Capture, explore, gain understanding of ideas

Mind mapping?

We have two articles comparing and contrasting different mapping techniques. The first paper, here, is a Mind-Mapping Comparison, which compares the cognitive and mind mapping techniques. The second paper,”What’s in a Name?” is a comparison of the Cognitive mapping, mind mapping and concept mapping techniques.

Mind-Mapping Comparison

At first glance, the ‘cognitive mapping’ technique used by Decision Explorer® appears to be very similar to that known as ‘mind-mapping’. They are however, different in some fundamental ways.

The key to mind-mapping is that the map is a representation of information, ideas being connected to each other, which can help with retention and learning. Mind map “links” are usually passive though, not representing anything more than connectivity. The ideas in mind maps are short phrases, again designed to improve retention. Their full meaning is gained from the connections to other thoughts.

Cognitive mapping is based on a “Personal construct” theory (Kelly). This is a method of creating a model of the world, which uses concepts and links. Thoughts are held as concepts, which are short “bi-polar” phrases. The bi-polar feature is important, because it adds contextual richness to the information. For example, the word “hot” invokes different meanings in different people – the opposite may be “cold”. However, if the word “boiling” is used as the contrast, then the meaning is changed, and information accuracy improved. Concepts, as used in Decision Explorer®, are therefore entered as “hot … boiling”, unlike the simple phrases of mind-mapping.

Decision Explorer® also allows a few other varieties of concept, and you can also default a single-pole concept to be displayed as “hot … [not]hot” when that suits.

Styles are also available in Decision Explorer®. Similar to the coloured pen used by some mappers, it allows you to categorise ideas visibly. Thus you can indicate that a particular idea is a goal, or an option etc. In fact, Decision Explorer® also allows other categorisation to be stored (using a facility called ‘sets’). Styles and sets can be used for analysis.

Cognitive mapping also uses links more actively than mind mapping. Most links are directional, and are used to indicate causal relationships. Thus “clouds” may be linked to “take umbrella”, indicating that one may cause the other. Because links therefore add further contextual information, you can start to obtain reports of a complete chain of argument. Thus “salary increase” may lead to “buy new house” which may lead to “swimming pool”, and so on.

Typical Decision Explorer® models will be between 100 and 300 concepts in size. Some have gone to over 1,500. Small problems can sometimes be solved in less, but an issue of any complexity soon gathers useful information. Once a map gets above about 50 concepts, with all the appropriate links, it is practically impossible to get a sensible display in a single map. Mind mapping typically does not use multiple links between ideas. With Decision Explorer®, it is expected. To help manage such complexity, Decision Explorer® provides “views”, each of which can display a map showing a different sub-section of the whole model. A variety of mapping options are available, to allow you to show mainly incoming or outgoing links, or a wide overview.

The links also provide the scope for a deeper analysis, and Decision Explorer® provides these to help spot concepts that have particular significance. The benefits of analysis are very important – without them it is hard to manage large quantities of concepts efficiently.

For example, the Cluster Analysis is used to determine groups of concepts that are tightly linked together, and therefore typically covering a particular area of the issue. You can display each cluster individually, and print or discuss them. The Potency analysis determines how many of the goals that you want to achieve are affected by each option, and therefore shows you the best to choose. The collapse analysis allows you to ‘hide’ detail, and just see an overview. This is another tool to allow you to manage complexity, something that other simple mapping software just doesn’t have.

To summarise, the cognitive mapping technique used by Decision Explorer® is not directly comparable to mind mapping. It is designed to allow the user to explore a large quantity of ideas, and provides a wide range of tools to allow you to do so effectively. Mind maps usually run out when they get to the size of the paper – and creating multiple links soon becomes messy. Decision Explorer® allows you to manage the information, and thus continue to benefit from it.