Idea Map

Skill level: Basic/intermediate


An idea map, also called a mind map, is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. Idea maps are used to generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas and aid in studying and organizing information, solving problems, making decisions, and writing.

The elements of a given idea map are arranged intuitively according to the importance of the concepts and are classified into groupings, branches, or areas, with the goal of representing semantic or other connections between portions of information. Idea maps may also aid recall of existing memories.

By presenting ideas in a radial, graphical, non-linear manner, idea maps encourage a brainstorming approach to planning and organizational tasks. Though the branches of an idea map represent hierarchical tree structures, their radial arrangement disrupts the prioritizing of concepts typically associated with hierarchies presented with more linear visual cues. This orientation towards brainstorming encourages users to enumerate and connect concepts while avoiding the tendency to begin within a particular conceptual framework.


  • Easy to use and to understand
  • Very intuitive and works well with office or transactional processes
  • Does not require special knowledge to perform the task
  • Specialized applications are available for creating a digital format
  • Good problem solving technique

How to Use

  • Step 1.  Clearly define the issue or objective of the problem.
  • Step 2.  Gather a team who has knowledge and expertise of the process to be mapped.
  • Step 3.  Start at the center with an image of the topic or a key word.
  • Step 4.  Discuss and brainstorm main topics that are related to the center theme and add them around the central idea.
  • Step 5.  Connect subtopics to the main topic with arrows.
  • Step 6.  Add branches for each topic describing potential causes. Use thick lines to represent main branches and thinner lines for outer branches to illustrate the weight that main topics have over the central topic.

Relevant Definitions

Brainstorming: A group activity used to generate ideas.


A small printing company specializing in custom design brochures is experiencing growth and now has difficulties delivering orders in a timely and consistent manner. Lead times are increasing and deliveries are creating backorders for many reasons. Before the situation with the company’s current customer base deteriorates too much, the production manager decides to use an idea map (mind mapping) to understand the issues and learn what can be done to improve response time.

The idea map below visually highlights the issues the company can tackle that are mostly impacting the lead time: too much back and forth between the sales department and clients, unclear information and specifications, and demands for non-stock color (ink shortages).



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