Have you tried to reach a goal or solve a problem without succeeding at your first attempt? Maybe you fixed the symptoms, not the root cause? Perhaps the problem was not well understood? Or maybe the goal was unclear?
There may be many possible explanations. For whatever reason, a Thought Map (or Mind Map if you prefer) will help you structure the way to the goal.
A Thought Map includes questions and ideas that arise when we are dealing with a challenge. By going back to the Thought Map if we fail the first time, we can look at the facts with new eyes and discover other solutions. Test out new hypotheses and repeat the process.
Structured problem solving
Though Map is a tool to structure your problem solving to reach your goal. Here's an example showing part of a Thought Map I developed to structure ideas of how to create a sustainable business:
Multiple roads lead to the goal, and the Thought Map is a roadmap, guiding you towards your goal.
Perhaps the first way you chose is a dead end? The Thought Map can help you back on track again. The key to a good Thought Map is to ask lots of questions, be open, and to see more than one possible solution.
Thought maps are visual and provide a quick overview of your project, goal and status. Different color codes can be used to seperate theories, data collection strategies and results.
A Thought Map starts with a specific goal, often associated with a problem / challenge. Then questions, hypotheses, data collection strategy, results and conclusions follow. You choose how advanced you want to create the Thought Map. Thought Maps helps you to collect ideas, thoughts, questions, and last not least: keep focus on the goal. Here are some benefits of using Thought maps:
- Continuously updated with new information and knowledge – a living document
- Shaped by the questions asked
- Exploring more than one option
- Provides structure to the project: status and work to be done
- Visual way to follow the project and being informed
- Easy to identify other alternatives if the first solution was not satisfactory
- Communication tool
This tool can be used for all kinds of goals and challenges: Choose a challenge and test!
Thought Map model
The Thought map model can be illustrated with the following figure:
A problem (or opportunity) is defined based on observations, experiences and questions. Based on our knowledge we form hypotheses (theories of the cause). It is important to be open minded and to develop alternative hypotheses!
An example to illustrate the importance of developing several hypotheses is police investigations: Developing few hypothesis (maybe only one!) can cause unresolved cases, or worst case: arresting the wrong person. If you conclude too early, you may exclude the (most) correct solution.
To test hypotheses, we need data. Data collection is performed based on your hypotheses. There are many ways to Rome, and there are several different ways to retrieve data. To make a qualified assessment, it is useful to describe the pros and cons of different data collection strategies.
The data can be analyzed using hypothesis testing to determine its probability. The conclusion can help you solve the problem, or you need to modify your hypotheses and retrieve new data. This process can be repeated several times as the figure illustrates: Problem solution is an iterative process.
Do not focus too much on making the Thought Map "correct". The most important is to ask good questions, create commitment and involvement through the problem solving process. Involve those who know the challenge well, ask questions, develop theories and use facts in problem solving. Using sticky notes and grey paper is a good way to start developing a Thought Map.