Take Your Concept Maps To The Next Level with BigPicture

If you’re a mind mapping or concept mapping enthusiast, you know how effective these tools can be.  Ideas, processes, and decisions are clarified and presented with powerful visuals–something BigPicture for Excel software does with ease:

hypothese bp map closeup

BP chart image

But BigPicture can go beyond these diagrams. One of the software’s stand-out features is its ability to link to Excel spreadsheet data, and automatically reflect any changes in that data should it change–creating what we call a ‘live-linked data map’. This feature allows you to automatically display your data as visual maps that can be manipulated, customized, and hyper-linked to other resources.

That means you can take data, such as a compiled list of the final MLB (Major League Baseball) standings, plus other information, for the 2014 season:

mlb data sheet

This data sheet has one row for each of the 30 MLB teams. It lists the team name, division, league, location, and two hyperlinks for team information. It also lists the number of wins and losses, the winning percentage, and total runs scored for each team.


That information can be easily converted into a map that looks like this:

mlb data map


This map displays  League and Division, and features end tables of the teams in a given division, along with their wins, losses, winning percentage, and runs scored. The end tables also show markers and hyperlinks for the teams and their locations.  All that data from the spreadsheet is now shown in a visual, logical map that can be easily read and understood.

Want to learn how to do this yourself? Head over to our BigPicture Help Manual, and check out the step-by-step guide, “What is a Data Map and how do I create a Data Map?”



What’s New in BigPicture? Attach Custom Shapes

The BigPicture development team is always working to improve our software, which means regular updates.  Here’s a sample of what we’ve added to our latest deployment of BigPicture Beta on May 5, 2015:

Attach Custom Shapes

This option is available under the Attach Shapes category, and can be found via Attach Shapes > Custom. This is simply a way that you can add Excel shapes to the selected topic(s).

By utilizing the Custom command a default light yellow call-out shape will be attached to the selected topic(s) and will move with the topic(s). Simply select that topic(s) that you would like to attach an image to, right click and choose the Attach Shapes > Custom > Add New command. (NOTE: You can also access this command from the Topic Tools icon in the BigPicture ribbon.)

Here are some additional notes describing how this command can improve your maps:

  1. The default light yellow call-out shape will appear above top-most topic selected.
  2. You can customize your shape by utilizing Excel’s standard capabilities of changing the color, shape effects, size, font, text, etc.
  3. If you decide to move the topic(s) that the custom shape is attached to, the shape will move also.
  4. Custom shapes can overlap.
  5. Multiple custom shapes can be added to the same topic, or group of topics. All of which can be moved and re-sized. (NOTE: To access any custom shapes that may be hidden behind another one, simply right click and utilize the Send to Back and Bring to Front commands from the pop-up menu.)
  6. If you collapse (hide) any of the topics that the shape is attached to, the shape will collapse (hide) with it.
  7. A custom shape can be to a single topic or multiple topics.

If you would like to use the same style custom shape (or any other existing “non-BigPicture” Excel shape) that already exists:

  • Select the topic(s) that you would like to add that custom shape to FIRST
  • Choose the Attach Shapes > Custom > Copy Existing command.
  • At this point a dialog will appear asking you to select the shape that you would like to copy. Click on the existing shape that you would like to duplicate.
  • Click OK.

NOTE: To remove a custom shape, just click on the shape and hit your delete key on your keyboard.

screensteps2Click here for a complete overview of BigPicture updates.

BigPicture Example Series: Strategic Planning for New Drug Development

In the BigPicture Example Series, we’ll show you different ways you can make BigPicture work for you.  You can check out all these example files with your copy of the BigPicture software, which you can download here. Get BigPicture today and start playing with these fun and informative example models. The possibilities are limitless.

In the Harvard Business Review case study Bet on One Big Idea — or Diversify?” , the fictional big pharma company Caliska faces an important decision on whether to continue research on a promising new probiotic drug, L-39. The drug has had somewhat disappointing results so far in clinical trials, and there has even been some evidence of safety issues. However, Caliska’s strong research team believes that with further development, the drug can be made more effective and safe, and that it has the potential to be a breakthrough drug for the company, as well as for patients suffering from the gastrointestinal ailment called Crohn’s disease. The alternative is to make a quick profit by marketing L-39 as a dietary supplement (a nutraceutical), a decision strongly opposed by the research team but with some support by the CEO.

In this example, a map was created in BigPicture to graphically summarize the issues, risks, and arguments presented by the executives and researchers in the case study. The map first lists some facts:




Then the two alternatives are listed, along with positive (green) and negative (red) consequences:




Finally, criteria important to the company are listed to the right, as they relate to the consequences of the decisions. The goal is to provide a summary map that can be used to review and discuss the possible options and come to a consensus decision in a strategic planning environment:



The map illustrates the benefits of using BigPicture to visually summarize complex set of relationships and issues in a diagram. When a diagram is used, people are more likely to understand those relationships, analyze them, and remember them. People tend to be more engaged when working with a diagram, and remember its concepts better:


Check out the full example model in BigPicture’s ‘Example Spreadsheets’ section under the Help menu:



BigPicture Example Series: Breakeven Analysis

In the BigPicture Example Series, we’ll show you different ways you can make BigPicture work for you.  You can check out all these example files with your copy of the BigPicture software, which you can download here. Get BigPicture today and start playing with these fun and informative example models. The possibilities are limitless.

The BigPicture Breakeven Analysis map illustrates the elements of a company’s breakeven analysis. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration,

“Breakeven analysis is used to determine when your business will be able to cover all its expenses and begin to make a profit. It is important to identify your start-up costs, which will help you determine your sales revenue needed to pay ongoing business expenses.”

This calculation is integral to business plans, particularly for start-ups. Anyone tackling this task can benefit from starting with a BigPicture map, which will help the decision maker understand the various aspects of the problem. These include the inputs to the problem (monetary values and other inputs), the decisions involved, any uncertainties, and important outputs:

breakeven analysis1


Normally, problems like this one are represented, and solved numerically, by Excel tools, such as Goal Seek. However, a map like the one shown here is useful as a preliminary step to a formal analysis. It lets decision makers see the important issues in the decision problem and how they are related.

Check out the full example model in BigPicture’s ‘Example Spreadsheets’ section under the Help menu:

BP example files location

BigPicture Benefit: Collapsible ‘Many-to-One’ Relationships Between Topics

Those who know and use mind mapping and concept mapping with other software tools may have run into a frustrating limitation of their software’s capabilities: the inability to easily create collapsible and expandable ‘many-to-one’ relationships between topics.

This issue was described in a post on Sociamind, a blog produced by Gooding Davies Consultancy Pty Ltd. The author, Alex Gooding, describes how several mind mapping software tools are designed to have many topics branching out from one, and not the other way around.  Furthermore, it’s very difficult to expand and collapse these many-to-one groupings. The only way he can achieve something close to this effect is by incorporating invisible topics and connections, as he details in his post.

BigPicture has been designed to be much more flexible, allowing users to easily create, collapse, and expand “many-to-one” topic relationships, as well as continuing on and going back to a “one-to-many” situation for sub-topics.

bigpicture many to one example 1


The above image demonstrates how BigPicture’s concept maps allow for topics to branch from one to many, back down to one, and then back out to many with ease – rather than having to create invisible floating topics and relationship lines as described in the Sociamind post.

Gooding’s other challenge was finding a way to be able to collapse one of these sub-topic groupings as a whole unit. He did an amazing job coming up with a “workaround” that involves some laborious efforts. Here, we show how BigPicture allows for a much quicker method:



Just place your cursor over a connection between sub-topics (in this case, the orange connector between the light blue and orange sub-topics), the red collapse icon appears. Click on the red collapse icon, and the orange subtopic and all its children collapse and disappear. It is as simple as that! And it is already part of BigPicture’s standard capabilities – no invisible topics, no extra effort, just a click of the mouse.

bp-many-to-one-collapse 2


Any and all combinations of collapsed and expanded sub-topics can be created just by clicking either the associated red collapse or green expand icons to bring the grouped topics out of, or into view.

bp-many-to-one-collapse 3


If you want to see just the orange topics you can easily collapse the others by clicking on the other collapse icons.

Interested in trying this out for yourself? Download the beta version of BigPicture for free and start experimenting with your own map, or check out one of our example files such as the Big Pharma Decisions to see it in action.

Mapping a Social Media Campaign Gone Awry, in BigPicture

In the BigPicture Example Series, we’ll show you different ways you can make BigPicture work for you.  All these examples come with your copy of the BigPicture software, which you can try free here. Get BigPicture today and start playing with these fun and informative example models. The possibilities are limitless!

This example is based on the Harvard Business Review case study “When the Twitterverse Turns on You,” published December 11, 2013 on the HBR Blog Network. In the case, an airline reacts to a social media campaign gone awry. The airline has suffered a string of negative publicity lately and has launched a contest on Twitter as a way to reboot its image. Unfortunately for the marketing team, the Twitter campaign has become an outlet for some extremely negative feedback as well as positive. The decision-makers are now faced with a dilemma: how can they avoid yet another PR fiasco while simultaneously meeting the needs of the loyal contest entrants? The situation is complex and common: How should a company respond to the press? At what point do they cut their losses? How should this or any social media campaign be managed? What is the long-term goal versus the immediate need?

BigPicture allows you to characterize and visualize different aspects of a situation like this — one that is multi-facted and rapidly changing. BigPicture’s Excel platform and click-and-drag interface make it ideal for collaborative exercises involving multiple decision influencers; everyone on the team can share, edit, and understand BigPicture maps.


Plus, the flexible features of BigPicture’s directional connectors help show and label the myriad relationships between different elements. Other features such as color-coded topics, pictures, and expandable/collapsible topics allow teams to grasp the issues at hand and plan the best strategy.


To explore the map, try BigPicture for free and open “Example Spreadsheets” in the BigPicture Help tab. To better understand the example, review the case study from the HBR Blog Network.