Software for Real People Part Two: Competition and User Recommendations
Featured Author - David March - February 1, 2005
The problem is that creativity is a function of the mind and the mind works very differently than the software tools and applications that we use to enslave it. The mind is a neural network that has evolved over hundreds of millions of years to be an incredibly efficient network pattern graphics processor. Unfortunately the tools and applications we have developed to help improve productivity, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), business productivity management (BPM), customer resource management (CRM), project planning, and word processing, are basically linear processes that primarily rely on textual or numeric structure.
Since the tools are inflexible, but important for the operation and management of the enterprise, we require the user to adapt to the tool rather than the tool supporting the user. Like the old saying, "If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail", as silly as it seems, we are trying to make the creative mind a nail so we can hit it with a hammer. There must be a better way, and there is. It's called MindManager X5, from Mindjet Corporation. (http://www.mindjet.com)
This is Part Two of a two-part note.
Part One discussed the features and functions of MindManager X5.
Alternatives and competitors to Mindmanager can be grouped into the following three application categories:
- Task and project management
- Mind mapping
The first category, task and project management, is characterized by programs such as Microsoft Project and Outlook in addition to the personal productivity suites available from Franklin Covey, DayRunner, and TimeDesign. Each of these applications do an excellent job of helping the individual manage tasks and calendar dates after the creative process and planning has been completed. While very focused and powerful, these programs were not designed to tap into and leverage the creative process of the mind. This is why MindManager should be viewed as the creative front-end to any of these management tools, and why MindManager provides bi-directional integration with the Microsoft Office suite and a robust API for integration with other applications.
The best example of the second category, visualization, is Microsoft's Visio. This widely used, almost ubiquitous application is extremely powerful and virtually indispensable in large project management. Unfortunately, the key to the power of visual programs like Visio is a result of the boundary definitions of the abstraction. These boundaries were necessary for the application programmers to develop Visio's rich feature set. These same boundaries or constraints, however, make the application unwieldy and tedious to use for brainstorming and planning sessions. Diagramming applications such as Visio are more appropriately utilized after the up-front creative process. Of the entire Microsoft Office Suite, Visio is the only application to which MindManager has not yet provided seamless integration.
The third and last category is mind mapping software that directly competes with MindManager. Mind mapping was popularized in the 1960s by British researcher and memory expert Tony Buzan. Since then, many firms have created and market mind mapping software. In many ways, mind mapping has become an active subculture supported by a mind mapping application clearing-house at http://www.mindmap-software.com. A recent visit to the site found fifteen mind mapping application vendors for the PC. A Google search (relevancy listing) to narrow the search and find the top three competitors to MindManager resulted in two commercial applications and one Java open-source freeware product.
The top two listed commercial products are
- MindMapper by SimTech Systems, Inc. (http://www.mindmapper.com)
- Visual Mind by Mind Technologies AS. (http://www.visual-mind.com)
Since mind mapping has been around since the 1960s, it was not surprising to find the two competitive commercial applications had very similar functionality to MindManager. Since mind mapping is primarily a visual association graphics canvas, it was also unremarkable to find that the user interfaces were also very similar. So much so, that a user of one application can easily move to an alternative without hesitation.
Both competitive products support import and export integration with Word, Excel, Outlook, and Powerpoint, but only MindMapper had documented integration with Microsoft Project. For those who do not require the power of Microsoft Project, MindMapper includes its own integrated project management-resource scheduling. (and, unlike the current version of MindManager, its own internal Gantt charting functionality). Hyperlinking support for files, documents, web site and e-mail integration are also supported by each of the application.
From the standpoint of classic mind mapping features and functionality, all three of the commercial applications, MindManager, MindMapper, and Visual Mind, do a great job and will increase the productivity of any organization. Differentiation between the products becomes apparent when you consider the underlying architecture. MindManager's unique XML architecture and open-object model makes this application more extensible than the alternatives. Mindjet, which develops MindManager, is the only company actively using XML to integrate its mapping technology into other core business processes. To date, the company has released a Preview Edition of MindManager for salesforce.com as well as a MindManager Accelerator Solution for CommerceQuest s TRAXION EnterpriseBPMS, used for business process modeling.
MindManager also features a fully documented and supported XML-based API and object model, which permits third-party companies and users to more fully integrate and extend the application to better fit their unique business needs. Also, there is an active and well-supported MindManager development community.
The published prices of the three commercial applications are all very modest. In the author's opinion, investment in any of the three would be returned within a matter of days. Even with such immediate ROI, there is a freeware application that deserves mention. Freemind (http://freemind.sourceforge.net) is a JAVA-based open source freeware mind mapping application that is available for most computing platforms. Freemind contains most of the standard mind mapping functionality of the commercial applications, but lacks Microsoft Office application integration. However, if your needs are modest and you do not require Microsoft integration for documentation, communication, and project management, or if you just want to get started and enjoy the power of mind mapping, then Freemind is a great no-cost alternative.
Mind mapping is a great technique that has been made extremely powerful by modern software and low-cost personal computers. Mind mapping has the potential to dramatically improve an organization's creativity, project planning, and project management performance. However, it must be remembered that at its most basic mind mapping is simply a tool—an effective way to help foster the mind's creative process. The root of creativity itself rests in the people, the management and the culture of the organization. A better tool will not help an organization that is resistant to change and stifles creativity. It is important to remember that management can solve a technical problem, but technology will never solve a management problem. It is incumbent on management to realize that productivity, the key to creating shareholder wealth, is the result of a culture that supports creativity and adapts to change. If such a culture is in place, then mind mapping software tools such as MindManager can create truly transformative results.
MindManager is one of the top mind mapping tools that bridges the gap between the creative processes of the mind and the linear task oriented structure of application software. The result can be a truly holistic and productive working environment.
But however much it improves the creative process itself, MindManager should be viewed as more than just a standalone application. It is a tool that should be considered for incorporation with any application that needs to support a creative or non-linear process. The preview edition of MindManager for salesforce.com is just one example of this kind of integration with mission-critical applications. Mindjet's CRM solution enables sales professionals to dynamically create a visual dashboard for any given sales opportunity or account using information saved within their salesforce.com database. MindManager for salesforce.com tightly integrates with salesforce.com via the sforce on demand platform. Mindjet's solution allows customer and opportunity information to be viewed in a single interactive dashboard rather than in multiple static CRM data screens. Presenting a single, big-picture view of their CRM information allows users to quickly identify sales barriers and progress the sale.
Mindjet's MindManager and its unique architecture and open XML object model is a software program that truly lets people work the way that is the most natural and productive for the human mind. But MindManager is more than a must-have application (and, in the author's opinion, it is such an application). It is also a creativity engine, providing a human-interface work environment that should be considered for incorporation by all application software vendors.
MindManager is not just great software. It is something that can make other great software even better.
About The Author
David March is founder and managing director of FirstRule, a company dedicated to helping enterprises learn how to more effectively define, plan and execute corporate strategy and build a performance accountability culture. Prior to founding FirstRule, he held numerous senior executive positions in enterprise software and high technology companies, as well as serving as CEO and founder of a scientific instrument firm. March has been a lecturer at a variety of universities and has published numerous articles on sales and marketing strategy, management, creativity and personal productivity. March graduated Magna Cum Laude from Lehigh University (US) in Engineering Chemistry and received his MBA in Finance from the same institution. He can be reached at http://www.firstrulecorp.com/.