Brainstorming Tool Puts PowerPoint to Shame

Opinion: At first, David Coursey wasn't quite sure what to make of a visual planning tool called MindManager. But he found that its "mind mapping" technique helps bring clarity to people with lots of ideas and a desire to sort them out.

Its an accepted fact that using Microsoft PowerPoint during a meeting immediately lowers the IQ of all present by about 20 points. Average people confronted with a .PPT presentation seem to go simple—with their IQ eventually ending up around room temperature. Recovery takes several hours in a PowerPoint-free environment, at the end of which sufferers are often heard to exclaim, "How did we make such stupid decisions during that meeting?"

OK, not everyone accepts that PowerPoint makes normal folks stupid. But many people have noticed that the longer a PowerPoint presentation lasts, the worse the decision making becomes.

In fairness, this really isnt PowerPoints fault; its just a tool, after all. But Microsoft can be faulted for making it much easier to create bad presentations than good ones. (First rule: Get rid of animations, builds and other movement!)

I wont spend this column talking about the problems with PowerPoint. Anyone who questions its mind-numbing effect should check out an essay by information presentation guru Edward Tufte titled "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint."

Rather than complain, I want to introduce you to a tool that both fights the lazy thinking so common to business presentations and allows you to present more complex information in a graceful manner. Even better: It builds meaningful PowerPoint decks automatically based on input.

The software is called MindManager X5, described by its publisher as a "visual tool for brainstorming and planning." The program costs $199, or $299 for the "Pro" version. A free trial version is available on the companys Web site.

MindManager has been available since the mid-1990s and is now up to Version 5. The program is based on a technique called "mind mapping"—which sounds like something aliens do to the earthlings to find out whats on their minds. Mind mapping depicts a flow of ideas radiating from a single key idea. All the ideas can then have branches, which can have branches, and more branches. What MindManager does is translate something that used to be done on paper charts and whiteboards into electronic form.

This makes the MindManager "business maps" considerably more functional. They are easy to edit and change, allow graphics and other objects to be embedded, can be distributed electronically, include RSS or XML data (using the "Pro" version), and as Ive already mentioned can be easily turned into a PowerPoint presentation that carries the viewer down the various branches that emanate from the central idea.

The downside of all this is something mentioned earlier: MindManager wants to change how most people think. What Ive seen of this is that its for the better, but you can play with the free trial software and decide for yourself. Think of the process as Stephen Covey (of "7 Habits" fame) helping people be more effective in a more technical and less moralistic way. And like Covey followers, the users of MindManager are also bit of a cult.

Next Page: An unimpressive first impression.