Mind maps are not just for brain dumps: mind maps can help you solve problems.
We’ve previously described mind mapping here at Thoughtwrestling; hopefully that was a good starting point and gave you some valuable insights. We’ve also given you an overview of problem solving techniques. Now we’re going to try to put the two concepts together.
We’ve come across three different methods to help you use mind maps to solve problems. They are:
- Use the mind map to do a 5 W analysis of the problem
- Force unnatural relationships and analogies between elements to get new ideas
- Look for holes or hidden linkages as a means to get better solutions
1. Use the mind map to do a 5 W analysis of the problem
Use the problem as the center of the mind map. Then use the five W’s technique with your mind map, one W for each branch of the mind map. The five Ws are:
- Why (perhaps the most important question)
By looking at each W on the mind map and extrapolating each one to lower levels of detail, possible solutions begin to emerge. The answers begin to emerge with the details of a problem.
Unpacking Who for a moment: take some time and figure out who is directly involved in a problem. Then think about who might be indirectly involved with the problem and put those names in branches in the mind map, too. Finally, think about who could help you solve the problem and put them on the mindmap as well.
It’s a great visual/thinking tool that allows you to identify the components of your problem in a clear, visual manner.
2. Force unnatural relationships and analogies between elements to get new ideas
The folks at Illumine Training have described this rather succinctly:
One of the main challenges for anyone wishing to be creative is in provoking their thinking away from existing paradigms. There are a number of ways of doing this, such as thinking of similarities to or differences from some of the more or less random words. The choice of words is arbitrary since the key here is to provoking thinking. Typical words (branches) may be: Animals, Transport, People, Textures, Shapes etc.
For example, you might try some seemingly strange ideas, like:
- How would a cat solve this problem? Think like a cat.
- How could you use a helicopter in this situation? Is there something in the attributes of a helicopter (e.g. hovering; vertical take off and landing) that you can use?
- What would Albert Einstein do in this situation?
Forced relationships and analogies don’t always make sense, but they can lead you towards other, viable solutions. Sometimes you need to look for the thing that’s different.
3. Look for holes or hidden linkages as a means to get better solutions
Look for hidden or surprising connections between things, like your mind does unconsciously when you brainstorm. The best time for you to do this is when you’ve got a basic mind map for your problem already.
In the previous method you can see what happens when you force unnatural connections between things. This time, you’re looking for relationships or commonalities that are not immediately obvious. You’re filling in knowledge gaps and building a better understanding of your problem situation.
For example, as you build a mind map you might find that someone on your team has a valuable skill or experience that could be useful on a task that you’re doing.
Or, you might discover that a software application has untapped capabilities that you could use to solve your problem.
Or maybe you’ll see that your company’s delivery trucks aren’t being used at a time when you can make use of them to perform critical deliveries to help you resolve a customer service problem.
Use the tools
Try these uses of mind maps as problem solving tools; they can help you. Also, if you have any ideas, questions or suggestions about how to use mindmapping to solve problems, please share them in the comments section below!
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