Getting your mind organized – and mapped

By: Chris Taylor

“Mind mapping” can help organize your brainstorms. This week, cult favorite Mindjet released a new, online tool for collaborative mapping.

(Fortune Small Business) — Quick quiz: What piece of software would you fire up on your laptop if you wanted to take notes in a meeting, give a presentation, write a business plan, or simply get your thoughts in order?

Time’s up. Chances are you answered with the name of a popular word processing product. If so, a small San Francisco business called Mindjet would like to persuade you that there’s an alternative to all that typing  one that’s is more in sync with the way our creative brains work.

The company’s software, MindManager, is based on a brainstorming technique called mind mapping. Popularized in the 1970s by British author and consultant Tony Buzan, mind maps show words sprouting off each other like the branches and leaves of a tree. They are generally colorful, spontaneous, and convey a great deal of information in a small amount of space.

And though mind maps may look like idle doodles next to a hefty Word document, a generation of business leaders inspired by Buzan — such as Richard Branson — have employed the technique.

MindManager was the first piece of software to put mind maps on the computer a decade ago, and it has gained steadily in popularity ever since. More than 2,000 employees at Microsoft now use it, as do many more at Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500), Cisco (CSCO, Fortune 500), Coca-Cola (KO, Fortune 500), Ford (F, Fortune 500), IBM (IBM, Fortune 500), and 80 other members of the Fortune 100. In all, there are 1.3 million MindManager users, with 1,000 converts being added every day.

This week Mindjet launched the first online-only version of  MindManager, called Mindjet Connect. For $8.99 a month, users can collaborate with co-workers on the same mind map at the same time. A premium version, for $22.49 a month, adds Web conferencing and lets you turn Microsoft Office documents into mind maps.

That’s pretty pricey for what is essentially virtual brainstorming. But Mindjet CEO Scott Raskin is relying on his rabid user base (the company does little marketing, and 69% of sales are from word-of-mouth) to spread the gospel of mind mapping. Will it work? Check out our gallery of MindManager maps and judge for yourself.