Posted by: pkab | 22 January 2008

Finding Clarity: Using MindManager® Pro 7 to Manage the Gray Areas


By: Jerry Manas

Jerry Manas

Jerry Manas is author of Managing the Gray Areas, president of project management consulting firm The Marengo Group, co-founder of the popular leadership blog site PMThink!, and a two-time Mindjet webinar presenter. He considers himself an organizational architect with a specialty in project management and virtual team dynamics, helping leaders create integrated organizations and teams.

Mindjet: What’s the value of using MindManager to organize information?

Jerry Manas: I often refer to MindManager as my “management Swiss Army knife,” whether it’s to organize thoughts around a book I’m writing, capture issues and actions during a meeting, facilitate a team planning session, or any number of other activities. People have commented to me that they appreciate seeing the principles, objectives, issues, planning topics and more, all in one map, along with links to supporting documents. Also, I do a lot of telephone consulting, where I coach and mentor people remotely. I typically send the client a questionnaire ahead of time, and then plug the answers into a map that we view together during our call. Over the course of a number of sessions, we’ll develop a map of solutions and ideas that they will walk away with, and even use as a template.

I recently attended a thought leadership summit with a cross-disciplinary group of thinkers, including experts in neuroscience, generative thinking, verbal and nonverbal communication, neuro-linguistic programming, and appreciative inquiry, brought together by leadership development consultant Judith E. Glaser (author of the bestsellers Creating We and The DNA of Leadership) to pool our collective minds, and share the latest research. The summit went so well that we decided to form a permanent consortium. In subsequent brainstorming sessions, we used MindManager Pro 7 to organize our thoughts to determine the purpose and model for the consortium. Everyone was very impressed with how visual this tool is, and how it operates at the speed of thought.

MJ: Your newest book that publishes this month is called Managing the Gray Areas. How can leaders use MindManager to navigate through the gray areas?

JM: Black-and-white thinking is an ineffective approach that leaders tend to rely on in their efforts to grasp a complex situation. It’s a natural defense mechanism, but it often guides us down the wrong path. The book proposes three ways we can avoid this trap. First, we must learn to lead by questioning. As leaders, our job is not to have all the answers, but to ensure the right questions are raised. Second, we must examine issues from broader perspectives. For example, we should engage in “systems thinking” (a perspective that helps us see and understand the big picture in new ways) that use what I call “holistic ethics” (an integrated model based on virtues, potential consequences, and principles). Third, we must strive to integrate seemingly opposing values. This involves empathy and cultural awareness, since we not only need to understand our own ideals, but we have to try and understand the ideals of others. Then, we have to try to reconcile the two.

MindManager can help facilitate a good amount of this. For instance, one common dilemma is the ongoing struggle to address both individual needs and organizational goals. Although we must strive to address both, sometimes satisfying one requires making sacrifices to the other. Trade-offs must be made, and many times there is no single right answer. If we understand our core ideals, which questions to ask, how our decision will affect the whole system, and what beliefs or needs each party may have, we can make much better decisions from a broader perspective. A tool like MindManager can help visually map out all of these elements.

We can also employ any number of decision-making toolsets in maps. For instance, we might have a list of typical questions to ask, or a checklist for making ethically sound decisions. In the holistic model I mentioned, we could map out the virtues we want to consider, the potential consequences of alternative actions, or principles we want to follow. In the book, I highlight a process for ruling out performance problems, citing an excellent model from Bud Bilanich, author and executive coach who’s known on the web as “The Common Sense Guy.” We could map out those steps and fill in the blanks for a given situation. The possibilities are endless!

MJ: How is MindManager a tool that facilitates what you refer to as “systems thinking,” as well as “leading with humanity?”

JM: “Systems thinking” is all about relationships. In an organization, much like any complex system, very little happens in isolation. People’s actions are a result of their beliefs, learned behaviors, social influences, available tools, processes, other people’s actions, and a host of other variables. By using a tool like MindManager to map out all of these relationships, we can make more mindful decisions. Of course, just like a meteorologist can only come close to predicting the weather, we can also only come close to predicting how a complex system will act. But without mapping out all the known relationships, we’d be making decisions with blinders on. Unfortunately, that’s how many organizational decisions are made.

As for “leading with humanity,” it’s been well-documented that systems, more so than individual people, are the root of most problems. Yet, we often point to individuals. If people don’t perform, is it because they’re incompetent? Or is it because of broader issues, such as an excessive workload, inadequate tools, lack of communication, cumbersome processes, lack of training, low confidence, poor management, and so on? It could be a combination of all of these factors, and each factor could have any number of underlying factors. Systems thinking forces us to consider all these variables, and to make adjustments in the context of the whole system.

Systems thinking is just one of many techniques that can help us lead with humanity. I’ll explore this and others during my webinar “Leading with Humanity” on Thursday, January 24th.


Jerry Manas, author of the newly-released Managing the Gray Areas and the international bestseller Napoleon on Project Management, has been cited by management guru Tom Peters and highlighted in a variety of publications, including Leadership Excellence, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, the Chicago Sun Times and The Houston Chronicle.

Source: MindJet User Newsletter


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