A mind map can follow a tree or a starburst pattern.

A mind map can follow a tree or a starburst pattern.

Mind mapping is a technique for mapping information using color, pictures, symbols and, most importantly, a branching structure emanating from a central concept. Mind maps are built using a fairly standard set of practices.  I will walk through two of the basic patterns used to construct mind maps.

The basic process flow for all mind maps is:

  1. Draw a circle in the middle of a piece of paper and with the theme in the bubble.  The theme is generally a word or phrase that will be used to guide the building of the mind map.  For example, the central theme for this week’s essays is “mind mapping” and for last week was “Agile success factors.”
  2. Add branches beginning from central theme. Depending on the type of mind map, most are either developed down the major branches or in more of a starburst pattern, if you area using brainstorming techniques. Developing mind maps is generally an iterative process.
  3. Refine the mind map. After completing the initial mind map walk through the major and minor subdivisions (the breakdown of major to minor subdivisions gives mind maps their classic tree structure) to determine whether topics should be rearranged or whether there are gaps that need to be filled.  Refining a mind map is also typically an iterative process.

The basic process can be leveraged with minor tweaking for many different types of mind maps. Here is an example of a topic-driven mind map:

  1. Draw the topic circle in the middle of the paper. Before you commit to a topic for the mind map think carefully about where the topic might drive you.  For example, if I choose the topic of “mind maps” rather than “mind mapping” the subtle difference in wording could have cause the focus to shift from how to mind map to what is mind mapping.Untitled1
  2. Based on the central theme identify the major subdivisions or subcategories.  For example:Untitled2

In many cases the person building the mind map will have a general understanding of the major subdivisions, therefore listing the subdivisions makes sense. Where you are less sure I would let the subdivisions emerge using the starburst or shotgun method of developing a mind map (read more about that here). Regardless of technique, do not be afraid to add, change or delete subdivisions as you learn more or a better structure suggests itself.

  1. Break down the major subdivisions to the relevant level of detail.  For example:Untitled3

Brainstorming is a good process to jumpstart breaking subdivisions down. When using this process for mind mapping, I generally begin with a bit of research to prime the pump and focus, followed by brainstorming to drive out details and then more research to fill in the gaps.

Drawing a topic-driven mind is generally where new mind mappers begin. A topic-based approach provides structure to guide building a mind map. The one downside I have experienced with beginning with topic-driven mind maps is that the assumption of major subcategories can be constraining (similar to an anchor bias). Generating a mind map in a group session that includes diversity of thought is one way to avoid constraints and to leverage mind maps to help think out the linear box.