Tony Buzan is a quite remarkable man, few people can lay claim to having invented anything worthwhile let alone a transformative technique he calls mind maps that can change the way we learn forever. Having invented them in the 60s, mind maps have gone from strength to strength, becoming a recognised method for memory and improved brain function.
Tony has been sharing them far and wide over the years boasting students such as the late king of pop Michael Jackson and even getting nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize along the way. With the recent release of his new book offering more insights on training the brain, The MALESTROM was lucky enough to get a first-hand lesson from the mind master himself.
The MALESTROM: What is a mind map in simplistic terms for those that may not know?
Tony Buzan: A mind map is just like that of a village or a city or town. So, when you are visiting a town or a city you need a map or a GPS and if you don’t have one you tend to get lost. You can’t find the restaurants, you don’t know the roads you don’t know how to get to where you want to go. The brain needs a map to help with its thinking.
For example, a bad way to use the brain is to have post-it notes everywhere or no colours, grey stuff, everybody gets bored and lost and they lose the process, and there’s stuff everywhere like confetti at a wedding. When we are at school we are told don’t doodle, don’t daydream, and what I want to say to all the readers is you have to learn to use your brain the right way. Why don’t we play a game, everyone can try and we can work out how to use your brain.
TM: Let’s do it.
TB: Ok. First of all, what is your prime language?
TB: Right. And what do you think my prime language might be?
TB: Yes. And what is the prime language of most of your readers?
TB: Yes. Now I’m going to be very challenging and provocative and say no, no, no. Definitely no. We’re going to play a game to find out the language and how we think and that will then lead you to why we mind map and what a mind map actually is. I want you to access a piece of data and as soon as I give it to you I want you to close your eyes and play with it.
Ok, the piece of data I want you to access is the gorilla. Close your eyes, what is your brain giving you? Any colours? Just play with it. Ok, open your eyes, tell me what your brain gave you…
TM: … Black Fur.
TB: (laughs) Great. Got it in one. And where was the black fur?
TM: On an animal.
TB: And was it in an environment?
TM: It was set against a green background.
TB: Ok, great. So, for the first time in your life, you know what your language is. So, let’s explore it. How long did it take your brain to access that?
TM: Maybe a few seconds?
TB: You got it in less than a second because you immediately responded. So, your brain gave you very quickly images and key connections. Your brain didn’t give you dictionary printouts of g-o-r-i-l-l-a, it gives you image, colour and connection. We’ve just discovered the human language.
TB: It’s always the same with men, always the same with women, whoever you are. Image, colour and association.
TM: Are we all visual learners Tony?
TB: Everybody is. Even the blind see in many different ways. I want you to think about your readers and the time they were in school. What percentage of them didn’t like doing homework and lines in one colour with no pictures?
TM: A large percentage of them.
TB: Yes. And what words would you use to describe that kind of homework?
TM: Dull, boring.
TB: You’ve hit the two main words boring and dull. And what does the brain do when things are boring and dull?
TM: It switches off?
TB: It switches off. Yes, the human language is image, colour, connection.
TM: You touched on the education system there. How would implementing different techniques in exchange for outdated ones, be transformative to education?
TB: The mind map is a network of images, colours and associations. It saves you around 90% of your note-taking time, you don’t need all the irrelevant to memory words, you only need the keywords. If you want to transform your thinking, we need to transform back to what we were when we were kids. So, the mind map changes and transforms everything. What’s the prime use of thinking tools?
TM: For coming up with ideas.
TB: Ok. What else.
TM: Creativity, a spark that makes something.
TB: And what are you going to use these tools for?
TB: Learning. Learning is key. And not only learning but learning how to learn. Most people don’t have the faintest idea how to learn.
TM: So you’re saying we’ve been learning wrong all these years…
TB: Yes. Which is why we need to transform. Transforming is a keyword. Another thinking tool is solution finding and what about the dangerous activity of enjoyment. So how can we use mind maps? If you want to start ideas then you do a mind map and zap you get it. If you want to find solutions to problems mind map it out.
TM: There’s plenty of ways they can benefit people, but can people become happier by doing them?
TB: That and even more. Mind maps reduce your stress. For example, say you’ve got a lovely project you want to do. And you know if done right it could make you money and bring you success. If you sit down with sheets of lined paper and a one colour pen within ten minutes your brain will say this is really boring. This project is going to be hard work and tedious.
Whereas when you take your coloured pens and you do your mind map and the main branches, or areas where you’ll find solutions are thought out for a project, you’ll say ‘yeah!’ And when you put down a branch, a new one generates from that one, so it grows like a flower, like a tree, it’s not just a list of stuff. So it improves your brain function totally, like memory.
The mind map is like a panacea, a cure-all, the best medicine for the brain. The education system has simply got stuck in a rut, it hasn’t changed for 100 years. Now it’s beginning to change everything as Mums and Dads are seeing their kids in classrooms being bored to death. They don’t want to go to school. Every kid wants a good leader, and the leader in school is a teacher. In terms of rank, they should be top of the tree. Who earns more a lawyer or a teacher?
TM: A lawyer.
TB: An accountant or a teacher?
TM: An accountant.
TB: A marketing manager or a teacher?
TM: A marketing manager.
TB: Yes. And you can have a long list and right near the bottom will be a teacher. And they should be at the top, that’s something we need to transform.
TM: How did you actually come up with the idea for mind maps Tony? Was there a lightbulb moment?
TB: It wasn’t a big ‘aha mind maps’, it was a series of mini ‘aha’s.’ One of the first things was I realised I didn’t like note taking, and then I thought why, why? Then I liked to doodle, they tell me not to. Why? I get bored, why do I get bored? I love nature, I love my friends I like playing. So, over the years from the time I was 7 to the time I was 27, it was step by step, by step by step. It was like going upstairs to paradise because mind maps were helping me find all the solutions.
When I began working as a journalist It took me days to write an article, somewhere between one and five days to write a 2000 word article. With a mind map, it was one to three hours max, and not only that I’ve still got it in my head. In the past, I might write an exam or whatever, get it all out and it went, I lost all of my learning.
TM: What are the misconceptions about mind maps?
TB: Some people think that a mind map is a note that is only straight lines drawn with words on it, that’s not a mind map. No colour, no image, rigid and boring. It’s like a pre-mind map. Other people think that a mind map has all the key ideas hanging off the middle circle with no lines between them, so no association, no images, not even keywords, boring.
Another misconception is that colour is an airy-fairy, non-masculine, weak thing to do. Colour is one of the most powerful tools there is. Powerful makes the brain powerful, so to be a powerful man you need to use colour. Go out and get colours, get some colourful pens, get crayons. So use colour in your notes. So all the misconceptions around the mind map is wrong thinking. Wrong thinking makes you very unsuccessful and makes you weak.
TM: Looking at other uses of mind maps, what’s another way they can be a benefit.
TB: Think of it like anything that the brain does, a mind map helps you in that area. An important one is with relationships, friendships. Many people’s best friendships fall apart. Why? Because we think in words and logic, not images and colours, emotions and feelings. So when you have problems in a relationship, mind map it.
When people have trouble with relationships they get depressed, when something has gone wrong, someone has cheated or lied, you start to think well they lied then and now I remember, they lied again. And it builds up this giant black hole of depression and all it is, is the human language, they go down in a spiral with association after negative association, becoming totally depressed.
So, you stop and you mind map on why you formed this friendship. And when you know why, you see that you’ve been in this friendship for seven years and you scan all the good things that have happened, and you think, hold on a minute this friendship had a lot of good things in it, let’s do a mind map on all the negative things. He lied here, did this here. And you’ve got two sides where you can balance that relationship, so in some ways, a mind map can be your own counsellor. A mind map helps you find yourself.
TM: Do you think your techniques work especially well for those who are dyslexic?
TB: Mind maps have totally transformed the lives of dyslexic people. The main problem they have are with words and sentences. What’s the human language?
TB: Exactly. So, they are forced into a non-language and therefore they have serious problems. And then they are given more and more words. More homework from more books because they’re dyslexic and it drives them crazy. Whereas a mind map has 90% less wasted words, so they’re ten times better off. I’ve worked with many people from the dyslexic society. There was this one lovely story about the first time a student was introduced to mind maps. I showed him how to do it. He did a mind map on himself, and when he started doing it his face lit up and he said, “that’s the way I’ve always been thinking.”
TM: How different do you think the world would be if we could all unlock the untapped potential in our brains?
TB: I think it would be the difference between heaven and hell. When seven billion brains get everything wrong they all go in the wrong direction, but when they all are aligned and work well and are successful and less stressed, the mind map reduces a lot of stress, the main cause for depression. It’s horrific how many people are depressed, they should be a lot happier.
TM: Obviously people rely so much on technology these days, has that become a problem that people aren’t using their brains like they used to with so much dependence on the likes of Google and Alexa?
TB: I agree with that 100%. People are becoming addicts, addicted to technology. I took a black cab in London, in five minutes three different people on roads where he was taking me walked across the road on their mobiles and didn’t even see the cab, one of them was very lucky not to have been killed.
He said every day he sees people on mobiles with their heads down not looking. He said that one time a lady got in the back, and she was totally addicted to her mobile. When he got her to her destination he explained he was going to swing the cab round and do a u-turn to get her to the entrance of the hotel. She, still on her mobile, didn’t hear him and literally swung open the door on the wrong side, which was immediately smashed off its hinges. The door ended up 100 yards down the road, he said, “thank god she hadn’t put her leg out or she’d have lost it.”
So, technology can be really bad, however, if it’s used well it can be good, but the brain has to manage it, and at the moment people like that are managing nothing other than their reflex response. Technology can if we’re not careful destroy the fabric of human society.
TM: You’re saying people need to be more mindful and get a balance in their life when it comes to using all this tech?
TB: Yes they do.
TM: Where do you see the future of mind maps going?
TB: If you look on the internet there are more than a billion mind maps, it’s like a really positive fire. It’s getting to the point where so many people are doing it, people of all ages. Recently someone wrote a book called Exam Warriors, years ago I coined the phrase warriors of the mind. That person who wrote the book highly recommended mind maps and I thought, ‘wow, he must have read my books.’
I was then given a copy of the book, it had lovely illustrations of the general style of my mind maps for kid’s book, and in the middle there is a draft of a mind map that says, ‘mind map and share your mind maps with other people because when you do you’ll be successful and have a smile on your face which was lovely.’ Who do you think wrote the book?
TM: Was it a former student Tony?
TB: No, that’s what’s amazing, mind maps are everywhere. They’re like these friendly animals that leap around. The man that wrote this book is Narenda Modi, the Prime Minister of India.
TB: 1.3 billion people under his country and he has said in his book listen all you people mind map, it will make you happy, successful and will leave you with a smile on your face.
TM: You must be proud of how your techniques have resonated around the globe like this?
TB: I must say I’m proud, but a bigger word is happy. When I know all these people are being told, hey guys, do use colours, do use keywords, have some fun, enjoy your life, be successful and by the way, I just happen to be the Prime Minister of India (laughs). So, I’m more happy, radiant, like a mind map.
A mind map is a thinking tool for the brain. All of us are gardens, the gardens of Eden, and the mind maps are like flowers in the garden, and they look like flowers, mind maps are flowers of intelligence. Everyone thinks men’s mind maps are different from women’s. I did an experiment with 100 people doing mind maps.
Then we put them in big stacks of A3 paper and said to the psychologists pick the ones done by men and those done by women. They couldn’t tell, they got it really wrong. A lot of the logical neater ones were drawn by women some of the pretty colourful ones were from big men, labourers, but in their minds, it was the human language.
TM: We always like to ask our interviewees for a piece of wisdom they’ve picked up over the years or a mantra they live by, can you pass some on to our readers?
TB: Yes. My own mantras are mind map, so in other words, do mind maps. Another is using your head well. Make your brain your hobby. Lastly, when you do mind maps you will be creating a giant family of mind children.
Get a copy of Tony Buzan’s new book Mind Map Mastery: The Complete Guide to Learning and Using the Most Powerful Thinking Tool in the Universe HERE.
For even more insights visit Tony’s website.
And follow him on Twitter.
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