Plopping a bunch of words on a whiteboard is a fun and effective way to develop a concept. In brainstorming sessions, word maps serve to visualize the progression of thoughts or the expansion of related topics. Best of all, they are easy. Very few rules apply to these other than “more is better.” Why is visualizing thoughts important? It is because we have a tough time remembering things.
To start one, write a word or concept in the middle of the board. Then have people shout out any word or phrase they think is even remotely related to the original concept. In the general sense, they don’t seem like they’d be productive, but they are. With little risk involved, people are more willing to contribute than if these concepts were meant to actually solve anything. The purpose of these is to expand on possibilities, not hone an idea.
The catch though is that someone needs to facilitate brainstorming sessions with word maps. Without a facilitator, they usually fall short of being productive tools. Facilitators set the tone of the session and write down ideas as people blurt them out. They also organize the board while doing so. That’s the tricky part. Without organizational structures, word maps don’t lead to as much.
Organizational structures can be as simple as drawing a line between two similar concepts. Other ones can be circles drawn around more pertinent ones. An exclamation point here and there never hurts either. As Edward Tufte stated in his book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, we have to escape flatland and imply narratives of space and time. What that means is that by using overlapping shapes, arrows and other visual cues, the information will be more appealing and therefore, useful. It’s hard to decipher a bunch of words. But words with arrows and pictures make more sense.
More interesting concepts can be redrawn larger, or in a different color. And less important things can be removed. The whole process should be more like a game than a serious event. Since we all have cameras in our pockets, take pictures often. That way you can post the evolution of the concept online for others to see and reflect upon.