“You really are an automaton. A calculating machine.” When Dr Watson described Sherlock Holmes in this way, he was referring to Holmes’s famous use of mind mapping to solve complex mysteries. Mind mapping has been a powerful ideation, note-taking and problem-solving tool for decades. It improves recall, comprehension and metacognitive skills. When combined with the right technology and elevated with virtual reality, it becomes so much more than a glorified whiteboard. In a world where human thinking is increasingly challenged or augmented by AI, it is human cognition on steroids.
Enter Noda, a 3D mental model startup that allows you to build mind maps, strategic processes and storyboards. Founder Brian Eppert refers to it as a “shareable idea vault”, where you can step into your teammate’s perspective and understand ideas from their point of view.
“Being able to think about complex ideas spatially matched the way that I naturally think about associations and relationships, explains Eppert. “I wanted to visualize that and allow others to work in that way.”
Noda brings spatial ideation to life, opening almost limitless opportunities. You can simply kickstart a brainstorming session by pinching your fingers together and speaking the main discussion point into existence. As the bubble forms, you connect the dots with your hands. Call on Noda’s AI for help, and your mind map is instantly populated with ideas. Even non-headset users can join in the fun. Bi-directional sync allows content to be transferred from 2D to 3D spaces and vice versa. Stick physical post-it notes on your window and those with headsets can connect them to virtual nodes on mixed reality whiteboards.
Noda has taken productivity and learning to a new level of interactive fun.
Immersive 3D spaces fascinated Eppert as a kid. “I felt like I was there in those fictional spaces. I can remember them almost like real places,” Eppert recalls.
Years later, Eppert was coding away at a gaming hackathon. He remembers the vivid details of his skateboarding game – “You would jump from rooftop to rooftop using a push button and controller, and as you went between the buildings you'd look down and experience the exhilaration of being up high.” It won the hackathon.
But how did this lead to virtual reality brainstorming?
Turns out even gamers wanted to multi-task within an immersive environment. “At the time, there were a lot of simulators for things like Elite Dangerous , where you would travel across the galaxy from planet to planet. People who were spending time in these headsets wanted to be able to do something else. So we had an overlay where you could bring in web content,” says Eppert. He went on to explore data-based experiences with the same team, developing a spherical 3D web bookmark extension on a 2D screen as an initial experiment.
The first 3D headsets were a major turning point. “When I saw the headsets, I realized this was the way to do 3D information, to be able to flip the paradigm so instead of the person looking at a screen, the person becomes the center of the experience and information is shown around them in a way that they can relate to it naturally,” Eppert says. “All of these explorations were building up to a concentrated experience on developing ideas, which became Noda.”
The first Meta Quest launch signaled a big shift in VR technology, pushing Noda into the public domain. “One of the biggest changes was the move from PC to mobile VR – it was a reset in some of the performance characteristics,” says Eppert. “And it opened up a lot more use cases. We started to see more interest from enterprise and educational institutions.”
Noda’s ongoing partnership with Meta goes back to 2014, when Facebook acquired Oculus Rift for $2 billion. This allowed Noda to connect with the early adopter community and glean invaluable feedback for app development.
Meta’s increased focus on productivity strengthened the partnership, and the recent Quest for Business launch is helping Noda gain a better foothold in business organizations. “Meta’s committed, focused, improving all the time and you can see it in the Quest 3 release. It’s a further jump in quality and performance on both hardware and platform,” says Eppert. “They’ve learned what's important to businesses and are starting to put those things in place.”
Employee disengagement is a pressing issue for many organizations, with more than 55% of teams working in silos. Noda’s recent collaboration with Sheng Huang, founder of Mind Map Nation is an example of how VR can help.
In a business process mind map that Sheng Huang walks through with every employee, he illustrates how each department’s output is another department’s input. It shows how delays from a single department can create undesirable bottlenecks that hinder everyone’s productivity. Bringing this into the virtual space with Noda amplifies employee understanding of how the integrated system works - and the sense of connection.
“Sheng Huang has his new hires walk through this process physically. They’ll visit, learn, and expand on each different topic, asking questions and gaining a true sense of how the business operates,” explains Eppert.
The same associative learning can be applied to education. Noda’s work with the University of Michigan’s School of Nutrition helps students figure out where their knowledge gaps are.
“It starts with a set of concepts that are unorganized, like different body systems, nutritional elements, and biological processes. Students have to associate those in a way that that maps to the actual information,” Eppert elaborates. “If you don't know how things fit together, then obviously there's some piece of information that you're missing, and you have to study that part of it more.”
Noda boasts a variety of features that make thinking out loud easy. Take speech recognition for example. “Speech-to-text makes it possible to get into a flow of creating, mapping out ideas just as fast as you can think and fast as you can speak,” says Eppert. “Connecting them together is a simple motion of pinching and dragging from one to the other.”
Integration, a bi-directional synch with Miro – a visual platform for online collaboration – means you can work simultaneously alongside people outside VR. “You can quickly move a lot of items around in the 3D space and see those reflected on the 2D Miro board,” says Eppert. “We’ve been using it in our own teams and it works great.”
Bigger meetings and smaller breakout groups can happen concurrently with spatialized audio. “This allows for different groups to work on the same mind map without colliding with each other,” Eppert explains. “Only groups close together will hear each other, which means they can work on small parts of the map at the same time.”
Combine all these with Noda AI, mixed reality capabilities and comprehensive visualization options and a fun, inclusive, and highly engaging session with your team emerges.
Mind mapping remains an art form in a world increasingly driven by data science. Eppert enthusiastically drops a few tips for making the most out of your next Noda session.
“A timeline works very well for project management because it's a structure that people can relate to, like moving along a rope or a line,” says Eppert. “Set up a timeline where periods may represent quarters, months or years and place objects around that line. And then you'll be able to kind of negotiate where those things would happen.”
As we brainstorm individually, it’s natural for our nodes to cluster around our personal space. “You won't look out very much. You'll move in a circle, and create a set of nodes all around yourself,” says Eppert. “But when you show it to someone else, you can't fit two people into that space. So you need to spread those out.”
Eppert reckons it’s less overwhelming to present complex organizational charts or mind maps in a condensed form. “If you bring a person into that space when it's all expanded, they will not know where to start or how to interpret that,” he says. “Collapse nodes into parents and present them at either one or two levels.”
Noda enables students and employees to collaborate together in an infinite 3D space, imbuing them with a shared sense of mission. It improves productivity and accountability by deepening comprehension and recall.
“When you work with someone in a spatial interface, you have a shared understanding of it, physically remembering where you were standing, where they were standing, where the content was and how it was mapped out. It creates a real kind of grounding point,” says Eppert.
Mind mapping in Noda might just be the key to unlocking your next big idea. “Just seeing your ideas in space around you allows you to relate to them in a more tangible way that will help you clarify your thinking,” says Eppert. “You may relate to this technology in a way that you didn't expect, and figure something out that you hadn't been able to before.”
Noda is a great example of how Meta Quest is revolutionizing the way businesses create and design. Learn about the full power of virtual reality on our VR design and creativity page. Helping you understand the latest tech innovations and elevating your business to new heights.