How To Innovate & Design Your Life By Creating Mind Maps

by Caitlin Kelch


Last week we took a peek inside the new bestseller, Designing Your Life. I heard from many of you in the comment section that you were at an open point in your life, waiting to discover, but wanting to design, what’s next in your life. Today’s exercise from the book will help you push aside the negative, hyper-realistic thoughts that crush ideas as they come up in your brain while you’re wishful thinking or daydreaming. This exercise is built around ideation and you are expected and encouraged to come up with fantastic ideas, so bring on the wishful thinking and the daydreams.

At my last corporate job as the Marketing Director for a legacy newspaper, we called these type of exercise sessions BHAG meetings — BHAG standing for Big Hairy Audacious Goals. The gloom and doom of being a print publication in the digital age was especially heavy in this outfit at the time because they had recently retired an onsite printing press that had been operating since the 1950s. It was more cost effective to outsource the printing process to another location with a newer press than to keep this huge, beautiful, but aging, machine in operation. In fact, the modernist building that housed the newspaper was built around the press, with two-story glass windows facing the street where the press could be seen and admired by passing cars and pedestrians. When the press was in operation, you could hear the steady hum of the machine throughout the building. It was the sound of success, of pride and of freedom. Needless to say, when that sound disappeared, morale went with it.

I loved BHAG meetings. I was always the annoying one that would arrive early, grab a spot next to the white board and get pumped up with game show glee. After the press stopped, we met to brainstorm about how to boost morale and community interest in the company, and to just fight our way out of the grave. I suggested we start a TV station. And I suggested that we place it exactly where the press had been, where it would be visible from the street. You can imagine the looks around the conference table and the silence in the room.

Cut to a year later — the TV station is thriving, providing a welcome alternative to the local TV news station who produced all of their news from the newspaper’s stories. They’ve built a local audience, gained market share, successfully boosted their advertising all while having quality digital content for their website. Boom. And all because some annoying lady began to scribble on the whiteboard.

Click through for a five-minute exercise from Designing Your Life that will help you think out of the box, dream a little, and up your happy factor for the day. –Caitlin

This post is brought to you in collaboration with Designing Your Life. All words and experiences are my own and I highly recommend this book as a tool for moving forward into a thoughtful, considered life that you’ve designed.

Designing Your Life smartly points out that that there is no perfect idea and that no one big idea will be the answer. I used the story above to illustrate that exploring big, fantastic ideas without your inner self-saboteur can be a great way to gain some momentum when setting forth on a life design adventure. The TV station was only one of my Big Hairy Audacious Goals. I didn’t mention the countless other ideas that did not come to fruition, but that paved the way for our committee to dream big, fail and start all over again with better ideas.

In this exercise from the book, we’re going for quantity, not quality. It’s simple math and probability — the more ideas you write down, the more you’ll make connections to new and perhaps better ideas. The more ideas you’re able to create, the more confidence you’ll gain because you will have solid proof that you are stepping outside of the realm of premature judgement that pretty much guarantees you’ll stay stuck.

So without further ado, let’s Mind Map.

Here are the three steps to Mind Mapping from Designing Your Life:

  1. Pick a topic.
  2. Make the Mind Map, with the center being one thing that brings you joy or is pleasurable and positive in your life.
  3. Make secondary connections and create concepts. This is basically coming up with a mash-up of the ideas you have written down.

Here’s what it looks like. This is an actual example from the book from a person stuck on the problem of how to find the “perfect job,” even though they had been recently offered a promotion at their current job they weren’t so excited about:


To make the Mind Map from that center circle, you simply jot down five or six things related to that idea. In the example above, you’ll see Travel, Camping, Hiking, etc. spiking off the center circle Being Outdoors. This whole process of creating word associations and layers takes about three to five minutes. Definitely worth your time.

The last step, creating concepts, is done by taking a few words that stick out at you or that might be especially interesting to you and mash them together into a few concepts. In the example above, the outer circled words were chosen to create some concepts that may be worthy of real-life exploration. You want to choose from the outer layer because this is the stuff that is two or three steps away from your conscious thinking.

Concepts from the example above included the following:

  1. Try out working at an Explorer camp for kids who like the outdoors.
  2. Maybe even a Pirate Camp at the beach?
  3. Hmmm, how about I accept the promotion only if they let me move to a rental office near the beach?
  4. Maybe the company has a presence in a really exotic place like Hawaii where I could coach a Pirate surf camp for kids.
  5. Perhaps the additional income from the promotion might allow me a four-day work week so I’d have some time to explore some of these new ideas.

You can see how each concept eventually trickles down to number 5, which is a bit more based in the maker’s current reality. Now most of us probably aren’t thinking of the perfect job while being offered a promotion, but the idea that innovation is happening when we do this exercise is true and solid. Try it. The person who was doing the map above realized that it actually wasn’t about finding the perfect job. It was more about maximizing her current job with a company that did, indeed, have locations all over the country. She had some options right where she was in life.

Now it’s your turn to mind map. As an incentive, we’ll being giving away another copy of Designing Your Life to one reader who leaves a comment with the words they’ve come up with for their center circle in their mind map. I’m doing this exercise too, and my center says “Be more social.” What’s yours?

**UPDATE** After I wrote this post yesterday afternoon and identified my center circle topic, “Be more social,” my former neighbors showed up at my new house with brownies and lots of great conversation! They say that when you identify what you want, the universe provides it. I think it’s true.

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