Mind Mapping is a very powerful tool when it comes to solving problems. In this article we will see how to take a structured approach to problem solving which will allow you to generate more ideas and better solutions. I’ll tell you about the four step method of problem solving, and you’ll get a feel for how this can work for you.
Define the Problem
The first and most important step of all is defining what the problem is. Now this may seem pretty obvious, but actually a thorough examination of what the problem is can lead to a redefinition of the problem, or turning a huge problem into something manageable, and helps get you in the right frame of mind to solve problems that initially seem overwhelming.
So the goals here are to have a narrowly defined problem that we are sure is not multiple problems, but a single well defined problem. We need to be sure that it really is the problem, and that the problem is not obscured by emotion, opinion, hidden or open agendas or anything else. It is also important to understand why it’s important to solve the problem, because this will give you the impetus to actually follow through with the process.
The first four ways we examine the problem are based on what are known as the cartesian quadrants, based on the work of René Descartes, and the concept was originally applied to proving a theorem – if you could prove it by examining it from all of these perspectives, it was taken to be proven true. However, we are using it in a slightly different way here, because we are using it to examine the problem it from all four of these perspectives, which will eliminate everything that is not the problem, and we will have a clear and concise grasp of what the problem really is (or at least what we believe it to be).
Don’t be surprised if viewing the problem from these four perspectives completely changes the problem you are solving, or even proves that it wasn’t a problem in the first place. Often our original idea of what the problem is, is actually symptoms of the problem, and this method allows you to break through to the core problem.
Asking these questions helps you define the boundaries of the problem, the environment of the problem, what has been done about it before it, what could have been done but hasn’t, and how others see the problem. Also very importantly, it defines why it is important to solve the problem and what constitutes an acceptable solution.
As you go through the definition of the problem, you add topics to your mind map, narrowing down the definition to the core issue, but also generate some strong starting points for brainstorming solutions.
Also, while we have been talking about this in terms of problems, I prefer to use the word Challenge, because our thinking about problems are often ones of fear and dread of these heavy things that weigh us down and hold us back, whereas challenges are things that we step up to and overcome, and feel positive about our progress. Also, this methodology doesn’t need to be about solving problems - you can use exactly the same method for identifying and going after new opportunities.
The four step method of solving the problem.
Get the facts
We have already included some facts in our problem definition, but here we examine more of the detail of the problem and the environment that the problem is in.
When you review the record, make sure you separate hard facts from opinions.
- when the problem started,
- any identifiable causes,
- any deadlines,
- any environmental factors to consider
When you are looking at the rules and customs, question what really are rules (like laws that you must abide by) and what is flexible. Ask why the customs are there and whether they are still relevant now.
When you are talking to people, put yourself in their shoes and try to see it from their perspective. Listen to what they are saying also from a devils advocate role, questioning to yourself what is fact and what is opinion. Make sure you take people’s feelings into consideration because in many cases the feelings are more important than the facts.
Now you go on to brainstorming ideas and solutions. This is covered in detail in a separate tutorial, but here are a few tips to use for the moment.
Brainstorming is designed to be free from judgment, and the idea is to get as many ideas out there as quickly as possible. The concept is that quantity yields quality, and the more ideas generated, the more solutions you will find. This is the opposite of linear thinking, where you arrive at one solution and then stop thinking.
With brainstorming, you want to generate as many ideas as possible just throwing them out there and recording just the keywords on your mind map so you can keep up. To get things started, you have probably generated some ideas or categories of ideas just from the problem definition exercise. Add those categories to your Mind Map, and then add sub-topics for specific ideas. Think from the perspective of no resource constraints – assume you have infinite money, staff, time and expertise available at your disposal. You can pull it back to reality later.
If the ideas come too fast to organize them as you go, just get them down there and organize them later.
Weigh and Decide
During the brainstorming, you were not judging anything. Ridiculous ideas were recorded along with sensible ones without judgment. Now it’s time to organize the information on your Mind Map into different categories, where you have a topic for each category, and the proposed solutions and ideas as sub-topics.
Remember that there are always multiple solutions to problems.
So check what is going to be feasible, what fits with practices and policies, or where changing those practices and policies would be a better solution. Make sure you take into consideration the effects of your proposed solution on everyone involved, and whether the idea really does constitute a solution to the problem. If a solutions looks ridiculous, ask how you could accomplish the same thing in a different way, or which parts of that idea can we actually use.
Make sure the solutions fit with the facts of the situation, and judge the impact on both the problem and anyone and everyone affected. Every potential solution will have pros and cons – make sure you think about that as you make your decision as to which of the proposed solutions to follow first. Make sure the cost and time to solve the problem is worth it. Which solutions are you best equipped to implement? What are the short term and long term benefits of each solution? How do the solutions fit with your time and resource constraints?
Record further details under the preferred options on your Mind Map, such as time frames and the steps involved in achieving the desired outcomes.
Make sure you define who is going to be carrying out the action, and whether they need help as well as who needs to be informed about it. Make sure that everything is carried out on time and to schedule.
It is critical that you check the results. Make sure your action achieved the desired results and that any side effects have been dealt with. Keep an eye on how people react to your solution. Schedule your follow-ups so that you are on top of the implementation of the solution at appropriate intervals.
So that has given you the tools you need to define the problem or challenge, and find an implement solutions, and because it’s all done in Mind Map format, you can easily communicate your chosen resolution to other people.
I wish you all the best with using NovaMind to solve all your problems and generate new ideas and solutions.