Maps for the mind

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 October, 2008, 12:00am

Be prepared to forget everything you ever learnt in university, says Tony Buzan, founder of the World Brain Foundation and self-professed inventor of modern mind mapping. No matter how much time they spend studying, most university graduates forget 80 per cent of what they learn after three months, he claims.

But for those who are still students, there is hope, if you can learn to maximise your brain power. And, according to Mr Buzan, the place to start is mind mapping.

Mind mapping, a method of brainstorming and note taking, is a depiction of the way your brain thinks, with pictures and key ideas. 'No one's brain works with sentences,' Mr Buzan says. But many students still take notes by copying down what the teacher says, word-for-word and with only one pen colour. This is like rote memorisation, which is a common technique used to pass exams.

But to survive in the 21st century students need a non-linear method of thinking. 'If schools here teach kids to take notes the traditional way, they'll have a tough time when they graduate. Universities need people to think, and students who use traditional note taking will just sit there like robots,' says Mr Buzan. Traditional note taking originated in the military-industrial complex of the 1800s, according to Mr Buzan. Note taking, he says, was 'designed to teach people how to obey, not to think'. Military personnel and industrial labourers only had to take orders to thrive in society. 'It was unwittingly designed to tune us out, switch off our brains and put us to sleep,' he adds.

Mr Buzan experienced this personally when he was a student, when he felt 'dumber' as he progressed through university. Like many students, Mr Buzan would copy lectures word-for-word on paper, and underline key points to memorise. These underlined points made up less than 10 per cent of his notes, he says. More than 90 per cent of what he took down in class was a waste of time.

Mind mapping, on the other hand, might take a lot of practice to be turned into a quick and practical method of brainstorming, but doing so can unleash your brain's full potential, Mr Buzan says. 'Intelligence is 80 per cent nurture, 20 per cent nature,' he says. 'Every brain is potentially brilliant, but it needs to be nurtured properly with colours and ideas. If you don't nurture it ... the brain cells die. You become stupid.'

For Mr Buzan - and it may be hard to believe when you're struggling with an exam question - what distinguishes 'smart' from 'dumb' isn't just the size of your brain; it's how you've nurtured it.

Mind mapping

Want to start mind mapping? Here are a few basic pointers:

Step 1: Think of an icon to represent your central idea and draw it in the middle of your paper. For instance, if you're brainstorming ideas to save electricity, you could draw a light bulb.

Step 2: What is your first main point? Choose a bright colour to make a thick line out of the central picture, and write this main point. To save electricity, one point could be 'less time on computer'.

Step 3: Now find the sub-points. Expand your first main point from Step 2 with thinner lines and use the same colour as above. To spend 'less time on computer' you could 'cut down on gaming' and 'turn computer off when not in use'.

Step 4: Choose different colours to develop more main points. Draw icons whenever possible. Bold and underline the more important points.

You can find plenty of online tutorials, books and courses at Tony Buzan's main website - - or at his learning centre in Hong Kong: