Getting My Brain Around PersonalBrain


 This week’s column for The Wall Street Journal (subscription only) is about PersonalBrain, a topic I find hard to write about:

Here’s a heads-up on some organizing software that may take some getting used to. Frankly, it’s taken me nearly 10 years to appreciate its power. But now that I do, it has become something of an obsession. I even have dreams about it.

It’s a defiantly different kind of thought-mapping program called PersonalBrain, and a new version (including versions for Mac and Linux users) will be launched next month by U.S.-based TheBrain Technologies LP. Users include scientists, soldiers, inventors and others who have used it to marshal their collections of thoughts, projects and even databases on criminal syndicates. I find it so useful and absorbing, there’s nothing — be it a Web site link, a random idea, a contact, a document, a scrap of information — that I don’t add to its spider-web-like screen, knowing it will throw up links my brain had never considered or had failed to remember.

 I love the program with the passion of the newly converted but often feel I’m not getting the most out of it. I also feel a failure in my efforts to convert friends to its power. It’s almost painful to see them writhing with information that would reveal so much to them if they spent a bit of time getting their brains around PersonalBrain.

What tipped it for me? I think it was when I stopped trying to use it like a mind map and just trusted it enough to throw things in there and not bother too much. With PersonalBrain there’s no right or wrong way to use the thing, and its tendency is to startle with surprising connections, rather than build a perfectly formed tree of connections. It thrives on connections, so the other lesson is that adding links is good. It’s not, as like mind mapping, a sign of a confused mind, but a recognition that creativity and association is born out of the seeming chaos of our brains. Or something.

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