Many of the problems we face in business today are quite complex. Solving them is seldom easy, because there are so many factors involved that it’s hard to understand even what the real problem is. Without a good, solid problem definition, we may find that we’re solving a tangential issue, while the core problem remains unsolved – and in many cases, unseen.
That’s where mind mapping software can help, because it acts like a prism, separating a major task or challenge into its component parts and enabling you to see the relationships between them, so you can more effectively develop creative solutions to address it.
A prism is a highly polished block of glass that splits light into all of the visible colors of the spectrum. In doing so, it reveals that visible light, which our eyes perceive as white, is actually made up of many colors. But these colors are usually invisible to the naked eye.
In much the same way, a mind map helps us to unravel the hidden complexity of our problems and challenges. It leads us to a concise, visual problem definition that puts us in an excellent position to begin brainstorming solutions to it.
As Malcolm Craig explains in his excellent book, Thinking Visually: Business Applications of 14 Core Diagrams, deconstructing your current task or challenge in this way can be quite revealing:
“(A) mind map can be used at the beginning of many tasks to help illustrate the level of complexity in the situation… and raises questions about possible causes, leading eventually to explanations. At this point the complex issue is being broken down into smaller manageable parts, and boundaries can be drawn around discrete events or problems… Sometimes when a key problem has been identified it is discovered from examination of the (mind map) diagrams that it does not stand alone: there are sub-problems that need to be addressed in order to solve the key problem… (In a map), the problems can be prioritized and various options identified for tackling each one… Diagrams help us escape from a fixed idea about the problem itself.”
Craig also points out that a mind map can be used to record ideas and potential solutions, and to prioritize them and identify those that will do the best job of solving the problem. He views diagrams like mind maps to be important catalysts in the creative problem-solving process, because they often reveal new insights and solutions.
To subdivide the components of your task or challenge, ask yourself questions that begin with the famous “5 W’s”: who, what, when, where and why. Here are some sample questions to get you started (courtesy of creativity expert Arthur van Gundy):
- Who is affected by the problem?
- What do you know about the problem? What is the principle underlying the problem? What problem elements are related to one another?
- When does the problem occur?
- Where else does the problem exist? Where is the best place to begin looking for solutions? Where does the problem ﬁt into the larger scheme of things? Where can you ﬁnd the best people to solve the problem?
- Why do you want to solve this problem? Why is the problem hard to solve?
These and other open-ended questions will help you to “split” your problem into its elements so that accurate problem definition and effective problem solving can begin.
The next time you are mapping out a business challenge in a mind map, keep in mind the metaphor of the prism. You may want to even create one main branch in your map for each of the W’s, with sub-branches for each of the related problem-solving questions.
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