In 1974, educator and TV personality Tony Buzan appeared on an episode of the BBC’s TV Series Use Your Head to present a new type of diagram: a colorful tree-like structure, with words spreading out radially from the central idea.
Traditional outlines, Tony explains, force the reader to scan from left to right and top to bottom, whereas what readers actually did was to scan the entire page in a non-linear fashion. So, he argued, why not work with the way our minds naturally work, rather than against it?
That evening, he said the words ‘mind map’ on national television, and a concept was born.
The evolution of the mind map
The use of diagrams for visually presenting information goes back a long way. The first noted example can be traced back to the 3rd Century when Porphyry of Tyros graphically visualized the Categories of Aristotle. Philosopher Ramon Llull (1235–1315) also used mind map-style techniques to present data. People used mind maps informally throughout the 20th century, but it was Tony Buzan who coined the term and brought the concept into the mainstream.
Tony’s mind map begins with a central image. To this, he adds branches to depict the basic ordering of ideas (BIOs). He then adds a network of smaller branches (color-coded for clarity) to depict ideas related to each BOI. This is the purest form of a mind map, and it’s known as The Burzam Method.
Burzam stresses that his method draws from psychology, neuroscience, and, most importantly — his own learnings. True to this philosophy, the humble mind map has subtly evolved and the benefits of mind mapping have been enormous.
Today’s definition of a mind map is a bit more flexible and generally includes spider maps (above) and bubble maps (pictured below).
Both Buzan mind maps and spider and bubble diagrams begin with a central idea, but rather than labelling the branches as Buzan does, spider/bubble diagrams use lines to connect ideas around the central theme.
These ideas are then divided into subtopics that add more depth. The lines also make it possible to link ideas across-topic, rather than tying them to the preceding branch — which is helpful for building up an overarching structure and showing links between ideas.
Benefits of mind mapping
Mind mapping is an enduringly popular method for recording, organizing, and presenting information. But why are they so popular? And how can you benefit from them? Here are some science-backed reasons why mind-mapping works.
1. It helps you remember and recall information
Try this little experiment. Close your eyes and think about a tree. Picture it in detail, then think about what your tree looked like.
Did you picture the image of a tree, or the word ‘tree?’ And was that tree in the center of your mind’s eye, or off to one side? And was it in color, or black and white?
Like me, you probably pictured an image, in color, large, and in the center of your mind. This is how the mind works… so working with that rather than against it helps us with recall and memory. In fact, in one study on mind map efficiency, researchers discovered that the benefits of mind mapping when studying and revision included boosting retention by 10-15%.
2. It helps you learn new concepts
According to researchers, there are three types of ‘learning:’
- Non-learning: Information has gone in one ear and out the other. Or, in other words, you’ve been told something and instantly forgotten it.
- Rote learning: You’ve learned something, but it’s not connected to anything else you know on the subject. It’s based on repetition — e.g., learning the names of every State in America without knowing anything else about them.
- Meaningful learning: You have new knowledge, and you know how it is connected to everything else you already know. E.g., you learn the names of all the states, alongside knowing how and when each was incorporated. This then ties into other, more abstract knowledge you have or will gain.
One of the benefits of mind mapping is that it helps with meaningful learning because it encourages you to make connections between new and existing knowledge. This is because you add new ideas around a central theme (which is your existing knowledge). This strengthens your depth of understanding.
3. It’s a fun way of learning
Hands up! Who can remember every single word to their favorite song? This is because you’re enjoying what you’re taking in, which is new, novel, and fun. When you’re enjoying something, you’re more deeply invested in it — and that promotes deeper learning.
Another of the benefits of mind mapping is that it helps to create that meaningful engagement. While creating your map, you don’t just read information — you generate ideas, arrange them on a page, add colors and images, review and link concepts. It’s far more engaging than just writing out words or listening to a lecture.
4. It makes complex ideas easier to understand
Mind mapping’s popularity is a testament to its effectiveness. They’re often used for strategic planning — something that’s complex and involves lots of parts — because they work. In fact, one study found that mind mapping helped students plan their essays and projects more effectively, improving the quality, structure, and coherence of their written work.
5. It improves your presenting
Mind maps improve your ability to recall information, which is a bonus when it comes to presenting work. Challenging questions are much easier to answer when the information is deeply embedded.
Mind maps also help your audience. Multiple studies have found that pairing words with images helps bring concepts to life and aid understanding, which helps you get your point across more effectively and make it easier for your audience to take in information. Another study found that presenters who used visual language were seen as being clearer, more interesting, more credible, and more professional by their audience than those who didn’t.
6. It boosts your creativity
Mind mapping helps you draw links between ideas, which in turn can help with lateral thinking — a key part of creativity. Rather than working from A-B in a linear fashion, you can jump about and connect thoughts without getting sucked into linear thinking.
7. It improves productivity
Mind mapping makes it easier to learn faster, brainstorm faster, and communicate more effectively. These are all vital skills to have in the business world: being able to do all of the above more efficiently saves you time and improves the quality of your work. In fact, according to a survey by the Mind Mapping Software Blog, mind mapping can boost productivity by an average of 23 percent.
8. It’s flexible
Mind maps are versatile tools that can help with a variety of things — from study and concepting, to project planning and brainstorming. Here are some of the scenarios in which a mind map could help:
- Students can use them to help them revise
- Project managers can use them to help present their ideas to the team
- Marketers can use them to help them create content calendars
- Content creators can use them to help them come up with ideas
- Consultants can use them to help visualize their clients’ situations
- Event planners can use them to help organize the different aspects of an event
- Salespeople can use them to help them pitch ideas
Whether you’re a manager planning your next big project, or a marketer creating content ideas for a client, we highly recommend making them a core part of your learning and brainstorming method toolkit.
We also recommend using diagramming tools to save time. With Cacoo, you can grab a mind map template, then populate with words, shapes, colors, images, edit, and share with the click of a button — without having to battle MS Word formatting or worry about making a mistake. Plus, because it’s created on the cloud, you can invite others on your team to log in, view the doc, and add their own thoughts and comments in real-time, making the whole process that little bit more collaborative.