Dave Pollard's environmental philosophy, creative works, business papers and essays.
In search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.



November 24, 2005

Three Mini-Reviews: Mind Mapping Software, Imperial Ambitions, and Buzzmarketing

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 11:36
Here are three short reviews of books that I have recently read:

MindMapApps
Power Tips & Strategies for Mind Mapping Software, by Chuck Frey

Regular readers know I’m a fan of mind mapping software, especially for improving the effectiveness of meetings: The mind map can be projected live up on the screen where attendees can quibble in real time about what was said and what was agreed, and walk out of the meeting with a printed map in their hands of what was learned and what’s to be done. Powerful stuff, and it really works.

No one knows more about mind mapping applications than Chuck Frey, who has a whole resource centre on the subject on his excellent Innovation Tools site. His concise (42 page) new e-book is focused on how to use mind mapping software effectively, and when to use it. The first chapter describes 16 major applications for mind mapping, illustrated by the mind-map above. Chuck offers short point-form instructions for each of these applications, drawing from several established methodologies. He provides suggestions on how to organize the branches of the map for each application, and where to use notation, links and symbols on the maps, and links to white papers available on the Internet that contain more detail and cases on using mind maps for these applications.

Chapter two reviews the use of mind mapping’s features like symbols, links to documents, URLs and messages, presentation mode, colour, images, exporting, collapsing, and outlining. The third chapter suggests strategies for more useful and visually appealing mind maps, and unique ideas like creating a mind map as your active desktop to organize and navigate your whole hard drive. And the final chapter contains a list of mind mapping software with links to the tools’ web pages, Chuck’s reviews of them, and newsletters and forums discussing them.

At last week’s conference I spoke briefly with Ross Mayfield about the exciting possibility of using mind maps as dynamic organizing and navigating tools for wikis and blogs. I have used a mind map to illustrate my blog’s taxonomy, but there is as yet no simple way to post a mind map in ‘outline’ view in your sidebar in such a way that it can be used dynamically as a table of contents and navigator for your blog. This need is even greater for wikis, where pages can be added arbitrarily by multiple users and navigating the wiki can be bewildering, especially when ‘orphan’ pages are created. It could be a great match of tools.

So I think we’re just starting to see the applications of mind maps as a means of organizing and focusing our thoughts and our information resources. And when their functionality is increased to allow feedback loops (so they can be used to capture systems thinking and concept diagramming) they will become even more powerful, essential tools.

Imperial Ambitions, by Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamian

Few people are neutral when it comes to Noam Chomsky, whose arrogance drives some critics at both ends of the political spectrum to distraction, but whose lifelong commitment to social justice has been more than mere words. Chomsky, in addition to sustaining his reputation as a global authority on linguistics, has also criss-crossed the globe to speak and demonstrate in support of the oppressed, sometimes at considerable personal risk. What galls many progressives in affluent nations is Chomsky’s unrepentant and across-the-board criticism of their countries’ regimes for racism, genocide, and other atrocities. He makes little distinction between regimes of right or left, nominally democratic or totalitarian, ‘well-intended’ or overtly belligerent, and as a result has been accused of being anti-American and even anti-democratic.

Imperial Ambitions is structured more like a FAQ than a treatise, and that is what makes it so enjoyable to read. You need not read even a whole chapter to gain some of Chomsky’s insights, provocative perceptions and history lessons. Look up a topic in the index, turn to that page, and read Barsamian’s question and Chomsky’s answer on the subject. Each question and answer stands on its own, so the book is a veritable Chomsky-pedia. I already knew Chomsky’s view on 9/11 and the Iraq War, on US covert actions in Latin America, and on the brutal imperialistic history of most Western nations. But here are Chomsky’s comments on four other issues that I hadn’t heard his views on:

Q: At talks with American audiences, you are often asked the question “What should I do?”
A: Only by American audiences. I’m never asked this in the third world. When you go to Turkey or Colombia or Brazil, they don’t ask you “What should I do?” They tell you what they’re doing… It’s only in highly privileged countries like ours that people ask this question. We have every option open to us, and have none of the problems that are faced by intellectuals in Turkey or the campasinos in Brazil. We can do anything. But people here are trained to believe that there are easy answers, and it doesn’t work that way. If you want to do something you have to be dedicated and committed to it day after day. Education programs, organizing, activism. That’s the way things change.

Q: Why do you put so much onus on the educated class?
A: Because responsibility correlates with privilege…The people sitting in places like MIT have choices. They have privilege, they have education, they have training. That carries responsibility. Somebody who is working fifty hours a week to put food on the table and comes back exhausted at night and turns on the tube has many fewer choices, and those choices are much harder to exercise, and therefore he has less responsibility.

Q: Why do you not favor an all-volunteer army?
A: If there’s going to be an army, I think it should be a citizens’ army, not a mercenary army. There are several kinds of mercenary armies. One model is the French Foreign Legion, where the imperial power just organizes a mercenary army. Another model is a volunteer army, which is in effect a mercenary army of the disadvantaged. People like us, except for the occasional maniacs, don’t volunteer for it. But people like Lynndie England do volunteer, because they come from a background where that may be their only opportunity. So you end up getting a mercenary army of the disadvantaged, and that’s much more dangerous than a citizens’ army.

Q: How do you respond to people who say “People in the US are too comfortable. Things will have to get much worse before there is protest?”
A: Serious movements sometimes come from people who are oppressed and other times it comes from sectors of privilege. It’s a mixture of privileged and oppressed coming to consciousness…On the part of the oppressed, it’s necessary to recognize that oppression is not just unpleasant but also wrong. And that’s not so simple. Established practices and conventions are usually taken for granted, not questioned. To recognize that there is nothing necessarily legitimate about power is a big step no matter which side of the equation you are on. A recognition that you are beating someone can be very enlightening. It’s a big step to say “There is something wrong with the fact we are holding the club.” That recognition is the beginning of civilization.

Buzzmarketing, by Mark Hughes

If you believe, as I do, that customer-driven, peer-to-peer, viral marketing will soon replace coercive, broadcast, top-down advertising as the means of persuading people what to buy, then you’re probably going to be interested in a book that promises to tell you how to create buzz, how to get customers’ attention so they’ll talk to each other about your product or service. This book does exactly that.

Hughes provides many stories of companies that have employed six ‘secrets’ to get and sustain buzz:

  1. Provoke conversations by providing something taboo, unusual, outrageous, hilarious, remarkable, or secret.
  2. Provide a story to the mainstream media that is David-and-Goliath, unusual, outrageous, controversial, celebrity-related or related to something that’s already hot. These are the stories these media like.
  3. Use a mix of media, unusual media your competition isn’t using, quirky, unglitzy approaches, and unusual, attention-getting media approaches (like product placement in movies).
  4. Be prepared to take big risks in approach and goals, and face ridicule from detractors who will say it can’t be done.
  5. Out-think competitors: Cause a stir, focus on a clear definition of the problem to gain clarity on direction, spend lots of face time with customers, try lots of experiments, encourage friendly rivalries, understand the importance of names, and provide useful content in your messages.
  6. Monitor marketing effectiveness: Be alert to early-warning signals, get management to hear what customers are saying, ask customers where they heard of you and whether they’d go out of their way to recommend you, and get your employees talking.

Some of the examples in the book left me flat (Britney Spears and American Idol — ugh!) but the techniques do make sense. You don’t have to compromise your principles and pander to your audience to create buzz. Viral marketing will often happen even without your encouragement, or not happen despite your encouragement. But most of the ideas in this book don’t cost a lot, and they do recognize facts about human nature we may tend to forget. Your customers may get your product to catch fire by simply rubbing two sticks together, but there’s no harm in helping out by blowing gently on the spark.

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