Mind Mapping for accountants: Lessons from the master

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Mind Mapping was invented by Tony Buzan in the 1960s to give people a better way to organize and recall conceptual information. Nigel Harris, writing for our sister site, AccountingWEB.co.uk, went along to one of Buzan's seminars to find out how the technique could help his daily work as an accountant.

I have been intrigued for some time by the technique of Mind Mapping but never really ‘got’ it, so I couldn’t resist when I saw that Mind Mapping creator Tony Buzan was running a public training seminar in London. Here are some of the highlights of "Mind Maps, Memory and Creativity."

Mind Map tips

1. Use a plain sheet of paper in landscape orientation – this layout is more compatible with our wide peripheral vision and can contain more information than a portrait format Mind Map. Avoid lined paper as you may be tempted to adopt a rigid, grid style which limits the creativity which Mind Mapping tries to stimulate. Have colored pens and highlighters at hand.

2. Start with your topic in the center of the page. Use a colorful central image to stimulate your senses and encourage those synaptic connections. The process should be fun, so don’t think too hard while you get your initial thoughts down on paper.

3. Branches are what it’s all about: the central picture will trigger associative processes in your brain, so go with the flow and draw in branches and sub-branches as they come to you. Don’t try to work out the structure too much in advance, but leave space to add and extend branches as new ideas occur to you. The brain finds curves more interesting than straight lines, so make the branches curl a little – but keep the text fairly horizontal so you can read the whole page without needing to turn it around.

4. Use key words – one word or picture should be enough on each branch. If it’s a long word, make it a long branch, so that the branches, words and pictures make an organic whole.

5. Reflect from time to time – review at the whole Mind Map to look for links and associations. Draw in or highlight the links with an appropriate color or image. Don’t worry about repetition – this might well lead you to discover new connections.

Some background

Buzan developed Mind Maps back in the late 1960s, partly driven by his own frustration with traditional note taking while studying as a student himself. Having taught psychology, he went on to study creativity, memory, how the brain works – and how we can train it to work better and keep on improving. He has published more than 98 books to date and continues to write and consult with the top companies worldwide.

Mind Mapping is more than an alternative way of setting out your notes. It is a tool to increase your creativity by using techniques that work the way your brain works.

Buzan describes the brain as a “gigantic Branching Association Machine, a biological super-computer where thinking radiates from a truly infinite number of data nodes.” It’s a vast matrix of connections or associations. Can we reach our full capacity? Put it this way, if your brain assimilated 10 information units (individual words or images) every second over a 100-year period you would only use about 10 per cent of your brain’s capacity!

Physically, brain cells constantly reach out to make connections with adjacent cells. Mind Mapping is so effective because it mirrors this activity by creating a web of connections and associations.


A big part of the day was spent looking at how the brain works and how we can use it most effectively. In all of Buzan’s books, Mind Maps feature prominently as a powerful tool to help improve memory. Here are just three reasons why they are so effective:

1. Relaxation is a key to retrieval and even creation of data. Our brains just don’t work as well when we’re under constant stress. Mind Mapping is a far more informal method of note taking and helps to encourage the sort of ‘relaxed concentration’ that helps us remember data and be more creative.

2. Our brains need us to collect data into clusters. We can cope with five to seven non-linked items, but beyond that we need to group them in order to assimilate the data. Linear note taking doesn’t do this very well. Mind Mapping, particularly with its highly visual elements, is far better at facilitating clustering of data and helping us to remember it.

3. Repetition assists the recall of information. Those of a certain age will remember this well from their school days! ‘Reviewing’ data reactivates and strengthens the synaptic connections in your brain, making the memory stronger and easier to access. As they gather everything on only one page, Mind Maps encourage the brain to constantly review and repeat the data.

Some examples

For some inspiration, take a look at Tony Buzan’s Mind Map gallery. Throughout the site you'll find some interesting examples which showcase the technique as an effective note taking and summarizing tool.

Treat the gallery as design examples though, rather than trying to follow the content too closely. A Mind Map is personal to the creator and will mean far more to him or her than to an unconnected reader because it will help the originator to recall the thought process and physical experience of making the original Mind Map.

What next?

Am I a Mind Mapping convert? I can’t say that I have made great use of them since the seminar, but the few Mind Maps I have made have been extremely helpful. Unlike the many letters, notes and lists I have written, I can recall the Mind Maps in some detail many days and weeks afterwards.

If you are interested in learning to Mind Map I would highly recommend finding a hands-on course with a Buzan-licensed trainer, if not the man himself. Buzan World has links to further information, resources and training events. Buzan will be touring the U.S. and conducting seminars from April 26 to May 18, 2010. Contact him through his Web site or return to the site later for details of his tour.

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