Kathy Sierra Day 2: The Alpha Mind Map

By: Max Christian Hansen

So there I was reading this immense fat packet, my printout of “Creating Passionate Users.” (Hmm, that should have been italicized, now that it’s a book, even if the world’s only copy is the one I’m reading.) And I’m looking for what made Kathy a successful blogger. In this process, it wasn’t my first revelation, but it was my first big one, when I realized that Kathy knew her subject. Yeah, I hear you muttering “Moron!” under your breath. But wait till I explain what I mean by knowing a subject. Again, I have to say not everyone will get as much out of this lesson as I did. Because not everyone is doing what Kathy set out to do. Here at The Alpha Mind, though, I am.

When You Map Out a New Field, You Have to (Duh) Map It.

Kathy created a whole new field of study. Although “brain science,” if I may use such a loose term, is at the heart of Creating Passionate Users, CPU is without doubt a cross-disciplinary field. And it’s a practical field, not a laboratory undertaking or (at least not yet) an academic major. So the first challenge that Kathy faced was to understand where its boundaries were. She whipped this challenge by mind-mapping. Now you’re about to find out something about how I read. Because I’m going to confess that I read a world into this one picture in that post:

The picture is a mind map Kathy used for a seminar she conducted. But when I looked at it, it came to me in a flash that Kathy has her entire subject mapped out in just this way, and, I’d wager (if not for my scruples) that she had that map in her head, fairly complete, when she started the blog. Before last week, “The Alpha Mind” lacked such a map. Here I am, trying to develop a field of endeavor that nobody’s ever defined before, and I’ve been trying to do so without defining it. This week I’m correcting the problem. (Okay, total digression here. I remember when I worked in Silicon Valley for a French software company, and they sent a new build with release notes which included the luscious sentence “This lack has been suppressed.” Many smiles in native-English-speaker land.) My lack of a mind map has been suppressed.

What difference does it make?

Kathy's pic of mare and foal.First, this one. When Kathy decides to blog something, she knows exactly where it fits onto the map of her subject. Comparatively, some of my past posts suggest a man groping in darkness. Even when Kathy blogs something that doesn’t map, she knows it, and she doesn’t do it all that often. When the connection is tenuous, at least she knows how to make the connection. For example, check this out. (You don’t have to stay for the video, but I recommend it.) It’s one of my favorite CPU posts. Now that you’re back, in case the video overwhelmed you so you forgot the last line of the post, I’ll remind you:

By this morning, both foals were crossing the “kick ass” threshold, and loving every moment of being alive.

Of course, the “Kick Ass Threshold” is a key Sierra theme, and so she was able, cleverly if preposterously, to tie that morning’s trip to the stable to CPU’s main topic. It was Kathy who talked me into trying mind mapping, mostly through this paragraph:

The key to using mind maps for brainstorming…. is to go really fast. The idea is to engage your “right” brain (metaphorically speaking) while simultaneously supressing your judgemental, logical, rational “left” brain. Something magical happens…

“Hold on!”, Max butts in rudely. Before I let Kathy finish, I just have to say that something magical happened indeed. That Kathy could use “right-brain-left-brain” and not lose me completely is almost a miracle. “Right-left-brain,” as the notion is popularly used (and as Kathy is using it here) is nonsense. Note that even as she trots it out, Kathy tries to distance herself from it by her insertion of “metaphorically speaking.” I can’t help it, both of my lobes say gak. It isn’t my right brain that says “Max, lighten up,” it’s whatever mysterious zone is controlled by the Law of Charitable Associations, which I invented last week as yet another result of reading Kathy, and about which I promise a post next week. Anyway, I lightened up and accepted the kernel of what Kathy was saying. Okay, Kathy, you can go on now…

…when you just start throwing down nodes and drawing connections and linking ideas without giving ANY real thought. The moment you start thinking/analyzing, you’re screwed. But if you just let it happen, you’ll find yourself looking down at your paper 10 minutes later and seeing things you never would have come up with using a logical thinking process. So it’s not a matter of “waiting for the muse”, but it’s also not a matter of using brute force thinking. You just have to do something!

Something here grabbed me. Perhaps it was a vague sense that, when I outline, I always run into a wall, and the wall always seems to have a little voice, only audible subliminally, in the deepest depths, that goes “who’s this idea’s boss?” It’s hierarchy rearing its head, long before it has any usefulness. Whatever it was, I found that what Kathy was saying had a clarion ring of truth to it. So I got a mind mapper (freemind, open source, free, works this year which wasn’t true last time I tried it.) I’ve started using it. I’ll tell you what I’ve observed in a separate post. For now I’ll just say that I love it, and I expect it to be a boon to me in these ways:

  • It will conduce to good choices in where I read and link.
  • It will help me maintain focus.
  • And that will help me find my audience.


Look, Ma, I made a mind map!

…so The Alpha Mind now has a mind map. And I have some serious plans for that mind map. First, I hope to make it my site map. I hope it will let me lose that stale linear list of categories. Instead, a reader will be able to go to the mind map, get a quick vista of what I’m doing here, identify the sub-topics of interest to him/her, and unfold nodes and follow links to posts and pages. I also hope that, when I find readers who really engage with the subject, the mind map will be a powerful point of engagement. They’ll be able to critique my approach to the subject at a high conceptual level, forestalling my devoting lots of time to ill-conceived sub-topics. (Why fix your grammar when you’ve written a plot that stinks?) Here’s the map, folded up to show only one node out from center. Click on it to view it unfolded. Alpha Mind Map, folded

Source: Alpha Mind Blog