Problem solving is one of the most important human activities. Here comes information about a powerful method for computer aided problem solving.

What are the basic ideas?

The method combines two basic building blocks:

  • problem solving tools and
  • Freeplane mind mapping software.

Problem Solving Tools

These are things like asking questions, creativity techniques like brainstorming and looking for analogies, and so on. Using the right tools is the key to successful problem solving, and we will provide a large, powerful repository.

Mind Mapping Software

Mind mapping software is very flexible when it comes to processing ideas: collect thoughts and arrange them in different structures, change between detail and overview, navigate through large amounts of information, combine words and images, allow jumps from one idea to another, add tables and lengthy text notes... Try all this with usual text processors or spreadsheets – mind mapping software simply does a better job.

Using two mind maps

  1. applet|title Tool Map: Problem Solving Tools|Tool Map: Problem Solving Tools
  2. applet|title Work Map: Problem Solving|Work Map: Problem Solving

With these ingredients, you can tackle a problem by using two mind maps: one 'tool map', prepared in advance and containing a large collection of tools, and one 'work map', where you work out a solution for a given problem. While working on the problem, you can use the tool map in different ways:

Get inspiration from the tool map. Your tool map can contain dozens and hundreds of items that support problem solving. Just by browsing through this massive repository of help, you may get new ideas.

Drag and drop elements from the tool map to your work map. This is a crucial idea. You can use prefab tools and apply them in your work map. Here are some examples:

  • Use lists of useful questions, like the well-known collection of w-questions: What? Why? Who? Where? How? When?
  • Use a step-by-step plan to tackle a problem, like Identify the problem Define alternative goals Explore possible strategies Assess and act Look back and learn. The starting letters of these stages nicely add up to the word IDEAL (authors: Bransford / Stein).

Ignore the tool map. In earnest: If there's no need for support, just go on with your work. Stifling ideas just to enforce a formal concept is arguably a bad idea. Beside this flow of ideas from the tool map to the work map, there is the opposite direction: Whenever you face an obstacle in problem solving, you can exploit this opportunity (it really is one) to develop useful new tools and add them to your collection.

What the method can do

Problem solving will always remain a challenge, and the method just outlined won't transform you instantly into the perfect problem solver. But it can lead to massive improvements:

Instead of getting lost in a maze of ideas, collect and arrange your thoughts by using prefab mind map structures.

Instead of shallow analysis (or none at all), choose from a wide range of powerful analysis tools.

Instead of merely collecting the obvious or the absurd, use much more effective creativity techniques.

Instead of being limited to a fixed set of problem solving tools, create and expand your own collection.

The method was designed from the start to be of high value and of no cost.

Step-by-step instructions:

1.Download Freeplane mind mapping software and install it on your computer.

2.Download the tool map and the work map

3.Open both maps by double-clicking on them.

4.Start working on the problem. You'll find some extra tips in the work map.

5.When necessary, get inspiration from the tool map. Again, there are lots of hints in the tool map.

6.Drag and drop tools from the tool map to the work map whenever you like. There are several ways to do this: Arrange the two Freeplane windows like tiles, or use ALT+TAB to change between the two maps – this works even while the drag and drop takes place.

7.Adapt your tool map to meet your personal needs. This is the most important step! The tool map contains several links to tool collections on the internet.

Some observations from experience

It may be a good idea to have several tool maps, for example a separate map with specialized tools for each of your main topics of interest.

Freeplane supports one-key-formatting of mind map nodes, just by pressing the function keys. This helps to hightlight the structure of the work maps.

A public library of tool maps seems a great idea.