Structuring Complexity

Ed Hreljac is a reseller for MindGenius at Process Power. His first article was on Decision Making and he now returns with a look at Structuring Complexity.

Mind mapping is an effective way to gather information, organize it, communicate it and manage it.

Any information gathering exercise, like brainstorming for example, can present large amounts of unstructured information resulting in complexity. We face the challenge of how to organize it. The most successful method to manage complexity is hierarchical structuring.

In his book on “Hierarchal Structures” L.L. Whyte expressed his thought as follows:

“The immense scope of hierarchal classification is clear. It is the most powerful method of classification used by the human brain-mind in ordering experience, observations, entities and information… The use of hierarchal ordering must be as old as human thought, conscious and unconscious…”

Nobel laureate Herbert Simon (Economics, 1978) wrote:

“Large organizations are almost universally hierarchal in structure. That is to say, they are divided into smaller units, which are, in turn, subdivided and so on... The near universality of hierarchy in the composition of complex systems suggests that there is something fundamental in this structural principle that goes beyond the peculiarities of the human organization... Hierarchy is the adaptive form of finite intelligence to assume in the face of complexity”.

Research in cognitive psychology has repeatedly demonstrated a concept called >channel capacity which refers to the amount of space in our brain for certain kinds of information. In his famous essay, "The Magic Number Seven" renowned psychologist George Miller concluded: "There seems to be some limitation built into us either by learning or by design of our nervous systems, a limit that keeps our channel capacities in this general range". A range of 7 ± 2 is considered to be a generally acceptable limit for our human intellectual channel capacity.

Combining the principles of hierarchic composition and limited channel capacity results in a general guideline for creating mind maps. Mind maps are best constructed by organizing information, thoughts or ideas hierarchically into parent and child branches. We recommend a limit of 9 child branches below any parent branch. Limiting the child branches is not always necessary or even possible, but it is a helpful guideline.

Hierarchical structuring presents numerous advantages. Navigating the mind map becomes much easier, whether using the Map Explorer or the Focus Button (F6) in the Map Editor. When brainstorming the map with a group, individuals’ thoughts seem to be more focused and organized. When used for presentation purposes, the map is communicated more clearly and quickly. When ‘tasks’ are assigned within a map, the resulting Gantt chart is more clearly understood and more effective.

For very complex and large maps, remember to use the ‘linked maps’ feature, another form of hierarchical structuring. We find this especially helpful when different people contribute to the development of the hierarchical structure. Linked maps allow sub-maps to be changed and developed without impacting maps at higher levels of the hierarchy.

Ed Hreljac and his partners from Process Power have been using and reselling MindGenius for nine years. Find out more about Process Power at