Clustering is a tool to organize, clarify, and articulate thinking about novel or unfamiliar ideas. It is used in planning and problem solving. It is also useful as a means for mapping ideas, images, and impressions about a focus topic or problem. Clustering is an uncritical activity with little structure and few rules. It stimulates creativity by causing a person to suppress "normal" information processing patterns.
How To Cluster
Pick a focus word or phrase for the activity.
Write it in the upper third of a clean sheet of paper. Plan to use about two-thirds of the sheet of paper in this process. Draw a circle around the word or phrase. This is the nucleus. All other ideas or phrases will radiate out from this center as roots and branches.
Get comfortable. (See also Relaxation Breathing.) Avoid the tendency to criticize or censor what is being written down. Trust the process.
Write down whatever words or phrases (associations) come to mind.
Connect each new thought or idea (root) to the nucleus. Related ideas are branches from the root. Use arrows to indicate direction. If a new or different line of thinking emerges, start it out from the nucleus. The goal is to capture the sequence of associations as they are being experienced.
Persist until you experience a mental shift.
The collection of phrases, circles, and linking lines will begin to come together (to focus), and a direction (meaning) will emerge. This may be experienced as an "Aha" about what the cluster means or a clear idea about intention.
Summarize your thinking.
At this point, you will have a new sense of clarity and direction. Write a whole, complete thought or statement on the subject. When you are finished, it should fully express your thinking. Choose only those parts of your cluster that fit, relate, and seem to make sense. You are not required to use all of your material. Don't force it. Use the best; ignore the rest.
Give the process closure.
Refer to your initial focus. Repeat a word, phrase, dominant thought, or emotion used initially. Revise and refine your summary statement. State your conclusion out loud; pay attention to the reactions you and others have.
Source: Rico, Gabriele Lusser. Writing the Natural Way: Using Right Brain Techniques to Release Your Expressive Power. Los Angles J. P. Tarcher, 1983.