HYCS #29 – Can’t Think of a Model? Try This.

HYCS #29 – Can’t Think of a Model?  Try This.

Some of my best consulting work starts in the moment my client pulls my notebook toward them to correct the mind-map I’ve started.

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Reading Time:  1.5 minutes

Assignment Time:  No additional time

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Let’s say a client is describing the ins and outs of their organization and the work they’d like you to help with.  Let’s say the more they talk, the less clear you get.  All the information is jumbled together:  People, job titles, initiatives, cloak-and-dagger stories, a whiff of something you can’t quite place.  You need to sort it out, fast.

At times like these, I flip my notepad horizontal, and start drawing circles.  In the middle circle is what they want to achieve.  Everything they say goes in a circle around that middle circle.  The first level of organization is themes, or clustering related topics together, so I try to put things that go together near each other.  Then I draw lines to connect things that relate.

I don’t worry about getting any of it right.  I worry about getting it all down.  Inevitably, my client starts telling me where to put things.  Best of all is when they pull my notebook toward themselves and start writing things down.   I’m helping my client and myself to organize what they tell me.  That act alone is more helpful than you can imagine.

Best of all, it takes no preparation, and you can’t do it wrong, because it’s impossible for you to do right:  The relevant data is in your client’s mind, not yours.  This method of non-linear brainstorming will help them get it out in a way that isn’t overwhelming.

 More information on mind-mapping, aka, clustering

It’s best not to overthink this, which is why I adhere to the clustering school of non-linear brainstorming, rather than the mind-mapping school.  The mind-mapping folk bring unnecessary rules and structure to the process, muting its effectiveness for this task.  I use the terms “Mind-mapping” and “clustering” interchangeably.

Click here to give yourself a quick introduction to clustering.  But don’t get stuck on doing it right or even well.  The point is to engage your client in ordering their own thoughts in an organic, holistic splash.


Cluster with a client.  Do it badly, so badly that your client elbows you out of the way to finish the diagram.