Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tools for brainstorming:
FreeMind mind-mapping software (free!)

Brainstorming has become a key activity for me as a church planter. I find myself constantly facing large projects about which I have some goal or idea, but that require a lot of fleshing out before I can begin actually working on them in tangible ways. Examples include filling out the details of an upcoming sermon series, discerning the best goals and topics for a leader's retreat, design for a Home Community evening based on a set of criteria, and many more. If you click on the image in this article, you can see one of my brainstorms for upcoming sermon series.

Being a technically-inclined person who prefers the portability and searchability of digital information, I find myself doing more and more of this kind of work on the computer. For many, this means using Word or something similar to create a list of bullets that are at varying levels of indent. I found myself wanting something more faithful to the trusty balloons-and-lines model on a piece of paper, allowing ideas to come at you from any angle and making connections as needed. I did a little looking around and there is an excellent freeware (and I mean completely free) program out there that I've been using extensively for more than a month now.

The program is called FreeMind, and is specifically designed for "mind mapping", a process very similar to the traditional pen-and-paper (or whiteboard) brainstorming process. It makes balloons, you keep adding peer or child balloons as you think through things; it manages all the arranging, deleting, editing, moving around as needed. It may look complicated at first, but navigating, adding, deleting, moving things around, and editing information is really, really fast and easy to pick up. Within 10 minutes of using it, I was brainstorming full-speed and not even thinking about the tool itself.

If this program is interesting to you, you can read more about it here. If you are still interested, then you can download it (free) here. Before you can install it, however, make sure you install this (also free) framework which will allow you to run it first. Don't ask why unless you want a treatise on Java, .NET, and various other options out there to make programmers' lives easier.

Happy brainstorming!

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