I’m always looking for ways to effectively work with groups to generate and organize ideas. My usual tactic is flipcharts and colored pens, but you quickly realize the limitations as you run out of space or illegibility reigns with scribbled words and connecting lines. One answer is to use a huge sheet of paper on the walls, but space isn’t usually available because of pictures hanging on the wall or windows. More and more I rely on a digital projector and a laptop with a program like MindManager or Visio. It’s much more legible, items can be easily moved around, you never run out of space, and you generate a nice clean document at the end. One of the major disadvantages is mind mapping programs force you to start at one point and work your way out (like a hub and spokes) and brainstorming doesn’t usually happen that way. Ideas come in randomly and are not always related, so there are several individual ideas floating around at the same time.
There may be a solution at hand with Scapple, a new application from Literature and Latte. It’s only available for the Mac but it’s simple (once you master a few keystrokes), handles random isolated ideas, can easily reorganize and group ideas, and can be exported to png, pdf, and txt. And for $15, it’s a bargain. I’m working with the free 30-day demo version to try it out on my current projects, but it’s definitely something I’ll consider for my next group meeting. Alternatives for Mac are Curio, MindNode, Tinderbox, and Omnigraffle (but I don’t recommend Shapely) and if you’re in a Windows environment, look at MindManager (which is also available for Mac) and Visio. Each offers different features and fill different needs for brainstorming, writing, presenting, and collaborative meetings. Indeed, you may want a couple different ones for different situations. If you found a program that works for you, share it in the comments below.