Editor’s Note: Dr. Stephen M. Sweid is a business consultant, researcher and trainer with over 20 years consulting experience on the international scene: Europe, USA, Middle East and Far East. Dr. Sweid is an author on Flevy, where he has produced materials on Breakthrough Strategy (see his materials here).
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I use the Mindmap technique as a starting point in almost every exercise I give during business training courses. Prior to group games, participants are usually asked to spend the first two to four minutes of every exercise generating and organizing ideas on their own, and plotting them on paper in a Mindmap structure. This approach is very stimulating, indeed, when the course requires intense mental effort and creative thinking, such as the case with strategic planning. The Mindmap technique seems to act like a magic switch that instantly elevates the brain to higher levels of performance.
Newcomers to strategic planning find it sometimes difficult to visualize why and how the vision translates into goals or objectives, and how goals translate into strategies, and how strategies end up in action plans, broadly speaking. People often confuse goals with strategies (although the concept of goal is where we are going and strategy is how we get there is clear to all), and do not comprehend how a strategy can be also considered as a goal when deriving action plans.
A number of approaches were tried to facilitate the notion of how a strategy can become a goal, one using the following example: You want to go to a location in the city that requires a taxi. Your goal is the location and the taxi represents the strategy (means) to get there. Now for a moment you forget about where you are going, and your main concern (objective) is to find a taxi in the street. While waiting a friend drives by in his car and sees you, and tells you he is going to the same location, but you decline to join because you are busy waiting for a taxi, i.e. your main goal has become to find a taxi! Still, some people were not able to digest this abstract notion.
Things metamorphosed instantly when the Eureka stroke: Why not start the Mindmap with the “vision” placed in the core and work your way outwards, drawing the different goals to realize the vision, and then drawing the different strategies for each goal, and reaching finally in the outskirts the action plans to realize each strategy?
In short, in the center you have the vision (the dream), and the farther out you go you get to the real world with the action plans. Hence in the center you have the dream, and in the outskirts you see the many small tasks that you need to perform on the ground to realize your dream. More or less, you only need to consider the points in the circumference of the Mindmap structure, which represent the clear actions to take.
To make it even plainer, a down-to-earth example can be used to apply the notion: Your vision is to “buy a house.” You plug in the center “buy a house”. Then you ask yourself: What things need to be considered and realized to fulfill this dream: Specifications, Money, Location, Search, Timing, etc.? Each point branches out automatically into options, and each option breaks down finally in the periphery into things to do.
By applying the Mindmap notion for the preparation of strategic plans only very few people kept questioning the logical progression from vision to action plan, and how a strategy can be also considered a goal from the point of view of the action plan. With the Mindmap approach the relationship between the vision and action plans became very plain.
This experience is most probably not new, indeed when it comes to people who use Mindmap software in their daily life for preparing business plans and other. Still, the sharing of this experience might be interesting to people who did not yet see strategic planning from the Mindmap perspective. The usually feared strategic planning concept becomes more or less kids play when using the Mindmap.
Evidently the strategic planning process involves much more than the plain logical sequence. I have helped prepare many strategic plans, and have gone through the different complex evaluation and implementation steps with the shared involvement of management and stakeholders etc. Nevertheless, one cannot deny that the notion is compelling, i.e. that in the center you have the vision, and the action plans are waiting to be picked in the periphery!