What Is a Mind Map and How Does It Work?

No matter how thoroughly you take notes, sometimes you will struggle to grasp the connections between the concepts you’re learning. Mind maps present a unique solution to this problem and offer an intuitive structure to help you learn and retain information.

In this article, we will define a mind map, walk through its main elements, and discuss its applications. Let’s get started.

Mind Map Definition

A mind map is a simple visual tool that helps organize ideas in an easily understandable, sequential structure. It can be used to capture different ideas and display their relationship while organizing them in a way that doesn’t clutter and disorient the brain.

Mind Map organization

Mind maps are used widely throughout education and business because they have proven effects on helping boost creativity and retention. Organizing ideas in a mind map rather than by hand gives your ideas an intuitive flow that helps both display their relation to one another and demonstrates their progression from the central theme you’re brainstorming around.

This intuitive structure helps make mind maps incredibly applicable, with them being used to represent tasks, high-level concepts, project planning, brainstorming, and many other activities.

Mind maps take these activities and transform them into a well-organized visual structure. What would be a tiresome list of information is now a dynamic map that can be edited, added to, and drawn from with ease. Not only can you interact with this arrangement easily, but it helps increase your understanding of the information. 

You might be wondering how exactly mind maps help increase your level of comprehension and understanding. This is a decent question, and the answer lies in the human brain’s ability to digest visual stimuli.

People are visual learners. It’s one of the main reasons we advocate for visual collaboration in the workplace, especially when working remotely or in a hybrid setting

Mind maps do a great job of taking what would be a complex and tedious list of information and quite literally create a map for it. The information being displayed is not necessarily difficult to digest, but the way it’s presented can hinder your ability to understand it.

Mind maps build a highly intuitive way of understanding information that de-clutters their relationships and offers easy pathways from beginning to end.

No matter what you’re using it for, mind maps will always offer this natural organizational structure that creates branches of rich information that you can easily understand and add to.

Now that we have a solid understanding of what mind maps are, let’s outline their general structure and how they’re presented.

Fresco Mind Map Example

How to Build a Mind Map

Mind maps are defined by their signature structure and ability to link elements together through long chains of information. Because of this, they can sometimes be referred to as spider diagrams.

Mind maps are helpful because they are very intuitive and they structure themselves to a certain extent. The first step to building a mind map is understanding the central theme you’re brainstorming.

This central idea is the topic that you’ll explore through the rest of the mind map and everything will radiate outwards from here. This can be a specific problem, a general idea, a broad concept, or simply a thought you have.

Before you begin brainstorming there’s one more step that needs to be clarified: your end goal. Mind maps are really helpful when organizing ideas and can help boost creativity, but in order to work effectively, you need an end goal in mind.

For example, if my mind map is associated with cars, there are a million different things to think about. Am I looking to buy a car? Am I thinking about cars I don’t like? Am I thinking about the parts that make up the car? Am I thinking about which cars are from different parts of the world?

There are a ton of things that I could focus on, and if I’m not ready to select one (or a few) then it will be hard to navigate the mind map effectively.

That being said, mind maps are good because they give you the ability to brainstorm many different things all at once. While it’s always important to focus on your specific goals, mind maps will allow you to branch out in a ton of different directions and get creative with your brainstorming. 

After you have your main goal located, you can begin creating branches of related information that fall under the main category.

The first branches are first-level associations, and after that are second-level associations, so on and so forth.

These associations will always be connected to the piece of information before and will get more and more specific as you move down the line.

When creating each branch of information, you will move from the highly general to the very specific, closing in on singular applications of high-level ideas. This gives you the flexibility to specify multiple different buckets of ideas, and then move forward with their unique applications within each branch.

While you need to keep the associations as vague as possible, you also need to keep them brief. Mind maps are used to summarize information and hopefully create an association that is inherent without explanation. This means that each idea should be one or two words, not a whole sentence.

Having short associations also gives more freedom for your team to interpret them in different ways, providing a little unique perspective to the brainstorming process.

When creating associations, it’s important to group them along with their similarities. For example, if we’re using a mind map for cars, the buckets “SUV” and “Minivan” should be relatively close, while the buckets for “sport” and “truck” will be completely separated from one another.

Having different lengths of lines for similar/different associations allows you to better understand the relation between them and how they interact with the main theme.

If you’re creating a mind map that has a ton of different elements, it can get kind of crazy. One way that you can differentiate these visual elements is by using colors and styles. Using different colors, lines, and text helps your brain distinguish different elements from one another and adds a unique touch for each other.

Digital teamwork

Mind Map Applications

Seeing as mind maps are great visualization tools for general use, you might struggle to apply them directly to your business. Here are some of the most popular applications for mind mapping.


Brainstorming is effectively just the process of finding new ideas based on a problem or theme, and mind maps are a simple organizational tool for just this.

Mind maps are able to create a structure that is accomodating for any potential relationships, and their simple and shared nature can help improve collaboration for your whole team. 

People may see an idea and think of a unique application of it, or it might prompt them to think of something completely unrelated that has other important applications. Simply seeing these ideas diagrammed on a shared board is huge for collaboration and helps push your brainstorming sessions to the next level.

Organized Note Taking

Sometimes when taking notes you can find yourself down complicated rabbit holes of bullet points, arrows, and unrelated jargon.

Utilizing a mind map is a great way to diagram relations between elements and create a very memorable organization that you can refer back to and grasp instantly.

Problem Solving

Sometimes all you need to solve a problem is some creative differential. Mind maps help push people to think creatively and in buckets, which helps the rest of the team organize their thoughts as well.

Teams using mind maps for problem-solving help push each other to think creatively about the overall problem they’re analyzing and think critically about the relationship between the solution and the problem. 

This is much harder to do without the visual structure provided by mind maps, making them a great tool for problem-solving.

Studying and Memorizing Information

As we previously stated, mind maps are laid out to specifically help the brain comprehend information. The sequential structure they create makes information much more digestible to people and creates an obvious relationship between the different levels of associations.

This means mind maps make the perfect structure for studying and memorizing information, whether it be in school or at work, and are literally built to improve retention.

Mind Map communication

Summarizing Relationships

Mind maps are all about relationships. This could be the relationship of the main theme to the smaller associations, or even the associations to one another.

If you’re having a hard time summarizing the relationships between multiple elements, a mind map would be the perfect tool to utilize.

Outlining Presentations or Documents

Similar to summarizing relationships, mind maps make a great organizational tool for outlining a presentation or document that you’re trying to digest.

Putting this information in an organized diagram is an effective way to document it and also create a comprehensible flow of how it operates.

Simplyfying Project Management

Project management might be a field that you think wouldn’t utilize mind mapping, but in reality, they are actually great at breaking down projects into simple tasks and organizing them into buckets.

Much of project management is organizing the project and tasking it out to your team, and there’s no easier way to create a shared project interface than building a mind map.

Mind maps allow you to create different buckets of tasks that are all structured around their priorities, and all relate to the overall shared goal. This map can be shared by multiple different teams if necessary and will help communicate ideas to all of them.

How to Collaborate on a Mind Map

If you couldn’t already tell, mind maps are a great tool to facilitate collaboration within your teams. We call this visual collaboration, which is defined as: “Visual collaboration is the practice of workplace collaboration driven by technology. It hinges on the ability for people to collaborate using visual elements as tools to expand their understanding and communicative abilities”

Mind maps represent everything good about visual collaboration and their visual approach to problem-solving and brainstorming make them an amazing tool to use with your team.

Using them with an online whiteboard like Fresco is the best way to collaborate on them in real-time and build them in collaboration with your peers. Online whiteboards allow you to prioritize, brainstorm and organize the mind map all on the same platform. The best part is after you’re done you can cement it in digital permanence.

These capabilities make mind maps a perfect tool for collaborative brainstorming and one that your team should definitely invest in.


Using a mind map is an exercise that many teams will find value in, and if you’re struggling to grasp the relationship between multiple concepts this is the perfect tool to use.

If you want to learn more creative brainstorming exercises, check out our recent guide to the VRIO Framework on the QuestionPro blog.


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