Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping is a way of linking key concepts using images, lines, and links. A central concept is linked via lines to other concepts which in turn are linked with other associated ideas. It is similar to a technique for concept mapping and spider diagrams, the difference being that true mind mapping involves constructing a hierarchy of ideas instead of pure random association. Mind mapping uses the concept of "radiant thinking" – that is, thoughts radiate out from a single idea, often expressed as an image. Branches flow backward and forwards from and to the central idea.[1]

Mind Map
source: Emerald Group

A Mind Map is a visual thinking tool, ideal for brainstorming, exploring ideas, and presenting information in a uniquely visual way. Mind maps can be an invaluable tool in the creative thinking process. As a visual representation of our thoughts, it makes sense to use mind mapping within our everyday working life as a way of exploring our ideas and even managing our work and tasks. Mind Mapping is a concept that has been around for decades and is often associated with traditional methods of note-taking and idea generation. With the advancements in technology over the years, the possibilities to expand our thinking power and manage our work more effectively are growing continuously. Amongst all of these technological advancements, mind mapping has stood the test of time. mind mapping in the modern age is all about taking this traditional method of idea generation and integrating it with the tools we use every day to make generating creative and innovative ideas a seamless part of our everyday life.[2]

Origins of Mind Mapping[3]

Although the term "mind map" was first popularized by British popular psychology author and television personality Tony Buzan, the use of diagrams that visually "map" information using branching and radial maps traces back centuries. These pictorial methods record knowledge and model systems and have a long history in learning, brainstorming, memory, visual thinking, and problem-solving by educators, engineers, psychologists, and others. Some of the earliest examples of such graphical records were developed by Porphyry of Tyros, a noted thinker of the 3rd century, as he graphically visualized the concept categories of Aristotle. Philosopher Ramon Llull (1235–1315) also used such techniques.

The semantic network was developed in the late 1950s as a theory to understand human learning and was developed further by Allan M. Collins and M. Ross Quillian during the early 1960s. Mind maps are similar in structure to concept maps, developed by learning experts in the 1970s, but differ in that mind maps are simplified by focusing on a single central key concept.

Buzan's specific approach, and the introduction of the term "mind map", arose during a 1974 BBC TV series he hosted, called Use Your Head. In this show, and companion book series, Buzan promoted his conception of a radial tree, diagramming keywords in a colorful, radiant, tree-like structure.

Buzan says the idea was inspired by Alfred Korzybski's general semantics as popularized in science fiction novels, such as those of Robert A. Heinlein and A. E. van Vogt. He argues that while "traditional" outlines force readers to scan left to right and top to bottom, readers actually tend to scan the entire page in a non-linear fashion. Buzan's treatment also uses then-popular assumptions about the functions of cerebral hemispheres in order to explain the claimed increased effectiveness of mind mapping over other forms of note-making.

Importance of Mind Mapping[4]

Mind Mapping is a practical tool that enhances your creative thinking and enables you to become more productive and efficient. Mind mapping increases your creativity and productivity because it’s an excellent tool to let you generate more ideas, identify relationships among the different data and information, and effectively improve your memory and retention.

Making a mind map is an excellent way for you to be able to sort through your thoughts and ideas. This activity allows you to quickly generate creative and even unique ideas in less time. It gives you the freedom you need when brainstorming so that the flow of ideas is not blocked or hampered as linear thinking does.

This method is a great way for you to categorize and organize the ideas you brainstormed and identify their relationships. By using a single page or space you can already place a huge amount of information and check its connections. Making connections is easier to do because you have all the information about a particular topic in a single glance. It can even help you discover new relationships among seemingly unrelated ideas and information.

The use of colors, images, and keywords in mind mapping aid in enhancing your memory and retention. Isn’t it easier to remember information this way rather than reading long sentences? The use of colors, images, and keywords also helps make learning more interesting and fun so you become more motivated to remember important details.

Using Mind Maps Effectively[5]

Once you understand how to take notes in the Mind Map format, you can develop your own conventions for taking them further. The following suggestions can help you to get the most from your Mind Maps:

  • Use Single Words or Uncomplicated Phrases – Keep things simple. In Mind Maps, single strong words and short, meaningful phrases can convey the same meaning more potently. Excess words just clutter a Mind Map.
  • Print Words – They will be easier to read than joined-up or indistinct writing.
  • Use Color to Separate Different Ideas – Color can help to show the organization of the subject. It can also make your Mind Map a more appealing document, and help you to visualize the different sections of your Mind Map for future recall.
  • Use Symbols and Images – Pictures can help you to remember information more effectively than words, so use symbols or pictures that mean something to you, use it. (You can use photo libraries like iStock to source images inexpensively.)
  • Using Cross-Linkages – Information in one part of a Mind Map may relate to another part, so draw lines to show these cross-linkages. This will help you to see how one part of the subject affects another.

How to Draw a Mind Map[6]

Drawing a mind map is as simple as 1-2-3:

  • Start in the middle of a blank page, writing or drawing the idea you intend to develop.
  • Develop the related subtopics around this central topic, connecting each of them to the center with a line.
  • Repeat the same process for the subtopics, generating lower-level subtopics as you see fit, and connecting each of those to the corresponding subtopic.

Some more recommendations:

  • Use colors, drawings, and symbols copiously. Be as visual as possible.
  • Keep the topic labels as short as possible, keeping them to a single word – or only a picture. Mind maps are much more effective that way.
  • Vary text size, color, and alignment. Vary the thickness and length of the lines. Provide as many visual cues as you can to emphasize important points. Every little bit helps engage the brain.

Types of Mind Maps[7]

Mind maps are graphical representations of information. In contrast to the traditional, linear notes you might make in a text document or even on paper, mind maps let you capture thoughts, ideas, and keywords on a blank canvas. These ideas are organized in a two-dimensional structure, with the title/main idea always located in the center of the map for visibility. Related ideas branch off from the center in all directions, creating a radiant structure. Despite these key principles, the fact that mind mapping has existed for almost half a century makes it inevitable that some divergence will exist when it comes to defining what a mind map actually is. Let’s look at the two key schools of thought.

The Buzan Method
In its purest form, mind mapping is a particular technique that requires the following key elements to be effective:

  • A central image, to stimulate memory, associations, and thought processes
  • Curvilinear branches, emanating from the central image, to depict the basic ordering ideas (BOIs)
  • A (theoretically infinite) network of smaller branches to depict ideas stemming from the BOIs at different levels of detail
  • Conscious use of color to separate ideas by topic
  • A single keyword for each branch

The rules behind Buzan's mind-mapping technique were developed following extensive studies in the fields of neuroscience and psychology. Many purists argue to this day that his method remains the one true technique: a map without the elements above cannot be considered a “true” mind map. Importantly, however, Buzan mentions that he uses his own learning experiences to ultimately gauge what is effective and what is not, which is why his method has been subtly adapted over time by like-minded enthusiasts. Below is an example of a Tony Buzan Profile Mind Map.

Tony Buzan Profile Mind Map.png
source: Mindwerx

Spider and Bubble Maps
Although the term is inextricably linked to Buzan, the modern definition of mind mapping is slightly broader and generally encompasses spider maps and bubble maps as well. These similar concepts are less rigidly defined variations of the Buzan method above, differing in several key aspects.

  • Both spider/bubble maps and “Buzan” mind maps start from a single central topic or two topics in “double bubble” maps. However, how the surrounding topics are presented is the crucial point of difference.
  • Rather than labeling the branches, spider/bubble diagrams use lines to connect ideas, displayed as “bubbles” around the central theme. These topics may also be further dissected into subtopics to provide detail and depth.
  • A key advantage of spider/bubble maps is that they provide mappers with the opportunity to link themes “cross-topic” rather than solely from the preceding branch. This fosters an overarching structure within the map and can show links between related subjects.

Spider and Bubble Map
source: Mind Meister

Applications of Mind Mapping[8]

Just a few of the many applications for Mind Mapping are:

  • Project Management
  • Brainstorming
  • Planning
  • Presentations
  • Interviewing
  • Analysis and problem-solving
  • Decision Making
  • Meetings

Some of these applications are well served by hand-drawn Mind Maps more so than others. When it comes to the specific purpose of Project Management, some drawbacks can be identified. Reorganization can be identified as an issue. While brainstorming with your team on a huge blank paper on the wall or on a whiteboard is fun and exciting and gets the creative juices flowing, someone will still be responsible to scribe the information in order to share it with everyone and present it later. Some items may be put in a less-than-ideal spot and need to be moved later. If a responsibility or timeline is changed it will need to be adjusted manually and communicated to others. Most importantly, as we all know, Projects can take on epic proportions and a hand-drawn Mind Map may not be the best way to manage and organize the project after the initial brainstorming is done.

Benefits and Hazards of Mind Mapping[9]

Benefits and Advantages of Applied Mind Mapping Mind mapping is a very effective method of drawing information from the human brain, of visualizing thoughts and ideas clearly and in a structured fashion. When making notes, use them as a creative and logical tool to represent your ideas according to the rules.

Both conventional linear notes, as in the short keyword listing of main and sub-topics, and diagrams merely use the left hemisphere of the brain. With most people, this is the hemisphere tasked with analytical thinking. It processes language, figures, logic, and linear as well as ordered concepts. However, the right hemisphere is usually home to figurative imagination. This is where shapes, colors, patterns, and rhythms are perceived and treated. Mind mapping combines these faculties with those of the left hemisphere to optimally exploit the capabilities of the brain rendering it increasingly astute and receptive.

In a mind map, you will only ever read and write relevant words, which allows for saving up to 90% of the time compared to linear notes. No need to search for keywords in superfluous text. Instead, relevant keywords are placed adjacently in time and space, which improves both your creativity and your memory. This establishes clear and telling associations between keywords displayed in the form of a mind map.

Mind mapping does not restrict you from thinking in any one correct order as does taking conventional notes. Rather, you may lay down ideas in random order just as they enter your mind. A visually stimulating, varicolored, and multi-dimensional mind map is more easily accepted and remembered by our brain than monotone linear notes.

The Main Hazards of Mind Mapping
The four main hazards for every mind mapper are:

  • Mind maps, that are not genuinely mind maps.
  • The notion that short sentences or phrases say more than a detailed mind map.
  • The perception of a seemingly messy mind map is no good.
  • A feeling of rejection towards your compiled mind map.

Mind maps that are not really mind maps are often created by people inexperienced with the method. Their fabrications may look like mind maps at first glance and seem to follow the guidelines. But instead of order or structure, they merely develop chaos and monotony, because the mind-mapping rules of clarity, emphasis, and association have not been adhered to.

A whole sentence or a phrase in lieu of a central word expresses a preconceived concept leaving no margin for interpretation. By following the one-word rule of mind mapping you grant every word the liberty to produce its very own associations. This approach is especially helpful when you are trying to solve problems or kick-start creative thinking, as it opens your mind to all possibilities.

On special occasions, you may come up with a seemingly chaotic mind map. But that does not necessarily make it a bad one. It might lack clarity and beauty, but it will still represent your mental processes during its creation. Perhaps it wasn't even yourself who was unorganized and confused but the lecturer you were following or the author of the book you were reading at the time.

Rarely will you make a perfect mind map straightaway. More often you will start out with an incomplete first stab. Don't be disappointed in your mind map, but realize it to be a rough sketch in need of additional revision.

How is Mind Mapping Different from Other Visualizations?[10]

A mind map represents the natural way you think — quite unlike linear note-taking. Let’s look at some similar visualizations:

Concept Map: Concept mapping connects multiple ideas. These maps have text labels on the connecting lines based on connections between each concept.

Concept Map
source: Wikipedia

Graph Data Modelling: This model is a semantic network made up of nodes and relationships between entities.

Graph Data Model
source: Neo4j

Graph data modeling is created using words and icons, but with a focus on end-users’ needs. Mind maps serve a different purpose: helping improve your memory and organization.

Spider Diagram: Both a mind map and a spider diagram start with a central idea. But mind maps have main ideas and sub-ideas, while a spider diagram has nodes from each hierarchical line. See the diagram below:

Spider Diagram
source: Lucidchart

However, none of these techniques count as mind maps because they don’t mimic the natural way your thoughts flow.

See Also

Visual Perception Theory