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Mind Mapping Notes

The Mind Map Book by Tony Buzan, 1993

Make notes, donít take notes.

Note-taking is mere recording of someone elseís presentation. Passive. Its form is often nothing more than words, in a single color, with no emphasis added. The note-taker records an idea and moves to the next, paving a trail of unrelated idea bites. Itís all someone elseís stuff.

Note-making involves assessing, re-thinking, and re-structuring whatís being presented. An active process. Making connections. Use images, colors, whatever is at hand. You take ownership of the content. Word processing is not well-suited for note-making, for it is word-centric.[1]

Notes that are made, as opposed to notes that are taken, stick in our heads. For one thing, weíve made them, thereby creating associations in our minds Ė amping up some neural pathways. For another, our notes become images that our brains recall better than words.[2]

Note-makers are hampered by learned helplessness Ė the erroneous belief that they cannot draw, are not inventive, will run out of associations, shouldnít think beyond authority, and so forth. This is self-defeating claptrap.

 Note-making saves time over linear note-taking because it:

        Notes only relevant words

        Reads back only relevant words

        Highlights keywords

        Concentrates on the real issues

        Makes associations clear

        Stimulates the brain with imagery, colors, and structure

        Encourages an attitude of discovery and continuous flow of thought

        Harmonizes with the brainís natural desire for wholeness

It is obscene that schools and universities devote no attention to this sort of process improvement, the improvement of how one learns. I feel deceived and ripped off that my teachers wasted my time having me memorize useless facts when they could have been clueing me in to something Iíd use again and again to learn. The world would be better off were we to rip up our schoolís charters and give them a new mission of helping learners build associations and neural pathways. Standardized tests and grading measure the studentís ability to regurgitate rather than to learn. As the half-life of useful information decreases, our schoolsí obsession with facts and memorization becomes a more and more wasteful anachronism.

 Come to think of it, I canít remember the concept of process ever coming up in school, even in such mind-twisting undergrad courses as Hegel, Nietsche, and Existentialism or The Philosophy of Mind.

Buzan provides guiding principles, rules, and even a few laws. Some are universal (positive attitude, natural light, comfortable surroundings, plenty of fresh air, best tools, and so forth.) Some rules are specific to Mind MappingTM and I plan to give them a try:

        Start with a single concept at center position

        Use individual words, not phrases, to provide balance and keep options open

        Let the mind range free. Donít get trapped into methodically completing one branch after another

        Challenge yourself with questions

        For a lecture or book, sketch the outline mind map before reading the innards to bulk it up Ė be predisposed

        Do a map, reconstruct with basic categories

        In group, each bring completed map, discuss, make one giant map, let it incubate, reconstruct

I purchased Flair pens in six colors and an oversized sketchpad for my mind mapping exercises. Iím not so interested in taking notes as using the mind map approach for analysis, research, refining concepts, teaching, making decisions, and communicating with others. Mind Maps combine notes taken from the external environment (e.g. a lecture) with notes made from the internal environment (e.g. decision-making, analysis, and creative thought).

When Iíve used mind mapping in the past, my maps have two levels at most, perhaps a few dozen items on the page. Buzan gives an example that fills a very large page with tiny type although it appears to be a chart of chemical relationships, not a true mind map, and it contains no graphics.

 Buzan buzzword translator:

        ďBOIĒ = Basic Ordering Ideas = list of thought catalysts

        polycategoric = complex

        Radiant Thinking = associative, branching thinking Ė thinking in mind maps

 I told my son Austin how I felt cheated by the teachers who had never taught me about mind mapping or, more importantly, how to process information in order to make it my own. I was surprised to find that Beacon High School covers note-making at the beginning of each quarter although Austin and his friends donít take much advantage of it, preferring to take turns recording the notes for the day and consolidating them all at test time.

Applying one of my decision-memestm, I find that mind mapping has different applications in recording, in planning/setting expectations, and in generating alternatives. Buzan intermingles the three and suggests several iterations. If Iím putting together the pigeon-holes to capture information I am going to read, thatís substantively different than mapping out my thoughts on a particular situation. As a cheerleader for mind-mapping, Buzan weakens his case by not recognizing these differences.


Capture broad variety of associations

Mind map

Summarizing book or lecture after the fact

Note intrinsic associations as well as external links

Visual summary

Getting ready for new activity or research

Set up framework with current knowledge and space for the new

Learning template (?)

On an 18Ē by 12Ē sheet of sketch paper, Iím drawing a four-color mind map.

        I added a Parking Lot for ideas that donít want to connect to an existing branch.

        Some branches intertwine at later stages, and it would be useful to have an easy way to spot such synergies.

        Iíve downloaded a couple of trial-version mapping software programs. While drawing by hand sets thing in mind and is totally freeform, the ability to move things around Ė idea processing, if you will Ė would be extremely valuable.

 MindManager seems quite flexible. Itís easy to learn. You can download a 30-day trial version for free. You can output to several different HTML formats. The jpeg imagemap looks very professional; check out the sample on the Jayhoo!web map.Visimap, the other software I downloaded for a look, appears to be an earlier version of MindManager Ė similar functions but clunkier look. Feels like a DOS app.

I have since purchased MindManager; it cost about $150. This is a marvellous tool. A tiny chunk of an elaborate map on adult learning:

I recommend the software but continue to recommend drawing mindmaps by hand. Today I explored ideas for a process learning kit while sitting through jury selection.

[1] When Iíve tried mind-mapping software, Iíve found it totally frustrating. No pictures allowed. Klutzy formatting. Easier to use pen and paper. Good note-making software could be a killer app. As I write this, Iím craving a way to connect it to other thoughts, e.g. mindful learning, visualization.

[2] Buzan describes experiments where test subjects look at thousands of pictures at the rate of one per second Ė and are able to recall an astounding 99% of them an hour later.


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