Idea Mapping has a rich heritage in mind mapping. Mind mapping is governed by a set of strict laws — each of which have merit in certain situations. For 15 years I’ve seen professionals struggle with trying to stick to using one word per branch. Mappers were frustrated and didn’t understand the rigidness of this law. In certain circumstances they would give up on this tool over this one issue.

That’s why I use the term “Idea Mapping”. Idea maps don’t restrict you to the laws of mind maps, and there is freedom to make an informed choice knowing when (on rare occasion) it is beneficial to follow a rule. So when should you use a single word?

  1. I think the first answer is that the fewer words you can use and still remember the meaning — the better. It saves space, teaches you to trust your memory, and makes the map less cluttered. This allows you to see interconnections more clearly.
  2. Secondly, keep in mind that a single word will generate more thoughts than a phrase. A phrase will narrow subsequent associations. So if you have a very broad topic on which you need to brainstorm, single key words might be useful. But my experience has taught me that most brainstorming topics in the business world are specific and need definition, not just a key word.

So although I understand the reasoning behind using single key words, the bottom line is that idea mappers should use as many words as necessary for the purpose of their application. Don’t let some rule stand in the way of success.