Boost Your Mind Mapping


Turning thoughts into figures faces the intrinsic constraint of dimension: two dimensional representations cannot cope with complexity.

van der Straet, Jan, 1523-1605; A Natural Philosopher in His Study
Making his mind about knowledge dimensions: actual world, descriptions, and reproductions (Jan van der Straet)

So, lest they be limited to flat and shallow thinking, mind cartographers have to introduce the cognitive equivalent of geographical layers (nature, demography, communications, economy,…), and archetypes (mountains, rivers, cities, monuments, …)

Nodes: What’s The Map About

Nodes in maps (aka roots, handles, …) are meant to anchor thinking threads. Given that human thinking is based on the processing of symbolic representations, mind mapping is expected to progress wide and deep into the nature of nodes: concepts, topics, actual objects and phenomena, artifacts, partitions, or just terms.

What’s The Map About

It must be noted that these archetypes are introduced to characterize symbolic representations independently of domain semantics.

Connectors: Cognitive Primitives

Nodes in maps can then be connected as children or siblings, the implicit distinction being some kind of refinement for the former, some kind of equivalence for the latter. While such a semantic latitude is clearly a key factor of creativity, it is also behind the poor scaling of maps with complexity.

A way to frame complexity without thwarting creativity would be to define connectors with regard to cognitive primitives, independently of nodes’ semantics:

  • References connect nodes as terms.
  • Associations: connect nodes with regard to their structural, functional, or temporal proximity.
  • Analogies: connect nodes with regard to their structural or functional similarities.

At first, with shallow nodes defined as terms, connections can remain generic; then, with deeper semantic levels introduced, connectors could be refined accordingly for concepts, documentation, actual objects and phenomena, artifacts,…

Connectors are aligned with basic cognitive mechanisms of metonymy (associations) and analogy (similarities)

Semantics: Extensional vs Intensional

Given mapping primitives defined independently of domains semantics, the next step is to take into account mapping purposes:

  • Extensional semantics deal with categories of actual instances of objects or phenomena.
  • Intensional semantics deal with specifications of objects or phenomena.

That distinction can be applied to basic semantic archetypes (people, roles, events, …) and used to distinguish actual contexts, symbolic representations, and specifications, e.g:

Extensions (full border) are about categories of instances, intensions (dashed border) are about specifications
  • Car (object) refers to context, not to be confused with Car (surrogate) which specified the symbolic counterpart: the former is extensional (actual instances), the latter intensional (symbolic representations)
  • Maintenance Process is extensional (identified phenomena), Operation is intensional (specifications).
  • Reservation and Driver are symbolic representations (intensional), Person is extensional (identified instances).

It must be reminded that whereas the choice is discretionary and contingent on semantic contexts and modeling purposes (‘as-it-is’ vs ‘as-it-should-be’), consequences are not because the choice is to determine abstraction semantics.

For example, the records for cars, drivers, and reservations are deemed intensional because they are defined by business concerns. Alternatively, instances of persons and companies are defined by contexts and therefore dealt with as extensional descriptions.

Abstractions: Subsets & Sub-types

Thinking can be characterized as a balancing act between making distinctions and managing the ensuing complexity. To that end, human edge over other animal species is the use of symbolic representations for specialization and generalization.

That critical mechanism of human thinking is often overlooked by mind maps due to a confused understanding of inheritance semantics:

  • Strong inheritance deals with instances: specialization define subsets and generalization is defined by shared structures and identities.
  • Weak inheritance deals with specifications: specialization define sub-types and generalization is defined by shared features.
Inheritance semantics: shared structures (dark) vs shared features (white)

The combination of nodes (intension/extension) and inheritance (structures/features) semantics gives cartographers two hands: a free one for creative distinctions, and a safe one for the ensuing complexity. e.g:

  • Intension and weak inheritance: environments (extension) are partitioned according to regulatory constraints (intension); specialization deals with subtypes and generalization is defined by shared features.
  • Extension and strong inheritance: cars (extension) are grouped according to motorization; specialization deals with subsets and generalization is defined by shared structures and identities.
  • Intension and strong inheritance: corporate sub-type inherits the identification features of type Reservation (intension).

Mind maps built on these principles could provide a common thesaurus encompassing the whole of enterprise data, information and knowledge.

Intelligence: Data, Information, Knowledge

Considering that mind maps combine intelligence and cartography, they may have some use for enterprise architects, in particular with regard to economic intelligence, i.e the integration of information processing, from data mining to knowledge management and decision-making:

  • Data provide the raw input, without clear structures or semantics (terms or aspects).
  • Categories are used to process data into information on one hand (extensional nodes), design production systems on the other hand (intensional nodes).
  • Abstractions (concepts) makes knowledge from information by putting it to use.


Along that perspective mind maps could serve as front-ends for enterprise architecture ontologies, offering a layered cartography that could be organized according to concerns:

Enterprise architects would look at physical environments, business processes, and functional and technical systems architectures.

Using layered maps to visualize enterprise architectures

Knowledge managers would take a different perspective and organize the maps according to the nature and source of data, information, and knowledge.intelligence w

Using layered maps to build economic intelligence

As demonstrated by geographic information systems, maps built on clear semantics can be combined to serve a wide range of purposes; furthering the analogy with geolocation assistants, layered mind maps could be annotated with punctuation marks (e.g ?, !, …) in order to support problem-solving and decision-making.

Further Reading

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