Tool Mapping: The Basic Idea

Tool Mapping is a simple yet powerful problem solving technique.
It combines mind mapping and problem solving tools.

Why Mind Mapping?

Taking notes during problem solving is a good idea in general, no matter whether you work alone, with a partner or in a group.

Here are some major advantages:
Taking notes focuses attention, forces you to clarify your thoughts, helps your memory and documents your work.
And among the different forms of note taking, mind mapping stands out as simple, powerful and versatile.
You find more information on mind mapping here.

What are Problem Solving Tools?

To make things easy, we will call anything a "problem solving tool" that may help you to solve a problem.
In this broad concept, problem solving tools range from advanced creativity techniques to Granny's advice to sleep over it.

How to Combine Mind Mapping and Problem Solving Tools?

The basic idea is the parallel use of a "problem map" and a "tool map".

Tool Maps

We will now explore some ideas around tool maps.

What can a Tool Map do for you?

Here are some ideas:

It is not recommended however to stick to the tool maps all the time.

How to Organize a Tool Map

You may organize a tool map as follows:

(These stages come from George Polya's classic "How to Solve It")
(This diagnosis of poor thinking comes from David N. Perkins' book "Outsmarting IQ")

Collections of Problem Solving Tools

Collections of problem solving tools can for example be found at

If I had to name the single tool I find most useful, it would be without doubt something I call "cp", which stands for "central problem". Whenever I get stuck, I use this abbreviation in the problem map and then I figure out where the main difficulty lies, often using "cp" several times.

Problem Maps

Here are some ideas on how to use problem maps.

How to Organize a Problem Map

One powerful way to organize a problem map is to use one main branch for each problem solving stage. (For more details on problem solving stages, compare the paragraph below, "Mind Maps as Problem Solving Templates".)

Mind Maps as Problem Solving Templates

The following mind map template is an easy yet powerful way to organize almost any problem solving process.

Just make the letters I - D - E - A - L the main branches of your problem map and interpret them as follows:

(this problem solving approach comes from John D. Bransford, Barry S. Stein: The IDEAL Problem Solver; Freeman 1993).


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