Dennis Kennedy

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Dennis Kennedy is one of the most knowledgeable legal technologists you will find. - Michael Arkfeld.

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Introduction to Mind Mapping – Article

[With our big MindJet Mind Manager 6 announcement today for attendees of BlawgThink, I thought I'd post my August 1999 article on mind maps. I've updated a few references and eliminated some links that no longer work, but this will give you my general approach to mind mapping and why I've used them for many years.]
I wasn’t planning on it, but I started a spirited discussion thread on the TechnoLawyer list a month or so ago about mind mapping and mind mapping software. Portions of the thread can be read in the August/September 1999 issue of Law Office Computing.
Mind mapping, or radiant thinking as it is sometimes called, is a fairly new technique that allows you to both brainstorm and structure your thoughts using graphics, colors and words in a free-ranging map. It’s easier to see than to describe, so take a look at some examples at or
My recommended starting point is Tony and Barry Buzan’s The Mind Map Book. Tony Buzan ( is the acknowledged authority on mind maps. Michael Gelb’s How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci is another interesting starting point as Gelb analogizes mind mapping to DaVinci’s notebooks which were replete with drawings and notes.
Mind maps are generally seen as an alternative to outlining. My third grade (or whenever) teacher who first taught us outlines put the whammy on me for outlines. I really don’t like using formal outlines and the association of outlining with law school exams is not a pleasant one. But, I did find myself pleasantly surprised by the Palm outliner, BrainForest, which prompted my role in the discussion thread.
The main criticism of outlines is that they force you to impose a rigid structure on your thoughts as you put them down on paper. They also get unwieldy as they become more complicated (hmm, here’s a point W.3.c.ii. ? I wonder what in the world point W.2 was). In general, outlines do not allow your ideas to flow.
Mind mapping lets you brainstorm and generate and connect ideas. More important, you can see new connections between ideas and make new connections. You can also take your mind map and turn it into a traditional outline later.
I’ve used mind maps regularly for several years. I like the process and the results. In fact, I have a whole notebook full of mind maps of articles, plans and ideas.
As a general matter, you take a piece of paper, turn it lengthwise, write your main idea in the center and make a related drawing. You then start to radiate ideas around the central image. For example, with an article like this one, I would start with the word “Mind Maps” and an image in the middle of the page and then surround it with other points I wanted to raise: “comparison to outlines,” “resources,” “Harhai article,” “PowerPoint lessons” and other points. I might draw little pictures with each point.
Then I’d move to each individual point and repeat the process. For example, for “comparison to outlines” I’d surround it with “third grade experience,” “law school exams,” “RIGID,” “unwieldy” and maybe a picture of a person with the flow of ideas out his head blocked by a dam called outline. You try to get your ideas out of your head and onto paper, without self-criticism. That can come later.
At some point, you reach a sense of “done” and you can then look at the tentative mind map. You might add some new points, draw arrows between points, number points or leave gaps for something you might add later. You might use highlighters or different colors of ink. In fairly short order, you have most of your ideas on the piece of paper and the structure that those ideas have may become much more apparent to you.
Contrast this to preparing an outline, where I tend to fuss over numbering schemes and can’t get past the notion that you must have at least 2 sub-points. What I learned, though, from the discussion thread and from using BrainForest on the Palm is that if you are willing to break the “rules,” outliners can give you a lot of flexibility because you can move points around and even do some brainstorming.
Unfortunately, outliners still don’t let you view your ideas and see the structure that may be present in your ideas as readily as mind maps do.
The downside of mind mapping (other than the difficulty of explaining it to a senior attorney and the more “rational” and traditional of your colleagues) is that that the best mind maps are like miniature works of art and you feel obligated to include drawings. If your elementary school teacher left you with the feeling that you didn’t have a single artistic bone in your body (don’t get me started on what my elementary school music teacher did to me with music), this can be daunting.
Enter the world of mind mapping software like Inspiration and MindManager. What if instead of drawing on big sheets of paper, you had a computer program that allowed you to select images (or draw them) and arrows, shapes, et al.? What if you could move parts of your map around and resize them automatically? The mind mapping programs let you mind map on your computer.
These programs can work either for creating a mind map or for “cleaning up” a mind map you’ve made on paper. There’s a certain tactile element to creating a mind map on paper that might get lost for some people if they tried to start with a blank screen rather than a piece of paper. [Note: Tablet PCs rock in connection with mind mapping.] Since mind maps are about promoting the flow of ideas, you want to focus on what works best for you. Some people also like to draw their own images and not pick among pre-fab images.
I’ve found the opposite to be true. One of my favorite parts of creating a PowerPoint presentation is the part where I sort through the clipart library to find an image that fits the points I’m making on the slide. Many times, once I make the selection of the image, I realize another point or two I want to make, change the order of points or realize what example or anecdote I want to use in that portion of the talk. It’s a fascinating element of the creative process and has brought home to me both that the visual element is a key part of the thought process and that the more senses that you can use in the creative process the better.
Mind mapping is one of a number of “thinking tools” that are becoming available to lawyers as technology slowly begins to give us tools that help us work the way we work rather than forcing us to work in ways that programs work. CaseMap (, to me, is another important legal “thinking tool.” Others have experimented with the Brain ( and Trellix. For a great introduction to legal thinking tools, take a look at Steve Harhai’s excellent article in the November/December issue of Law Practice Management magazine, a version of which is on the web at
If you are interested in mind mapping, the definite starting point is Buzan’s The Mind Map Book. I’d try making a few mind maps and seeing if they work for you before jumping into a program. I assume that the choice of this type of program will be highly idiosyncratic and that there’s no one “best” program out there, but I wouldn?t expect the main features of the programs to be too different. Mind mapping is a fascinating and useful “thinking tool.”
Want to attend BlawgThink? Let me know.
Note: This article is one of a series of my previously-published articles that I’m making available for free on my website and incorporating into my blog. Other of my articles may be found in the Articles category archive on my blog.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]
This post brought to you by LexThink!(TM) – The Conference, Re-imagined. LexThink! – Think big thoughts, do cool things, change the world. November 11 & 12 – LexThink BlawgThink – the legal blogger unconference.

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