The Mind Mapping technique was created to be an effective way to produce ideas by association. It transforms a huge list of dull or tedious information into a highly organized, colorful and memorable pictorial representation that is in agreement with the brain’s normal manner of doing things. With respect to creative problem solving, mind maps help to show how different pieces of information or different ideas are connected.

Techniques for Idea Generation: Mind Maps

© | Petr Vaclavek

From this article, you’ll learn 1) definition of mind mapping, 2) how did this ideation technique originate? 3) essential features of a mind map, 4) how to build your own mind map, 5) applications of mind maps, 6) advantages of using mind maps, and 7) short note on mind mapping tools.


A mind map is a graphical representation utilized to visually organize information. The process of mind mapping involves penning a central theme and coming up with new and associated ideas that branch out from the central idea. The central single idea is frequently in the format of an image drawn in the middle of a blank landscape page to which connected representations of ideas such as words, images, facts, figures, concepts or parts of words are added as they are thought up. Mind mapping utilizes the concept of “radiant thinking.” This means thoughts radiate (branch out) in different directions from a single idea. The branches may move forwards and backwards to and from the main (central) idea. This is in contrast to “linear thinking” which is a thought process following a step-by-step flow or known cycles where it is necessary to get the response to one step before moving to the next step.

As is the case with other mapping techniques, the objective of mind mapping is to concentrate attention and to acquire and frame knowledge to enable the sharing of concepts and ideas.


Tony Buzan is the name frequently used in connection with mind mapping. It is true that he popularized the term “mind map.” However, the utilization of diagrams that graphically “map” information using radial maps and branching, dates back centuries. Similar strategies were utilized in the 3rd century by Porphyry of Tyros to conceptualize Aristotle’s ideas.

The semantic network was created in the late 1950s as a hypothesis to comprehend human learning that was further revised by M. Ross Quillian and Allan M. Collins at some point in the early 1960s. The radial structure of mind maps is similar to that of concept maps, created in the 1970s by learning specialists. However, the difference is that the former are made easier by concentrating around a central, single key concept.

Tony Buzan’s argument is that ‘traditional’ outlines call for the reader to scan information in a left to right, top to bottom manner that is in contrast to the brain’s natural propensity to scan the whole page in a non-linear manner. Buzan additionally utilizes widespread suppositions pertaining to the cerebral hemispheres so as to encourage the exclusive utilization of mind mapping in preference to other kinds of note making.


Given below are five key characteristics of a mind map:

  • There is a single key idea, focus, subject or concept graphically represented in the form of a central image.
  • The key themes associated with the idea, focus, subject or concept radiate from the central picture as branches.
  • Each branch carries a key word or image printed or drawn on the associated line.
  • Other branches, shown as twigs are connected to the main branches. The twigs represent concepts of lesser importance.
  • The branches create a linked nodal structure.


If you are using a mind map to get employees in your business to come up with ideas/solutions, you may give them instructions as follows:

Prerequisite: Keep blank paper and colored pens ready. If A4 paper seems inadequate, you can consider A3 paper.

Step 1: Start with the topic

Put the topic, central concept or idea in image form, in the center of an empty page. Space on the page should be used wisely and yet freely so that the brain doesn’t feel unbridled, and there is space to occupy more and more ideas as they come. Beginning in the center provides the brain with freedom to move in all directions and reveal ideas/solutions more naturally and freely. It may be more convenient to position the page in landscape orientation because that makes drawing easier.

Step 2: Define the structure

Create the fundamental structure with which you would be organizing your ideas. The structure would include branches radiating out from the central idea and drawn as thick lines. These main branches are termed as Basic Organizing Ideas (BOIs).

Step 3: Define each branch

Put down a key image or word for each branch as your ideas come. Allow the ideas to flow freely and quickly (long pauses are not to be encouraged) without judgment on whether they are practical or crazy. Also no need to bother about aesthetics. Draw freely and unconcernedly.

Step 4: Highlight the priorities

The concepts of lesser importance can be represented as the twigs and drawn as thinner lines.

Step 5: Extend your mind map by additional ideas

As information and ideas keep coming, connect them to the mind map in a suitable manner.

Step 6: Review and revise

After the first attempt, allow your mind to settle. Once it has, you may want to revisit what you did. Review it and revise and/or reorder it. Sometimes, a different sheet of paper may be required for this.

How about two mind maps?

Another way to mind map and this is for problem-solving, is to create two different mind maps, one each for the problem and solutions. For the problem mind map, the problem would be the main idea represented in the center with causes and aspects of the problem connected by branches. Sub-branches can be used to examine the problem in more detail. For the solution mind map, the solution would be the key idea represented in the center. By way of the main branches, one can provide the routes that would help to solve the problem. One can incorporate organizations, colleagues, resources or techniques that would be of assistance and associated with those routes. Sub-branches can be added as one venture into the details.

Drawing two mind maps makes one realize that a single obstacle could have multiple potential solutions. It is up to the person drawing the mind map and others concerned to find that solution(s) which is most practical, cost-effective and/or time-saving. A final branch may be developed with the selected solution or blend of solutions, with the sub-branches connecting to and from the details of intended method(s) of implementation.

A properly done mind map is very easy to review as it is possible to frequently refresh information mentally just by a cursory glance. The mind map would depict the “shape” of the topic, the comparative significance of individual branches/twigs, and the manner in which facts are connected to one another. Remembering the structure and shape of the mind map can provide cues that would help to recollect the information within the map.


  • Use colors for the whole project. Colors give the mind map extra vitality and arouse the brain’s creative and visual faculties.
  • Stick to single words or brief meaningful phrases for key words. Too many words would only cause cluttering.
  • Similar information, if any, can be clustered together.
  • Capital letters are to be preferred to small caps.
  • It would be a good idea to make the branches curved instead of straight. Only straight lines in the map may come across as boring to the brain.
  • Use as many images as possible. Besides being easy to remember, a picture is worth a thousand words.
  • Use arrows to show connections between ideas.
  • If the person wishes and if required, he can annotate the mind map. An example would be providing references to other sources, making them identifiable by writing them down in a different color of pen.
  • One should feel free to adopt a personal style as this would boost the creative fire.
  • Information in one section of the mind map may have some connection to another section. If this is the case, the person can draw lines to depict the cross-linkages. This would assist with comprehending how one aspect of the subject impacts another. It is also acceptable to use other visuals such as callouts or speech bubbles to depict the link to the key/central idea or theme.
  • The person should stay calm throughout the mind mapping process. This suggestion may not be suitable for an office environment but is good for mind mapping at home. To do so, the person should distance himself from the topic to work on, by taking brief breaks and then coming back to it clearheaded and fresh. A short walk could help. By providing the brain with rest, one will find that it becomes more forthcoming with ideas.


As is the case with other diagramming tools, this idea generation technique may be utilized to generalize, structure, visualize and classify ideas. It also helps with triggering creativity and creative solutions, organizing information, making decisions and solving problems. Mind mapping is also used for brainstorming. Here, ideas are introduced into the map in a radial manner surrounding the central node, bereft of the implicit prioritization associated with sequential or hierarchy arrangements, and in which grouping and organizing is kept for later stages.

Data collected from mind maps may be utilized to enhance various other applications, examples being search engines and specialist search systems. To achieve this, the mind map may be examined with traditional techniques of information recovery to classify the author of the mind map or documents that are connected from inside the mind map.

Other applications include:

  • Making notes, whether for presentations or essays, from lectures or from secondary sources such as books;
  • Studying and remembering information (it has been propounded that mind mapping can enhance study/learning effectiveness by 15 percent more than traditional note-taking;
  • Displaying information in a layout that depicts the structure of a subject taken as a whole;
  • Simplifying a complicated idea;
  • As a mnemonic;
  • To team up in sessions of color pen creativity.


Mind maps help the user utilize the complete power of the brain, both the left which is more associated with logical and analytical thinking, and the right which is utilized for day dreaming, spatial awareness, color, imagination and a feeling of wholeness. This idea generation technique has several advantages including that it:

  • Spurs one on to view the bigger picture;
  • Requires less time to develop;
  • Consumes less space than notes that are chronologically arranged;
  • Allows large topics or projects to be broken down into manageable chunks and this broken-down form, therefore, facilitates effective planning and minimizes chances of forgetting key points and being overwhelmed;
  • Increases concentration;
  • Helps trigger more associations and ideas by applying radial thinking;
  • Provides pleasure to the eyes (once completed, the mind map appears like a mini work of art to those who behold it).


Though in many cases, it is suitable to draw mind maps using the hand, software applications and tools can broaden the scope of mind-mapping by permitting those engaged in the process to map more than ideas and thoughts using information on the internet and computers, such as documents, spreadsheets, images and internet sites. A few of these tools are discussed below:

  • iMindMap: This concept mapping software utilizes Tony Buzan’s trademark mind mapping techniques to develop maps for project management, brainstorming, creative thinking, organizing, and planning and delivery of presentations. ThinkBuzan developed the desktop application. The tool runs on Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows. iMindMap has focus applications, examples of which are Expand and Collapse Branches and Focus In and Out which can assist with moving around the problem and making the mind concentrate.
  • Coggle: This is a freeware web application for mind mapping. Some of its prominent features are real-time collaboration, markdown text formatting, iOS support, sharing with individuals, organizations or through a private link, and LaTeX math support utilizing MathJax. Auto-save and revision features mean it is possible to view how the mind map looked prior to someone who was invited beginning to work with it. The software enables creation of linear and organic mind maps utilizing a keyboard, mouse, tablet computer or interactive keyboard.
  • XMind: Created by XMind Lt.d, XMind software helps with both mind mapping and brainstorming. Apart from the management elements, the tool can clarify thinking, capture ideas, promote team collaboration and handle complicated information for greater productivity. In addition to mind maps, it supports spread sheets, fishbone diagrams, organization charts and tree diagrams.
  • Miro Online Whiteboard: Miro is a fast, free, and simple-to-use online whiteboard built to help you collaborate with others. One of the biggest advantages of Miro is the big database of pre-built templates. You can kick off a project fast by using templates for business models canvases, user story maps and of course mind maps.

Mind maps are currently utilized by many millions of people across the globe. It appears that this idea generation technique will increase in popularity and continue to be used for many, many years to come.

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