Mind mapping for managers

Monday, 19 November 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Managers need to use their mind. Last Saturday, I was in Ahungalle at a residential program for the Master of Public Administration students of PIM. Among many other learning inputs, I took them through the process of developing a Mind Map. It reinforced my faith in mind mapping with its features and functionalities. Mind mapping, in fact, can be a versatile tool for value creation. Today’s column will discuss its meaningful relevance to managers.



A map gives us a direction. Take a road map for an example. It guides us how to reach a destination. Mind map is also a visual depiction that guides us to explore.

A Mind Map is a powerful graphic technique which provides a universal key to unlock the potential of the brain. It harnesses the full range of cortical skills – word, image, number, logic, rhythm, colour and spatial awareness – in a single, uniquely powerful manner. In so doing, it gives you the freedom to roam the infinite expanses of your brain. The Mind Map can be applied to every aspect of life where improved learning and clearer thinking will enhance human performance.

In 1970 Scientific American magazine published Ralph Haber’s research showing that individuals have a recognition accuracy of images between 85 and 95 percent. This is very much in line with what we have heard. “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Mind Map is a vivid exploration of the power of imagery.


Diagrams that visually map information using branching and radial maps trace back centuries. These pictorial methods record knowledge and model systems, and 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 visualised 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 developed further by Allan M. Collins and M. Ross Quillian during the early 1960s.

Popularisation of the term “Mind Map”

The term “Mind Map” was first popularised by British popular psychology author and television personality Tony Buzan when BBC TV ran a series hosted by Buzan called Use Your Head. In this show, and companion book series, Buzan enthusiastically promoted his conception of radial tree, diagramming key words in a colorful, radiant, tree-like structure.

Buzan says the idea was inspired by Alfred Korzybski’s general semantics as popularised in science fiction novels, such as those of Robert A. Heinlein and A.E. van Vogt. Buzan 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 also uses popular assumptions about the cerebral hemispheres in order to promote the exclusive use of mind mapping over other forms of note making.

When compared with the concept map (which was developed by learning experts in the 1970s) the structure of a Mind Map is a similar radial, but is simplified by having one central key word.

What do you need to make a Mind Map? Because Mind Maps are so easy to do and so natural, the ingredients for your “Mind Map Recipe” are very few:

  •  Your Brain
  • Blank unlined paper
  • Coloured pens and pencils
  • Your imagination!

When you use Mind Maps on a daily basis, you will find that your life becomes more productive, fulfilled, and successful on every level. There are no limits to the number of thoughts, ideas and connections that your brain can make, which means that there are no limits to the different ways you can use Mind Maps to help you.

Seven steps to making a Mind Map

Tony Buzan, the key architect of the whole concept suggests the following seven steps:

1. Start in the centre of a blank page turned sideways. Why? Because starting in the centre gives your brain freedom to spread out in all directions and to express itself more freely and naturally.

2. Use an image or picture for your central idea. Why? Because an image is worth a thousand words and helps you use your Imagination. A central image is more interesting, keeps you focused, helps you concentrate, and gives your brain more of a buzz!

3. Use colours throughout. Why? Because colours are as exciting to your brain as are images. Colour adds extra vibrancy and life to your Mind Map, adds tremendous energy to your Creative Thinking, and is fun!

4. Connect your main branches to the central image and connect your second- and third-level branches to the first and second levels, etc. Why? Because your brain works by association. It likes to link two (or three, or four) things together. If you connect the branches, you will understand and remember a lot more easily.

5. Make your branches curved rather than straight-lined. Why? Because having nothing but straight lines is boring to your brain.

6. Use one key word per line. Why? Because single key words give your Mind Map more power and flexibility.

7. Use images throughout. Why? Because each image, like the central image, is also worth a thousand words. So if you have only 10 images in your Mind Map, it’s already the equal of 10,000 words of notes!

Applications of mind maps

As with other diagramming tools, mind maps can be used to generate, visualise, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid to studying and organising information, solving problems, making decisions, and writing.

Mind maps have many applications in personal, family, educational, and business situations, including note taking, brainstorming (wherein ideas are inserted into the map radially around the centre node, without the implicit prioritisation that comes from hierarchy or sequential arrangements, and wherein grouping and organising is reserved for later stages), summarising, as a mnemonic technique, or to sort out a complicated idea. Mind maps are also promoted as a way to collaborate in colour pen creativity sessions.

In summary, mind maps can be used for:

  • anonymous collaboration
  • outline/framework design
  • problem solving
  • structure/relationship representations
  • marriage of words and visuals individual expression of creati ity
  • team building or synergy creating activity
  • condensing material into a concise and memorable format
  • enhancing work morale

In addition to these direct uses, data retrieved from mind maps can be used to enhance several other applications, for instance expert search systems, search engines and search and tag query recommender. To do so, mind maps can be analysed with classic methods of information retrieval to classify a mind map’s author or documents that are linked from within the mind map.

The inner mechanism for mind mapping

What happens in your brain when you taste a ripe mango, smell flowers, listen to music, watch a stream, touch a loved one, or simply reminisce? The answer is both simple and amazingly complex. Each bit of information entering your brain, every sensation, memory or thought, which incorporates every word, number, code, food, fragrance, line, colour, image, beat, note and texture can be represented as a central sphere from which radiate tens, hundreds, thousands, even millions of hooks. Each hook represents an association, and each association has its own infinite array of links and connections.

Mind Map and the brain

Almost the moment Mind Maps came into use another major piece of scientific research confirmed their validity as a brain-compatible thinking method. In California, Dr. Roger Sperry, who won a Nobel Prize for his research, confirmed that the evolutionarily latest part of the brain, the ‘thinking cap’ of the Cerebral Cortex, was divided into two major hemispheres, and those hemispheres performed a comprehensive range of intellectual tasks, called cortical skills. The tasks included: Logic, Rhythm, Lines, Colour, Lists, Daydreaming, Numbers, Imagination, Word, and Gestalt (seeing the whole picture). In essence, we have logical left and rhythmic right.

Sperry’s own research confirmed that the more these activities were integrated, the more the brain’s performance became co-operative, with each intellectual skill enhancing the performance of other intellectual areas. When you are Mind Mapping, you are not only practicing and exercising the fundamental memory powers and information processing, you are also using your entire range of cortical skills.

The Mind Map is made even more powerful by the use of all the left and right brain-thinking tools, which enhance the clarity, structure and organisation of your thinking. And because the Mind Map constructively uses the tools of Imagination, Association and Location, as well as the tools of the left and right brain, you can consider the Mind Map as a versatile thinking tool that incorporates all the significant and potent ways of thinking into its own structure.

Way forward

In an increasingly competitive world, managers have to use their mind more than any other time. Creativity is in high demand. Clarity is also much in need. Mind Mapping is one sure-fire way for managers to expand an idea into multiple branches in capturing all possibilities.  With regard to Sri Lankan scenario, we need to think afresh in the face of new problems, and having the right set of tools will be very handy for such an endeavour. Sri Lankan managers can be truly ‘thinking performers’ in appropriately using their brain and brawn towards better results. That’s why Mind Mapping is a mighty tool for managers.

(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is a learner, teacher, trainer, researcher, writer and a thinker in the areas of Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour. He can be reached on ajantha@pim.lk.)