned in the quest to provide them with the information required for wise decisions. Visual Thinking is likely to ensure not only that this is so but also that it is seen to be so.


  • Composing and authoring – giving form to ideas – expressing and communicating meaning in a medium of choice. This is a particular form of design – the design of an experience that the recipient will enjoy.

Creative processes require the discovery of information, a defining of the design problem, generation of a variety of ideas and the development of an ideal solution before moving to the final phase of realising an output. Throughout such a process, modelling of the full complexity will enable all parts to inter-relate and to be seen as mutually relevant. The visual representation of the thinking will enable the whole to be held in mind. An outline of the output will guide the author in the creative process.

A particular approach to this is story-boarding but others are also relevant. Indeed it may be that, before a storyboard can be written, an extensive process of exploration and accumulation of material is required. The author can accumulate all the elements they wish to incorporate and make a plan or outline of their work – what sequence will ideas be placed in, in order to give the reader or listener the desired experience?

Visual Thinking is only a tool. However it is a powerful tool for those who will use it. It enables the whole of something to be explored – to be seen as one, whole. Few of us will not benefit from the more whole and integrated vision that mapping and modelling our material gives. From that position we are much better equipped to give expression to our ideas and insights.

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  • Designing – giving form to solutions which fulfil specified needs.

Design consists of both divergent and convergent modes of thinking. In the divergent mode we need a rich variety of ideas which the convergent phase will filter and assimilate into a coherent and optimal solution. Brainstorming is one way of generating the rich variety of possibilities. Experiment may be another. We may decide to enrich our inputs by bringing other people into the process. In the divergent phase we want as much variety as possible within the constraints that time imposes. A good principle will be to involve all stakeholders so that they contribute subtle information and a variety of perspectives. This is an ideal situation to be tackled with a group braindump and modelling process.

Formulate an open-ended question and have people work in syndicates so that everyone is able to contribute and widely different interpretations of the question permit very different answers to arise.

The convergent phase, filtering such material and integrating useful elements to arrive at a solution which will meet the design criteria, is the job of the planning team. The models provide a very useful way of working as, rather than sorting contributions as good or bad, the designers integrate all ideas as parts of a whole. This can stimulate original thinking. The output then needs to be presented in a way that will get the buy-in of whoever is to commit to implementation of the design

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  • Planning - Plans are about the future and outline the steps to bringing about the future we wish to see

A plan will start with a concept or design to be implemented and will detail how the implementation will be worked out in practice. It will relate processes to resources and time and indicate how and when the design will be completed. The early part of a planning process is similar to problem solving and design. When we focus on planning we need to have more attention on how the ideas are going to be realised.

With the broad outline of our objective clearly outlined we can address the question of resourcing. What is needed when? That requires us to build a time-frame for our activity. We can outline the total time available and divide it into periods – months, weeks or days – whatever is appropriate. Resourcing the process is likely to depend upon various suppliers and supply processes and we may need to engage such upstream people in our planning so that we establish dependable relationships.

We can thus establish what is time critical and what lead times are required for the many decisions that may be required. Using VISUAL CONCEPT we can create a plan that maps all the sub-processes that contribute to the outcome we want. Having such a plan will be critical to our ability to monitor progress and make corrections as we go.

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  • Process Planning - planning the procesess by which a transformation will come about

Process planning emphasises transitional processes which contribute to an outcome rather than the actual steps. Each transition is likely to be dependent on the satifactory completion of previous transitions. We can employ VISUAL CONCEPT to map the processes and the transitions that each will contribute

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  • Timetabling - establishing the sequence and duration of events in a process

Timetabling is a specific kind of design task. Generally we know what we want to include and simply need to work out the logistics with flair. Using VISUAL CONCEPT you can list all the elements, set them into the overall time frame and then manipulate them to meet your various design criteria. The programme will not solve your problems for you but it will give you a lot of capacity to manipulate, remembering possible solutions while you try out improvements. It works extremely well for designing courses and similar tasks. Try colour coding different kinds of element and assign different shapes to different priorities so that you can instantly see what is going on.

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Innovation could be said to be the downstream result of upstream creativity. If we want good results we need to ensure we put the quality in at the start of the process. Creativity begins with awareness of opportunity and builds on this with divergent thinking. Awareness and divergence are not highly valued in our culture so tools and techniques are needed to overcome cultural conditioning. Creativity groups will bring together diverse minds in playful interaction. Visual thinking can be very helpful here. In fact playing visually will be a valuable way into a creative process.

Brainstorming was invented as a way of allowing crazy ideas to challenge set ways of thinking and, coupled with VISUAL CONCEPT quickly provides creative groups with raw material for developing ideas through modelling. Either let the group write onto flipcharts or MagNotes or scribe directly into the computer using the brainstorm mode. Better still do both. That way the group is free to do its thing and you can be right up to date with hard copy to take forward to the next stage.

Traditionally brainstorming is followed by a filtering process in which many ideas are rejected. Try modelling the results instead and let new ideas emerge as you do so. It is likely that the next stage will take place on another occasion. Some evaluation of emerging ideas will be necessary. Use VISUAL CONCEPT to make a matrix to plot probabilty of success against ease of implementation. What is high risk as well as difficult or costly should probably be set aside. Quick wins can be derived from the low risk and easy to implement quartile.

From this stage projects can be developed and will evolve through design and planning to implementation. Visual Thinking can help at every stage. Better results depend upon good upstream work and good processes at every stage.

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  • Scenarios - pictures of possible futures which may affect us.

There is much interest in scenario planning which, although it is all make-believe, is a highly developed approach to strategy. In its rigorous form it requires considerable investment in collecting information from the environment of an organisation and developing robust scenarios of possible futures which can in turn inform the thinking of planners. A much briefer approach to scenarios can also be valuable – not least in opening up the minds of managers to the fact that there are alternative futures and that their role is to influence them!

As with all thinking it is important to involve the right minds. For beginners it is as well to be cautious and stick to your internal decision makers. Later one might elect to ensure all stakeholders are represented.

A simple process may take no more than a day or two. After some mind opening introduction start, in syndicates, by brainstorming a future – sufficiently far ahead to be free of the trap of extrapolation (e.g. last years plan plus 10%) and not so remote as to bear no relation to reality. Depending on the kind of organisation something between seven and twenty years will be suitable. Get people to use their imagination to actually enter that future time and describe what it looks like and feels like. In a way we are trying to amplify the weak signals that people get about the future.

Get people to share their outcome models as if they are still in that future. As they do so look for the forces that drive the extremes and make these explicit. Now you can have people choose which extreme they want to detail. Give them permission to ‘steal’ from other contributions (a printout of the first models will help) and brainstorm again on the assumption that certain forces have triumphed. This time ask them to write their ‘story of the future’, each person capturing the essence of one or two clusters in as many sentences. A little role play or imaginative presentation will help the credibility and fun of the process.

The output can set the linear format alongside the relevant model as a trigger to further thought. Such scenarios are primarily for the benefit of the people who generate them so make sure it is the senior team themselves who participate.

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  • Team Building - coming together in relationship by sharing mental models

Teams are becoming ever more important as we try to deal with uncertainty and complexity. The world demands that we bring good minds into conjunction to successfully manage its unpredictablity. Many groups are entitled ‘team’ but it is often a misnomer. One characteristic of a true team is that it is bound together not by title but by common purpose. That purpose may be known to all team members but unless it has been made clear and explicit it will not help the cohesion of the team.

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  • Purposing - a process for developing clarity around common purpose.

You can use Visual Thinking to help people identify their common purpose. Begin by quickly identifying who will be affected by the team’s success or failure – in other words who has a stake in the outcome. Then get them to braindump all they know and feel about their common purpose. If there are more than four divide into syndicates because this maximises individual contribution and produces the richest output.

After they have shared their results get them to integrate their outcomes onto a single model on the Purpose Framework –

  • Our common purpose is To;
  • In a way that;
  • So that;

Sorting out these three levels should be a demanding thought exercise. Don’t let people dodge the difficulties.

  • ‘To’ is pragmatic and down to earth – the operational aspect.
  • ‘In a way that’ is likely to be value rich
  • ‘So that’ will be about outcomes and stakeholders.

Most ideas are likely to about ‘in a way that’. In each section the ideas should be clustered and modelled. When it is doen people can produce a text version by each taking a cluster or two and capturing the essence in one or two sentences. Determine the sequence and have people read out their individual scripts in turn. Enter them into a word processor. It should be a small matter now for the team to generate an enduring and valuable document to guide them in their work.

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  • Visioning - developing a mental picture of a desired future

Now people know their direction of travel they need to envision an outcome. This is a very similar process but with a different focus. After an introduction about futures, drivers of change and so forth, ask people to use their imagination to enter a future in which they assume they have been very successful. (Of course people use their imagination about the future all the time but are strangely coy about admitting it). It works well to take people a little further out than is comfortable but more than five years is certainly necessary – ten to fifteen may be better for most groups. In syndicates get them to describe what they see and feel in this future environment and what clues they find as to what brought it about. Let them model the results and then write their ‘story of the future’. Get them to present their stories to their colleagues in some imaginative way – a press confernece, annual meeting, news broadcast or similar.

Now ask how much is believable and how much can be achieved in a lesser time – say five years. Next you are going to help them think through what will need to be done in order to get the results they have foreseen.

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Ask your group to identify the main lines of action that they will have to pursue to achieve the results they have described. A sort of clustering process should enable you to reduce the number to something that can be divided among the syndicates. You should probably now be looking at a three year future and the challenge is to determine the transformations that will be required along each line of action to bring about the future they have described.

Use an arrow diagram – a sort of Ishikawa diagram in reverse. We are going to determine the causes which will produce the effects we want. Each of your syndicates will use this visual method to plot the four main lines of action for their specific aspect of the whole. They can work on flipchart or use MagNotes or else plot their ideas directly onto the software. When they are done get let them share the outcomes and discuss one another’s contributions. What you want is to facilitate out a clear startegy to bring about the results the team intend.

So far they have been working with the assumption that they will be successful. At this stage it would be prudent to consider what forces outside their control may prevent that success and how they will need to respond to indications that such events may be occurring.

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  • Action Planning - identifying the actions to be taken to make the transformation.

From the arrow diagrams developed above it will now be possible to consider and plot timeframes and to assign responsibilities for action. Mostly this will be relatively short term. The strategy itself will need to be revisited frequently and a new steer given to plans. Meanwhile there is work to be done. Plot actions over the next twelve months that will contribute to the longer term outcomes envisaged. Turm these into ‘smart goals’ – Specific, Measurable, Achieveable, Relevant and Timed. Make sure evryone knows what their contribution will be, when it will be done, how they will know they have done it and to whom they will report the result. This can be done visually and strongly onto flipchart or, using a projector, via the software. Make each task into an object which can be placed on a timeframe. Names and accountabilities can be added to the object together with any supportive notes so that the printout can be distributed right away. There is nothing more empowering than knowing what you are going to do.

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What has been produced can be communicated in a variety of ways. How and what to communicate will be determined by why. Possible reasons may be

  • To get a decision
  • To ensure the next steps can be taken
  • To involve others in the process
  • To tell people what is going on
  • To get paid

- and so on. Each will need a different communication.

Below we outline two important methods of generating outputs. In some circumstances not only the final model but also intermediate stages may also be used as they are to communicate much of the detail of the thinking process. This pre-supposes some fluency in Visual Thinking. It is most likely to be appropriate to those who took part. Even so it will be better if accompanied by linear output and explanatory notes. Models are only likely to be of value to the people with whom there is direct interaction.

Using VISUAL CONCEPT you can also generate linear output using the save as text file facility. With a little practice at generating and interpreting models this facility can be used to very good effect. The model is not then a communication but the means to developing the insight and understanding that will be communicated.

That said, using the tools of VISUAL CONCEPT, you can send both models and text by email with great ease

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You need to take into account the fact that few people will be practised in reading visual thinking maps so it may be better to present your insights in conventional format. It is easy enough to change the maps into text. If you have fully developed your ideas with notes simply outputting a text document from the computer will do the job for you. You may only need to edit the result. If, however, you have an outline model with little content beyond what you have written on your hexagons, you will need to do a little writing.

Take a cluster at a time and write one or two sentences that capture the essence of all the ideas in the cluster. If you are working in a group allocating a cluster to each person enables this task to be completed very quickly and is a joyful experience. In five minutes a group may have composed their purpose statement or written out a scenario. In this process a little of the detail may be lost but people always have their original model to refer to. Once they have written their sentences, get members of such a group to read their contributions aloud in sequence. As they have to do very little work to achieve a powerful outcome they will usually be dramatically moved when they hear the full story. Ownership is shared and a little wordsmithing is all that is then required to have a publishable result.

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  • Real Time Capture - recording meanings emerging from complex events with close fidelity while they are emerging.

Real Time Capture is the capturing of outcomes generated by participants during facilitated processes in workshops, possibly presented in the form of a bound handbook or on floppy disc.

Capture and production happens within the event. Each participant has a copy to take away on the day in order that they can refer back to the event, the decisions taken and the action plans they have developed. More than ‘conference proceedings’ Real Time Capture captures the actual thinking of participants in a way which enables them to re-connect with the creative moment.

Real Time Capture requires more than ordinary secretarial skills and depends upon close collaboration between the facilitator and technical support staff. Done well, it adds a great deal of value to the interactive process and establishes a ‘thought record’ which can enable the process to continue.

When so much is already invested in an event - in facilitation fees, venue and expenses and especially the client company managers' time, the additional cost of Real Time Capture is entirely justified in optimising the effectiveness of the investment as a whole.

VISUAL CONCEPT makes it easy to capture brainstorm outputs and models – useful not only as a record but also during the workshop itself. To these can then be added flipcharts, diagrams, collages, team portraits etc. captured with digital cameras and by wordprocessing. The capture of material generated during the event can be supplemented by copies of handouts and OHP slides, synopses of inputs, delegate lists and any other relevant material.

The result is a record of meaning making. for the client it is an instant high quality output and participants get an acknowledgement of their work (the value of which they might otherwise overlook) and a means of re-entering the experience.

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Corporate knowledge is beginning to appear on balance sheets. As basic technological ability becomes more widespread, organisations can only distinguish themselves in the marketplace by offering customers a little added value through the provision of superior service. Such service is based upon knowledge, so it is necessary for organisations to know what knowledge capital they have and how to deploy it for the benefit of their customers.

Corporate knowledge can be said to be the useful and accessible part of the interaction between all that has accumulated, including the built environment, equipment and artefacts of an organisation, together with the combined memories and expertise of all of its people. Built environment and equipment (hard infrastructure) and memories and expertise (soft infrastructure) all need to be continuously responding to changes in the organisation’s environment. Similarly, if people move on, forget or fail to communicate, their combined memories and expertise are no longer available to invest in regeneration. In so far as we can improve on this poor state of affairs we might expect to gain competitive advantage - especially in a knowledge economy!

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  • Tacit and Explicit Knowledge

Knowledge may be known and explicit, for instance it may be written down or be embedded in artefacts e.g. a filing system, library, report or record of some sort. Other knowledge may be tacit or a part of current practice which is not generally known – say the intuitive skill of someone operating a very complex process – or reside in the relationships established in a work community. Knowledge generally resides in people but even they may find it hard to explicate all that they know – consider how you would describe how to ride a bicycle for instance. Both kinds of knowledge may be valuable but the tacit knowledge will be much harder to capture and share

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Frameworks are structures that facilitate clarity of thought. They are not the truth now do they generate truth. They do, however, help thinking – if that is not the case do not use them!

Templates are of several kinds – those that simply save set-up time, those that help provide a framework for a thinking process, those that help with output generation and those that challenge thinking by offering a model.

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Visual Concept is a protected name of Inspiration Resources. All other products mentioned are registered trademarks or trademarks of their respective companies.
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Last modified: Tuesday, 09 September 2003.