Edge of Chaos

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Mind Maps in Cognition

There are quite many posts on visualization in our Edge of Chaos blog. While we haven’t emphasized the difference between visualizing data and visualizing information, mostly, there is still one between those two. Without delving into any greater depths of theory, one can assume that data visualization is more closely related to quantitative data. This means that figures rendered into a visually clear form make sense faster as compared to when one looks at figures only. Today I’d like to give a few examples of using visuals (namely, mind maps) as an aide in the cognitive processes of research and problem-solving; I will also share some thoughts on when mind maps work at their best to amplify cognition.

Mind maps are often used to put together concepts related to a certain problem. These visuals help to get to the core of a problem or a phenomenon that we explore. When we link concepts in a network, things seem to make more sense to us, and the process of binding those nodes somehow helps to bind pieces together in our heads. The following mind map represents a case of digging to root causes of a problem (problem-solving):

problem with speed

Another case of using a mind map visual is to make a summary of some information that one has already digested. A mind map conceptualizes this knowledge putting it into various perspectives. As learners and researchers, we often feel the need to re-arrange some previously acquired ideas based on our own thinking, to shuffle and to categorize them in some new ways. This mind map was used to write the Patterns for Information Visualization article:

information tells stories

The next example looks as a mind map on the surface,  but in essence it’s not exactly that. Technically it is a mind map, as it consists of some nodes linked together. Such a visual, however, would seem more appropriate if drawn at a group meeting with people discussing the dynamics of their team work. We can say that this visual facilitates a group discussion:

graphic facilitation

Here’s another example of a mind map that could have been used as a graphic facilitation when discussing Scrum process:

Scrum graphic facilitationIt depends a lot on the personal preferences and the context whether a mind map would help to amplify cognition. For example, the team reflection and the Scrum process visuals might work better at a group discussion or in a conversation. It’s cool when a person that runs a meeting draws such images in the process of speaking, as the others look at the funny images, share a laugh and put their cognitive abilities to a better use through this distraction. As a solo researcher, one might draw such images automatically, focusing on the problem and thinking deeper.

Summing up, mind maps work well for an advanced solo research and problem-solving as people make graphic sketches in the process of thinking. They also work well for group meetings to facilitate discussions related to some common context, in a shared space. However, mind maps do NOT work well when someone totally new to a subject area hopes to learn all and everything from a mind map sketched by someone else. Depending on how new the student is to this subject, the mind map might make no sense to them at all, or it will just give them a general idea, at best.

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