How Tony Buzan used mind maps to doodle his way to millions

Taking note of how to use doodles, key words, images and connections can lead to success in all areas, according to Tony Buzan

It all started when he noticed that students who doodled on their study notes were getting good results in their examinations. Their notes weren’t neat, tidy or easy to read from top to bottom. Instead they were colourful and dotted with doodles.

Now those colourful doodles form the basis of a multi-million euro global business that incorporates books, DVDs, seminars and schools in Mumbai, Dubai, Singapore, Tokyo and Henley-on-Thames in the UK. There are more than 120 books, which have been translated into 30 languages, worth well over €150 million.

In the 1960s Tony Buzan was in the University of British Columbia studying psychology, English, mathematics and science when he started to get annoyed that his note-taking was consuming so much time. He also observed that the students who were getting the best grades did not have the neatest notes. They tended to have messy notes. They had notes dotted with images, key words, connections and those doodles.

He was spending time writing paragraphs of text but couldn’t remember any of those full sentences.


And this was a man whose mother described him in her diaries as having an “extremely logical and literal mind . . . Extraordinarily exact memory”.

Buzan investigated further and found that doodles had been used by geniuses through the ages. Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks, for example, contain drawings with connections to words and notes. Einstein was the same.

And so Buzan coined the idea of using mind maps “as a way of helping students make notes that used only key words and images”.

He describes mind maps, a term which he trademarked, as a way of capturing ideas, exploring concepts, taking notes and breaking down information into a supposedly easy to understand and easy to remember format.

Visual and written representations of ideas merge to create something that is, again supposedly, more natural to the mind.

Whether hand-drawn to look like a colourful idea tree or generated using software or apps, they are meant to represent the way we think, in contrast to paragraph-based text, which is not representative of the thought process.

Grand claims

Mind maps come with grand claims and, according to believers, you can use them to do such things as ace exams, plan your winning career, brainstorm new business ideas and even seduce your lover – yes there is a map for that.

You can download the Romantic Seduction map on IQ Matrix ( for $7 (€6.40). It promises to “literally hypnotize your victim into believing that you are their ideal mate and romantic partner”).

Mind maps have all the seduction of popular science: when they are mastered, it feels like you are in possession of a precious secret . . . known only to the select few million who have purchased a book or attended a seminar by Buzan or his accredited trainers.

Buzan, who is variously described as a popular psychologist, self-help guru and business consultant, says that mind maps “help make your life easier and more successful”.

How to Mind Map tells readers they will immediately "think up brilliant ideas" and gain control of their lives.

Nobel Peace Prize

When he coined the idea he was working for the

Daily Telegraph

and was editor of the

International Journal of Mensa

. Now the technique is central to his international “brain friendly” management consultancy business and was the reason for his Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2011. He has even been an Olympic rowing coach.

The popular science bit goes like this. Your brain has two hemispheres, left and right. The left is the logical, studious side that keeps things tidy, organised and can retrieve facts from wherever they are held. The right is the chilled, creative type that is good at reading people’s moods. According to Buzan, traditional forms of note-taking, involving paragraphs of text, aren’t easy to recall because they use only the left brain, the serious side, leaving the right brain relaxing on the sofa, watching TV and strumming a guitar. Taking notes in an “ordinary” way puts us into a “semi-hypnotic trance state” because it doesn’t fully reflect our patterns of thinking and it doesn’t aid recall efficiently.

Buzan argues that “traditional” notes require the reader to scan the information from left to right and top to bottom of the page but the brain’s natural preference is to scan the entire page in a non-linear fashion.

He argues that using images in notes taps into the brain’s key tool for storing memory and that the process of creating a mind map uses both hemispheres of the brain.

Cynics say the problem with mind maps is that lateralisation of brain function is scientific fallacy, and a lot of Buzan’s thoughts seem to rely on the theory that we use only 10 per cent of the neurons in our brain at one time.

Superpowered brains

He sells the idea that we have more brain fire-power than we use and that we could be potentially superpowered if we used the other 90 per cent of our brain power at any one time.

Mind maps, which use both cortexes of the brain, allow us to use the usually unused 90 per cent, he posits.

However those cynics point out that there is a reason we use only 10 per cent of our neurons at one time.

If we used all 86 billion of them simultaneously we would not be any cleverer. Instead, we would be dead, following a massive seizure.

Journalist and author Joshua Foer (Moonwalking with Einstein – The Art and Science of Remembering Everything) gives mind maps an endorsement for encouraging "mindful" thinking but says Buzan has a "habit of lapsing into pseudoscience and hyperbole". (Example: "Very young children use 98 per cent of all thinking tools. By the time they're 12, they use about 75 per cent. By the time they're teenagers, they're down to 50 per cent, by the time they're in university it's less than 25 per cent, and it's less than 15 per cent by the time they're in industry".)

This, he says, is when credibility gives way to a sales pitch.

But it is a sales pitch that works. A Google search about mind maps doesn't thrown up many of the cynics, but does result in hundreds of millions of mind map hits. You can find them on school and college syllabus, blogs, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, buy and sell sites.

Millions of them were generated using iMindMaps, a Buzan-endorsed software. Millions more are created through the numerous tools that aid the making of mind maps online. But Buzan wasn’t the first to examine how we think and how we recall information.

Also in the 1960s, Edward de Bono, who has written more than 60 books, coined the term lateral thinking, now considered an important problem-solving technique.

The idea distances itself from standard perceptions of creativity as either vertical logic (the classic method for problem solving: working out the solution step-by-step from the given data) or horizontal imagination (having many ideas but being unconcerned with the detailed implementation of them).

Also nominated for a Nobel Prize, for economics this time, his creative thinking exercises, such as six thinking hats described in the book of the same name, are used in management training around the world. The technique of "concept mapping" was developed by Joseph Novak at Cornell in 1972. Based on the learning movement called constructivism, concept maps identify the way we think and the way we see relationships between knowledge, using a diagram to show these connections.

Brain fag

Years earlier, in the early 1900s, a mind-training system called Pelmanism was big business in Britain. The origins were murky but

William Ennever

, the man behind the ads that appeared in magazines at the time, sold a brand that promised to help if you were suffering from “brain fag”, “indefiniteness” or “want of energy”.

Pelmanism was delivered by correspondence course and the Pelman Institute boasted addresses in India, Australia and the United States.

Big business

At 73, Buzan is still busy mapping and his brand is also big business. His methods have been adopted in schools around the world, including



As well as mind mapping courses, there are seminars for memory skills (he also founded the World Memory Championships) and speed reading. His schools have accredited more than 700 ThinkBuzan licensed instructors in Mind Mapping since 2010. So perhaps it is legitimate to doodle your way through meetings after all. Mind mapping: What is it? All mind-maps have some things in common: they have a natural organisational structure that radiates from the centre and use lines, symbols, words, colour and images.

They can look like a tree or a series of pathways.

To visualise how it works, think of a map of a city.

The city centre is the main idea. The roads (branches) leading from the centre are the key thoughts in your thinking process.

The secondary roads (smaller branches) are your secondary thoughts. Images, videos, audio clips represent landmarks of interest or relevant ideas on the thinking journey.

Want to map? Try these apps Coggle ( Sign up for Coggle using your Google account – assuming you have one – and start mapping in your browser.

Double-click on the item in the middle of the screen labelled “New Coggle,” and rename it.

Then, click on one of the plus signs on either side of the rectangle to add a thought branch. Coggle automatically assigns a colour to each branch but you can personalise it later. When you’ve finished, you can download it as a PDF or PNG, share it with others who can just view it or, if you allow it, edit your mind map.

Freemind Freemind is a free app built in Java, so it runs on pretty much anything. It offers complex diagrams, plenty of branches that are retractable and expandable; graphics; and icons to differentiate notes and connect them, and the option to embed links and multimedia in the maps. It can export your map as HTML/XHTML, PDF, OpenDocument, SVG, or PNG.

Mind Meister With Mind Meister you can draw colourful mind maps to share with other users privately, via social media or email. Maps can be customised with different styles and boundaries and the creator/s can add comments to original thoughts, colour-code specific topics and drag and drop any files to include to the map.

Maps can be embedded anywhere on the web and it's comparable with most popular doc apps including Google Drive, Evernote, Microsoft Office, and more to attach all the documents you need.

Old school Forget the laptop and sharpen a pack of coloured pencils instead (not markers, Buzan says).

Draw something in the middle of your A3 piece of paper. Do not go too near the sides – you need space to spread your thoughts as a radial thinker. Draw six multicoloured lines out from the centre and a picture at the end of each that is in some way related to the central image. The lines should be curly.

Write key words in upper or lower case on the lines. You have now drawn a basic mind map.

Buzan school iMindMap was developed by Buzan and it focuses on quick-draw branch editing, so the process of mind mapping doesn't get in the way of brainstorming ideas. Prizes range from $80 (home and student) to $245 for the Ultimate version. Or try the free trial from:

Nobel Peace Prize: Buzan nominated Nominated for a peace prize. Really? Yes, in 2011 Buzan was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The reason for nomination was that mind mapping is a “thinking and learning tool which helps individuals to learn, to think, to remember, to communicate, to understand understanding, to understand misunderstanding, to help people negotiate and come to good conclusions.

“It helps individuals to find their global vision, their purpose in life, and therefore creating more peacefulness, more enthusiasm, more creativity, more forward-moving individuals, more multiple intelligent thinking”.