Concept maps — the hidden gem of personal knowledge management

Rasmus Ursem
8 min readSep 8, 2022

Facilitating associative thinking based on your permanent notes

In the world of personal knowledge management (PKM), there is an intense focus on note-taking, but hardly any focus on the structural organization of notes or how they relate to each other. Some tools have features for creating structure in your notes, but most tools do a rather poor job. The aim of this article is to convince you that concept mapping is the method you, as a serious PKM enthusiast, should master to structure your second brain.

Concept maps

A concept map is a visual representation of relationships between concepts. A concept map consists of nodes and edges where the nodes summarize concepts and the edges represent the relationship between the concepts. In the simplest form, concept maps consist of noun-verb relationships as shown below. This is the essence of knowledge graphs, which is a simpler form of concept maps.

In concept maps, you can in principle put anything on the nodes and you may color and shape code the nodes, link them by any statement, make one-to-many relationships, and much more. Here is a somewhat more complex example representing a broad selection of data-oriented tasks in data science (yes, I am a data scientist).

Elaborate example of a concept map from data science (author’s creation)

As you can see by this example, concept maps are good for associative knowledge and mind walking. The little icons “vue” in the image are actually links to other concept maps. For example, I have one on so-called “Variational auto-encoders”, which is a special neural network. The example below mixes shapes, colors, images, embedded nodes, and external links. Notice the octagonal shape to the left indicated by the red arrow. I use this shape to represent my known unknowns, i.e., my knowledge horizon. Thus, I have identified “Rotationally invariant VAE” as something I should explore further when I want to expand my knowledge on variational autoencoders.

A concept map with more complex nodes (author’s creation)

In case you are a seasoned PKM enthusiast, you are probably thinking “So what, I have been using tools like The Brain since the late 1990'ties!” or “Isn’t this…

Rasmus Ursem

Computer & data scientist, writer, thinker, photographer, and generally curious about life and the wet matter between our ears — in short, I’m a poly-geek :-)