I’ve recently been doing some work with Concept Maps.
My work life is spent reading documents. Documents have, for centuries, been the way that organisations have defined and communicated things. For the most part documents have been based on a huge volume of words. For a long while now I’ve had a deep conviction that there has to be a better way when it comes to describing many things. It’s an efficiency question, it takes a long time to read words and if a picture is worth a thousand words perhaps it can also take less time than reading a thousand words.
Speaking as someone who would much rather see a diagram than read a description my investigations into better ways of communicating have gravitated towards graphical methods. For some time now the most popular posts on this site have been the ones about Rich Pictures, a tool that I use regularly. I like Rich Pictures but, like all tools, they have their place. Concept Maps are different a different tool for a different purpose.
A description from Wikipedia (which is a subset of the information from the Florida Institute of Human and Machine Cognition):
A concept map is a diagram showing the relationships among concepts. It is a graphical tool for organizing and representing knowledge.
Concepts, usually represented as boxes or circles, are connected with labeled arrows in a downward-branching hierarchical structure. The relationship between concepts can be articulated in linking phrases such as "gives rise to", "results in", "is required by," or "contributes to".
The technique for visualizing these relationships among different concepts is called "concept mapping".
Concept Maps work in a similar way to Rich Pictures in that there power is in joining together different ideas. A concept map is normally structured around a question. They are supposed to be more structured that Rich Pictures and arranged in a hierarchy flowing from top to bottom, with the important concepts being at the top. Sometimes, in defining the ideas and their connections you get to see what the important ones are.
As an example: Michael Hyatt recently wrote about planning an ideal week, that got me thinking, what would be my ideal working day (I’m not sure I’m structured enough to think about a whole week). The following concept map is my attempt to understand, for myself, what the elements of a perfect day were:
I was surprised by some of these. My working day tends to be on my own, but as I considered this question I realised how important team-work was. You’ll also notice how low down on this chart personal benefit appears, I’m not that motivated by money or individual recognition, I’d much rather be adding value. What this map has allowed me to do has been to assess my day and to make some changes that I’m unlikely to have seen if I’d tried to describe a perfect working day in a sentence. The power is in the diagram.
If you want to have a go the free cmap tool is quite straightforward.
The IHMC documentation also includes a lot of information about why mapping is so successful, but I’ll let you read the report for that, and let you decide on its validity.
I’ll leave Dilbert with the final word though in this classic:
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