Welcome to the world of Thought relationships. As you may have noticed the layout of Thoughts in TheBrain isn’t random. Every time you click on a Thought things change, but they are always displayed in certain areas of your display. These areas represent different types of relationships. Let’s start with the basics and then move on to more details.
Intro to Parent, Child, Jump, and Sibling
Relationships are always displayed around and relative to the Active Thought (the Thought in the center.) This gives you a view point or perspective to view and derive other relationships
There are four areas around the Active Thought that display the following:
Child Thoughts – Displayed below the Active Thought. As the name suggests these are ideas that fall under the active thought, subcategories.
Parent Thoughts – Displayed above the Active Thought. Parents can also be thought of as higher level categories to classify groups of information.
Sibling Thoughts – Displayed to the right of the Active Thought. Siblings share a Parent of the active Thought and are linked indirectly to the active Thought through the shared Parent.
Jump Thoughts – Displayed to the left of the Active Thought. Jumps are related to the active Thought but not part of the main group. You can think of a Jump Thought as peripheral, an idea that’s related but neither grouped by nor a category of the active Thought.
Why Does TheBrain Display Information this Way?
The relationships used in TheBrain interface allow you to easily browse through both hierarchical as well as networked information in a single display. The direction of relationships up and down for Parents and Children respectively parallels the movement you make in your mind – going up to broader topics or drilling down into more specifics. By using a consistent layout, your visual memory can be leveraged to find things faster. At the same time, having all related information around the active Thought lets you remember things and discover ideas that otherwise might be forgotten.
Parent, Child… When Do I Use What?
Remember there are no hard and fast rules here. It’s your Brain. However, there are some basic information architecture principles that should be followed when organizing information sets. Things that are a part of a group should all be together below as Child Thoughts. Things that define a group should be above as Parent Thoughts. Things that are related but not part of the main group should be linked on the left as Jump Thoughts.
For instance, say you are building a Brain of your hobbies. “Hobbies” is the Parent Thought because it defines the group. Your actual hobbies, being subcategories of this concept, would then be displayed below as Child Thoughts.
You can continue to build a basic hierarchy of information with the Parent and Child relationships in TheBrain. For instance, one of your hobbies might be camping. Now you can drag and drop your favorite Web sites on camping gear, camp sites, national parks etc.
When Camping is the active Thought, its Child Thoughts are Camping Gear, Camping Trips, Camping World, Food Storage, etcetera. “Hobbies” is the Parent Thought and other hobbies like Diving, Gardening, Hiking and Golf are its Sibling Thoughts.
Moving Beyond the Parent-Child Structure
Once you have your basic Parent-Child structure you can make links to other related Thoughts in your Brain. This is usually when you create additional Parents because a Thought falls under multiple categories or if the related Thoughts are not categories, you can create some Jump Thoughts.
Going back to our camping example you might have a buddy that you go camping with or a vacation area in your Brain that camping also fits under…time to make some more connections! Now your camping Thought looks like this:
Note that defining ideas such as “Outdoor Activities” and “Vacation and Travel”, which camping belongs under are linked above as Parents. Specific information on camping is below. Siblings, Thoughts that share the same Parents: hiking, golf, diving, etcetera are displayed to the right. Any other information that is relevant but not necessarily part of camping is connected as a Jump Thought to the left, like Judy Samson your camping buddy and a Thought for the Weather Forecast.
Your Thought Relationships Evolve Over Time
As you activate and access certain Thoughts, you might find that you are always using certain Thoughts together. This is a good time to build additional connections. For instance, I do a number of webinars. I have Child Thoughts to demo scripts, agendas, meeting software and email messages. These are the core of what I need to focus on when planning an event. However, I noticed when I would write a new event I would typically activate the Thought for a co-worker, Matt, in my Brain, get his number, and call him to discuss the event. So it made sense for me to have a connection from Webinar to Matt. Therefore I linked Matt as a Jump Thought of Webinar. Why a Jump? Well, Matt isn’t a Webinar topic nor a subcategory, nor does he define a group that webinar belongs to, so I wouldn’t want him to be displayed as a Parent of this Thought, thus I have him connected as a Jump Thought, a piece of information that is related but peripheral to the main topic. Feel free to link Thoughts that you often use together to each other even if they fall logically in different areas of your Brain. With TheBrain they can be in both places without duplication.
Adding Sizzle and Context to Information with Thought Relationships
Now that you understand the basics you can move on to more complex structures. One of the most amazing benefits you’ll receive from TheBrain is the clarity of seeing key ideas and business processes that would otherwise be invisible to you. Here are a few examples to get your creative juices flowing:
Relationships for Project Management
Create a Thought for a project you are working on. This could be any number of things such as: building a new Web site, opening up an office, looking for a new job, or renovating your house.
If your project or mission is complex, you can even visualize phases of your project with Child Thoughts for each milestone. You may also use the Parent-Child relationship to show interdependencies between tasks.
Under each project phase you can add all relevant documentation and reference material. Thought relationships are also great for requirements management because if a requirement changes you will immediately see all connections that are affected.
Relationships for Visualizing Sales Opportunities and Business Development
Visualizing a sales cycle and understanding where you are with a business deal can give you more visibility to your next steps and help you reach your goals. Start by creating Child Thoughts for each key milestone of your sales cycle below your Sales Thought. Then create Thoughts for key types of prospects and vertical markets you are focusing on. Now you can add the companies that you are working with under the relevant sales cycle phase, vertical market and the type of prospect they are. Your sales deals are now organized conceptually.
This will help you strategize, understand next steps and allow you to quickly access all of a prospect’s information instantly when they call. If you are using a Web based CRM system you can even drag and drop the URLs of your contacts into your sales brain or drag and drop contacts from Outlook. You can also use TheBrain’s notes tool to jot down important details about each deal and conversation. When all your sales information is mapped out in TheBrain you will be able to see the different deals you are working on and their commonalities, leverage preexisting work from past deals, and be assured that you have everything accounted for to close your next deal.
Relationships for Company and Department Mappings
Use TheBrain’s Thought relationships to understand people and department functions. This is especially critical for companies that are growing by mergers or acquisitions and need more visibility into how their company structure has changed. Visualizing everyone’s turf and responsibilities will reduce employee duplication and enable more effective collaboration.
Start with your head offices and key departments then create Child Thoughts for various subdivisions or taskforces that fall under that department’s domain.
People can be linked to their corresponding departments as Jump Thoughts. You can also visualize human resource maps and teams of people. Use the Parent-Child relationship to illustrate who reports to whom.
Here’s what this might look like in TheBrain’s expanded view:
You can download this brain from our discussion board.
Relationships for Troubleshooting Maps and Decision Trees
Use Thought relationships to create “if-then” decision trees. Start with the problem or issue and then create Child Thoughts for different steps to solve the problem. TheBrain’s connections act as visual guide and ensure that nothing is overlooked when resolving an issue.
If you are a network manager you can use TheBrain or BrainEKP to map out and visualize your IT network and applications.
This way if an application or server goes down you can see everything that is affected. You can also use the relationships to see what might be potential causes to problems.
Relationships for Research and Market Analysis
Many information relationships abound in market research and there’s no better tool to see them than TheBrain. With TheBrain you can break down a product or company under as many different market dimensions as you need and create all the interconnections that are relevant.
Start by creating some key market categories and or segments for your particular industry. Then link companies and products under their relevant Thoughts and see how everything is connected. Your can get an example brain called OneWorld Tech Startup that maps out venture capitalists and social networking sites or the JB Apparal example Brain that shows product research and design for a sports apparel company from our discussion board.
Understanding Thought Relationships If You Are Switching to TheBrain from Traditional Mind Mapping
If you are using TheBrain and have experience with other mind mapping tools and techniques, here’s how relationships in TheBrain work relative to a traditional mind mapping approach. Mind maps typically have one central element and do not dynamically adjust. So with a standard mind mapping view you are always looking at your information from a single static perspective. With TheBrain that’s not the case. The hierarchies that you might be used to creating in mind mapping are typically displayed branching out to the sides. In TheBrain these relationships are shown below. In a mind map, going up the hierarchy is done by moving toward the center of the screen. In TheBrain, going up the hierarchy is done by going up, clicking on the Parent Thoughts. This is a natural view. As you “drill down” conceptually you move down spatially and as you go higher up conceptually, you move up spatially also.
So if you are a traditional mind mapper, note that you can have the same relationships in TheBrain and then some. In a mind map, each topic can only have one Parent, but in TheBrain there is no limit. Also, Jump relationships provide the option of making lateral connections. For more information on this see my blog post moving beyond hierarchies. So for all you mind mappers new to TheBrain, the key things to remember are: you are not limited to a single central topic and you can create subtopics below at any point.
Can I Change my Thought Relationships?
Remember if you put a Thought in the wrong place it’s very easy to change. Drag your Thought around the active Thought. Notice as you drag it around the link changes. You can drop your Thought into in a different relationship zone and change the relationships. You can also link and unlink Thoughts to create the structure that you need.
Watch our Tip of the month on “Changing Thought Relationships” for a quick demo!
If you have a section on your Brain that you think really needs an overhaul see my previous blog post on 6 ways to improve your Brain.
Ultimately, what’s important is the connection. In fact, some users like James Burke completely ignore all relationship types and simply link Thoughts to other Thoughts without thinking twice. So experiment with your Thought relationships. It might vary depending on the type of Brain you’re creating and the data sets that you are working with.
Connections and relationships make the difference between a pile of files in a folder and a network of knowledge. The relationships displayed in your digital Brain will become second nature and provide you while much insight, ideas and intelligence for organizing your organic brain. Remember: Parent, Child, Sibling or Jump – it’s always relative to the Active Thought and always about what works best for you.