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May 29, 2004
Tony Buzan and mind maps

Tony Buzan is this guy. He is most famous, it seems, for his invention/discovery/renaming of the "mind map".

Here is an example of a mind map, which I found here:


Click on that picture to get a bigger version, in which the words are easier to read. I know, they're in German. But nevertheless, you get the picture I'm sure. The idea is to organise all your thoughts in a way that is memorable. Buzan is very big on memory, on training the memory, on proving to people that they have much better memories than they realised.

I live a simple life. Whenever it gets complicated, my reaction is to try to simplify it again. And then to carry on doing one simple thing at a time. This is why I took to blogging with such enthusiasm. It fits with the way I like to function. But even blogging can get complicated. With me, the complication takes the form of a whole series of complicated blog postings which I want to write accumulating in my mind, but which don't get done because none of them is capable of getting finished in time to be a today's posting. This posting is actually an example of this. And I made a conscious decision a few minutes ago to just write the damn thing, quick and dirty as the American engineers like to say, rather than do it as a great set-piece performance that I would be able to link back to for years, confident that it said everything about it.

So maybe I should be using a Buzan mind map to get to grips with all of that, and with all the other unavoidable complexities of my life. Trouble is, the very process of making a mind map now seems to me to be too complicated. Easier to just rough out a rough and ready TO DO list, and then knock over three or four of the items on the list and go to bed happy, in the knowledge that I at least got some stuff done today.

On the other hand, I have friends who have actually used mind maps, and who are very enthusiastic about them. I'm sure these friends are right, and that I am fending off what could be a very useful tool for thinking and for living. My life actually is about to get more complicated, which I'll tell you all about in a big set piece posting Real Soon Now, and then I may have to start mind mapping myself or sink under the complications of it all.

I first heard about Tony Buzan when they had a show on BBC2 TV a few weeks back, in which he was given a group of bright by very troublesome kids to teach for a while. His aim was to turn them into "geniuses", which he failed to do. But he did get them behaving a whole hell of a lot better and smarter than they had been, and the man sure impressed me. He also impressed the professional official educators who were commentating on all this. He didn't do as well as he had hoped, but he did a lot better than most of them reckoned he would, and some of them seemed decidedly embarrassed.

Not that there's anything very mysterious about what happened. A really smart guy taught about six kids for a longish time, and taught them a lot. Which is exactly what you would expect. Simply, most teachers are (a) not as smart as Tony Buzan, but much more importantly (b) living lives that are about a thousand times more complicated than just teaching six kids day after day.

I seem to recall one of them, for example, performing the amazing trick of remembering all one hundred and six (or however many it was I forget) cars in the car park outside. Memory again, you see.

But many teachers wouldn't have done as well as Buzan no matter how clever they were and no matter how simple the circumstances. This is because Buzan's basic method is to persuade and to inform rather than to command.

As all regulars here will know, I believe persuasion and information to be the wave of the future in education. There may still be some life yet in the old command and control methods, but in the longer run, I believe these methods to be doomed, and that the teaching profession needs to get out of that business. But, easier said than done, I realise that.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:53 AM
Category: How the human mind works

I like the "Getting Things Done" method http://www.davidco.com/ by David Allen. It works for me. I haven't mastered it completely but I do know that when I stick with it, I feel much more in control than when I let it go.

The method is to basically keep a list of projects, and also a list of the "Next Action" for each project. This way at any time you know all the things you can choose to do next. You need to review the list of projects periodically, probably once a week.

There is some useful stuff on the web site, and the book is thin and pretty easy to read.

Comment by: Dave Bauer on May 30, 2004 01:51 AM

Each day during my Finals, which are going on at the moment, I have seen a friend of mine outside on the lawns studying huge multi-coloured maps. I've never had the patience to sit down and organise my thoughts that way, but some of the other techniques Buzan advocates (which anybody with a basic knowledge of memory could work out) I do find useful, for example noting things which don't fit a pattern as being unusual, or associating facts with colourful or noisy mental images.

Comment by: Jason Holdcroft on May 30, 2004 09:36 AM

Jason, it doesn't take patience, but it might have been better had you begun earlier nonetheless - so if it's any comfort, you might as well carry on without. However, I boiled my A-level History down onto one page using this technique, in the process of which I raised my grade from a C to an A, and obtained myself entry to the Cambridge Special Paper in which I was awarded a somewhat unexpected 'Outstanding' grade. It does what it says on the tin, but if you're already among exams, I'd do what you're doing and stick with what you know.

Comment by: James Hamilton on May 30, 2004 10:38 PM
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