Using mind mapping to explore solutions to an operational challenge can be a rewarding experience

How to use mind mapping for idea generation

Ashley Keller
bread crumbs
4 min readMar 23, 2016


Have you ever marvelled at a great idea and wondered how someone was able to devise such a clever approach? Visual thinking methods such as mind mapping are invaluable as part of the creative process and can help you to expand upon initial concepts to arrive at unique approaches or solutions. This article will introduce this tool and explain how you can apply it to your next business problem, brainstorming session or design challenge.

The history of mind mapping

Mind maps are an idea generation strategy which have been used by early thinkers and philosophers for centuries. The earliest known use of a mind map is attributed to Porphyry of Tyros, a 3rd century greek philosopher, who graphically visualized the concept categories of Aristotles and used his mind maps as an educational tool. Other early adopters included Leonardo Da Vinci and Isaac Newton while some sources suggest that Winston Churchill, Pablo Picasso and Walt Disney utilized this technique as well.

What is a mind map?

A mind map can be described as a central idea which branches out into different themes or new ideas which then branch out further exponentially. The process of mind mapping can utilize our full range of cortical skills including generating words, drawing inspiration from images, analyzing or connecting numbers as well as applying logic in both analytical and abstract ways therefore giving us the freedom to explore a wide variety of ideas through a single medium.

Many scholars and advocates of this technique believe that mind mapping is a more natural method for visualizing thoughts since the information is structured in a way that resembles how your brain actually works.

I used to take formal notes in lines of blue, and underline the key words in red, and I realized I needed only the key words and the idea. Then to bring in connections, I drew arrows and put in images and codes. It was a picture outside my head of what was inside my head — ‘mind map’ is the language my brain spoke.

–Tony Buzan

How to mind map

The process of mind mapping involves only a few tools and can be done both digitally and manually. However, I recommend that you try this technique by hand initially to avoid the potential learning curve of a digital experience.

  1. Begin in the middle of a blank page writing a single word or drawing a simple image of the central idea from which you wish to start.
  2. Begin branching out from the central idea by developing related subtopics around it. Connect these subtopics using curved lines. Allow yourself to explore all the ideas which come to you.
  3. Repeat this process for the subtopics by generating additional images, words and numbers which you associate with them.
  4. Keep going. The real value in this process comes from exploring and developing upon your subtopics and associations. You may be surprised at where this process can lead you!

Mind mapping for idea generation

Mind mapping can be used whenever there is a need for brainstorming, analysis or strategic overview. By utilizing this process, you can take a few steps back from your initial assumptions and explore other areas of potential opportunity. The following are additional exercises you can apply when utilizing the mind mapping technique:

  • Intervals — After brainstorming your central idea and initial subtopics, set an interval timer for five minutes and use that time to completely explore one subtopic until the interval is up at which point you can switch to the next subtopic.
  • Pomodoro timeboxing — Set a timer for 25 minutes, put on some classical music or ambient noise to aid concentration and mind map until time is up.
  • Incubation and reconstruction — After an initial mind mapping session give yourself an opportunity to mentally relax such as a good night’s sleep or new activity. Afterwards, begin a fresh mind map and compare this to your initial work. You may be surprised how a mental break can bring forth fresh ideas or new directions previously unexplored.

Go forth and mind map!

I hope you found this article useful and that it may have inspired you to try out this fun and creative technique when presented with future opportunities to do so. If you are inspired to share, I would absolutely love to see your work. Share your mind maps with me on twitter by tagging me as @ashk3l.

Sharing is caring. If this article helped or intrigued you in any way I would greatly appreciate if you would please hit the ♥ below. You can also follow me here on Medium as Ashley Keller. Cheers!



Ashley Keller
bread crumbs

Design strategy, digital marketing and user research.