Mind maps are nothing new, although the term is relatively recent – well the 1970s as popularised by Tony Buzan – the concept goes back much further. For the uninitiated mind maps are a way of drawing your thoughts in a non-linear way through the use of radial branches emanating from a central theme or idea.
Mind maps can be used for various reasons such as idea generation, problem solving, decision making, organising notes etc. I’m sure there are many more reasons out there but those are the main ones I can think of for now. Many people enjoy or benefit from visual thinking and learning and use mind maps as a way of expressing and recording. I’ve personally used mind maps before for a whole host of reasons but particularly in the use of brainstorming for ideas or researching particular careers. For me, the process is as important as the outcome, especially in the way that drawing by hand, as ideas flow, then becomes a really powerful product of visual thinking. I also like the way it records how ideas have progressed and demonstrates those thought processes.
I’ve experimented with mind mapping with regards to career exploration and research with clients in the past and have usually received positive feedback. It’s been especially useful when clients have gone through the process and have then brought back and explained the results in a follow up appointment.
Mind Maps have normally worked well when I’ve faced questions such as, “I don’t know what I can do with my degree?” or “I’ve thought about the obvious careers that tutors have told me about but I want to see what else is out there that is similar?”.
I’ve included a picture of one way I have got clients to approach this as a basic exercise. You can use an A3 piece of paper with coloured pens (preferable) or whatever is to hand like in my drawing using a felt pen and some A4 paper.
For a first attempt we’d normally do this together. Now for an example, let’s say we have a student studying criminology who is looking to see what they can do with their degree when they graduate. They have some ideas about possibly working for the police or within the probation service but nothing firm. Firstly, we’d start off with their degree in the middle of the page. At this stage we are trying to develop some occupational awareness of what may be out there. The first set of branches may look at job sectors that may be relevant or of interest. This is where the client begins to do some basic research using the internet. They may find, as they want to help people overcome barriers and achieve their potential that education, charity/voluntary, legal/non legal, public sector, health & social care all look like sectors of initial interest and worthy of pursuit. At this stage we are really broad but through some basic internet research the student has provided some initial focus and convergence. Note: There is a stop/start nature to doing it this way going something like ruminate/research/refine/record, hence my using the four Rs title!
Next they may look for job roles that may be of interest within these sectors and again do some basic research. So for instance in education they may have “Learning Mentor”, in legal they may have “Solicitor”, in charity “Volunteering Coordinator”, in health & social care they may have “Family Support Worker. Obviously being a mind map there is no limit to what they could find and include.
To use a metaphor all the student is doing is following the rabbit down the hole and seeing where it takes them. After looking at job roles, the branches may then radiate to specific organisations so the student can look at vacancy information to check job descriptions, salary, number of vacancies, entry requirements etc.
My role – if the student hasn’t considered or completed a mind map before – is to demonstrate and guide them into how and where they can begin to find the answers that the mind mapping process may generate. For example a student may ask where can they find out more on certain job roles? Or what are the best vacancy websites for particular jobs?
We all have to start somewhere with our career planning. Mind maps won’t generate all the answers needed or wanted but they can be a useful tool for practitioners and their clients to use to begin to make the unconscious into conscious. It would be great to hear some thoughts from people who have used mind mapping as part of the career planning process. I’ve included a link to a YouTube video of mind mapping. It took me a while to find one that was authentic looking and didn’t promote some version of mind mapping software. It’s not related to careers but it does at least show the process in action so please take a look.