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The short version of this question is why are mind maps touted as so great (sometimes pitched as the end-all of diagrams) given their limits to expressiveness?

This question is NOT meant to be a critique of Mind Maps.

I do know that mind maps are good for expressing hierarchical information but so often they are discussed as if all information is hierarchical. Furthermore it often claimed that information as a radial hierarchy will enable you to grasp, understand, conceptualize the information in some "better" way than what would otherwise be possible. They are talked about as a superior way to capture the details of a discussion or meeting as if discussions always yield inherently hierarchical information. Occasionally they are discussed in terms of how they represent the way the brain actually works.

In my information world separate branches merge, or I want to describe a process or procedure that loops (more like a flow chart) or emphasize relationships among nodes (like a concept map) and detail a sequence of parallel events (like a UML sequence diagram) and so forth.

No, I am not complaining that Mind Maps don't express all of these types of information and YES, I do realize that I am free to use multiple diagrams to cover the different aspects of a bit of knowledge.

But here I am asking -- why do mind maps get so much praise as diagram given the single dimension they deal with?

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I don't believe your experience mirrors my own when it comes to mind-maps; so, I'm not sure this question actually has an answer. Mind maps are brainstorming tools - not diagramming tools - at least in my circles. If, however, someone is only familiar with those types of diagrams, it may just be easier for them. I've never encountered an individual or group appearing to make claims that mind-maps should be used for something other than brainstorming. Can you point to a reference? –  Josh Bruce Sep 23 '13 at 18:12
Also, I'm not sure I've seen much hype around them lately, whereas there was a lot around 2007-2008. They don't really show up on my radar that often any more. That they are "touted as great" and "hype" don't seem to be synonyms to me. –  haylem Sep 23 '13 at 19:32
@JoshBruce - I don't have a reference handy but with respect to their use for things other than brainstorming I had a professor who taught a class with slides which were mind maps of the material. Here, in some other post, someone recommends that they are a way to outline one's technical reading. Anyway. after that professor talked up mind maps I looked into them and perhaps it was even Tony B's web site that mentioned that they could be used for everything. And "somewhere" around here I have a copy of an article from a magazine that made various near-magical claims about them. –  Arbalest Sep 24 '13 at 0:23
@haylem - good call as last time I looked at them and tried to use them was, in fact, 2007. At that time I and some associates tried to encapsulate a particular body of knowledge and ran into problems. My impressions about hype are based on reading from around that time. Since I have started looking at this site I am again reminded at how many different tasks they suggested for. I know that does not imply that they are all appropriate suggestions. –  Arbalest Sep 24 '13 at 0:35
Granted, Tony B is marketing something but here is a quote from his site that reminds be of what I encountered years ago: A Mind Map is a powerful graphic technique which provides a universal key to unlock the potential of the brain. It harnesses the full range of cortical skills – word, image, number, logic, rhythm, colour and spatial awareness – in a single, uniquely powerful manner. In so doing, it gives you the freedom to roam the infinite expanses of your brain. The Mind Map can be applied to every aspect of life where improved learning and clearer thinking will enhance human performance. –  Arbalest Sep 24 '13 at 0:50

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I think that you have misunderstood the main use of mind maps - probably because so many people misuse them.

Originally, a mind map was a tool an individual (or small team) could use to list ideas created in a brainstorming session, along with the links to the topics those ideas were created from or fit best with.

This can be very important in a free-form creation process - the non-judgemental phase. prior to then sorting through them to see which should remain, which should be developed, which should be dropped etc.

Now, you can use them to deliver content. Some types of content lend themselves very well to a mind mapping approach, and in fact the Prezi tool lets you structure entire presentations based on mind maps, but this is not what mind maps were created for.

As regards your query about hype - there was a lot in the late nineties and early noughties, but it has stabilised now. Brainstorming workshops are the main area where you will still hear the concept actively used.

I, myself, am a huge proponent of mind maps as a tool, but only where appropriate.

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Thanks. That answers the question. –  Arbalest Sep 24 '13 at 13:47
"I, myself, am a huge proponent of mind maps as a tool, but only where appropriate." - That's exactly right. People see a tool that is good for something and use it for everything! –  RossC Sep 25 '13 at 9:55

I think the reason for the enthusiasm around the topic , is that many people find that it makes them hugely more productive

  • either by way of getting better answers when used for problem solving

or simply because it allows you to reach a given outcome much more rapidly.

I write reports regularly for my work and find that I can produce a better (clearer) report - and way more quickly - if I start with a mind map before writing any words.

I also find that some clients can understand things from a mind map that they would never perceive from a written report (possibly because they are not motivated to read the report!) but also because 'a picture paints a thousand words' as they say.

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