Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Brother, my app is empty

I'm having to trying hard not to turn a personal preference into a sweeping generalisation here, but...

I don't like computer-based mind-mapping apps.

I picked up a friend's Jaiku earlier about preferring MindMapper to OmniGraffle as a tool for composing, structuring and sharing mind maps. It reminded me how much time can be wasted tinkering with "creative" software, when it would be more productive to engage in unconstrained thinking. Frequently computer applications require too much configuration before you can start producing, and then the format and medium has a pernicious tendency to influence how you think and what you think about. Look at this! Makes me feel queasy.

For me, a piece of A3 paper and a few big pens are all I need - ideas, connections, words and sketches, emphasis and decisions can flow freely without having to do battle with someone else's idea of how my mind should be mapped and organised. I'm all for typing initial thoughts up later, but the initial splat has to come out analogue. Even after I've typed stuff, I then print it out and scribble all over it again afterwards. 

The only thing that's slightly interesting is the possibility some tools present for online collaboration, but I wonder if this is a red herring. Heaven knows, brainstorming sessions can be painful enough when it's real people in a room with a flipchart and a marker... add an internet connection and some half-engaged participants who are also MSNing a friend and answering some emails, and you've got a recipe for damp squib disaster. Collaboration is great, don't get me wrong, but full attention and well developed thoughts are essential inputs if you want high quality output.

Who's backing me up on this? Nick Cave, that's who! Not about mind-mapping as such, but at an exhibition of his work in Melbourne it was nice to read his comments about how the process of musical creation is just as important as the result. For him, the paper trail is part of the result - and computer apps that encourage you to trim, delete and reformat your ideas tend to destroy the initial ideas and the paths that grow from them. All you end up with is a neat and tidy result, without any of the fertile mess which led there. This is a very tame example of how that can look:

That applies perfectly to artistic creativity: does the corporate / commercial brainstorming process come from or go to a different place, in a different way? It will do if people persist in channeling their ideas down perfectly formatted pipelines. Not a good idea, if you ask me.

And if you value your life, don't even mention Visio to me.

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