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An Introduction to Mind Maps
Mind maps make a lot of big promises in creativity, productivity and efficiency—but are they able to deliver?
Billed as the best way to break down, structure, and organize information in a way that “syncs up” with the way your brain wants to work, mind mapping (or concept mapping) has gone from a bit of a fringe idea 30-40 years ago to a mainstay in schools, offices, and homes around the world.
The beauty of a mindmap is that it moves so far away from the traditional linear notetaking approach.
Visually breaking down an idea by starting with a central theme and then branching out from there, highlighting connections along the way. There’s a lot of natural structure in a mind map that helps generate and cement ideas far more effectively than linear note-taking ever could.
Below we dive a little deeper into everything that mind maps or concept maps have to offer, not only helping you to better understand what mind maps are and how they were invented but also how to create your own, how to use them moving forward, and how to make the most of this creative thinking process to unleash your thoughts.
Let’s dig right in!
What is a Mind Map? / Definition of Mind Map
Mind map is a particular type of diagram used to visually organize and present information.
A mind map presents a clear visual diagram, with succinct information presented in an intuitive structure.
Starting from a single central topic, therein stems the branches that point to subtopics containing ideas that are all connected. The diagram is called a “mind map” as it pertains to the similarity between the natural flow of a mind map and that of natural thought. In simple terms, what you see in the mind map is a map to your thoughts.
Mind mapping can help organize one’s thoughts, break down a complex subject, or create a plan.
Because of its graphic representation and typically succinct form, mind maps help viewers access to information in a quick and clear way. For capturing one’s thoughts quickly, a mind map may be the best solution.
Starting with a blank canvas and establishing the core of your mind map (often with just one word), you’ll then branch out from that central concept with “main pillars” – building ideas out further and further as you go along and get more granular.
As a result, you end up with something that perfectly blends the logical side of your mind that wants structure and order and the creative side of your mind that really thrives on unique connections, visual components, and interplay between the relationships of the branches and the central idea.
Components of a Mind Map
Mind maps have a structure similar to a tree. Each mind map has 1 central node or central topic.
Often the text inside a central node is the main subject (e.g. “Marketing Plan”, “Camping pack list”), but it could also be a question (“How to increase sales?”).
From the central node, there are connected branches (like the branches of a tree!) that connect the main node with subtopics.
Each node can have a sibling topic or a child topic (also referred to as subtopic). As their names indicate, sibling topics are of the same level and subtopics / child topics are those of 1 level below.
Every node may also contain icons, external links, or images.
History of Mind Maps
History of mind maps can be traced back to the 3rd century, when examples of what looked like mind maps were created by Porphyry of Tyros to showcase the concept categories of Aristotle (read more: Porphyrian Tree). Later on, during 1235-1315, there are records of philosopher Ramon Llull having used this technique.
Historians have also learned that Leonardo da Vinci used the mind mapping technique to take notes.
Though it’s impossible to say with any real certainty exactly who created the concept of the mindmap in the first place, we can tell you that the man most frequently recognized with bringing mind mapping into the mainstream is Tony Buzan.
Buzan has been experimenting with tapping into the fullest potential of the human brain for decades, tinkering with mind mapping tools and approaches for the last 40 years. However, it wasn’t until his runaway international bestseller “The Mind Map Book” was published back in 1996 that this creative thinking approach really took off.
Over the last nearly 25 years since the publication of that book, Buzan has taught the principles of mind mapping and his specific methodology worldwide, giving lectures and lessons in more than 100 countries while advising major organizations like HSBC, Barclays International, Hewlett-Packard, and tech giants like Google, Apple, and Microsoft, too.
The early history of mind mapping drew a lot of comparisons to mindless doodling and was initially thought of as a real waste of time. It wasn’t until Tony and his team of researchers dug deep into how mind mapping mimics the way the brain thinks and the way the brain best absorbs—and retains—important information that mind mapping really started to be embraced.
How to Make a Mind Map?
The real beauty of mind mapping is that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” kind of method to creating them. You really do have a blank canvas with which to paint your thoughts on.
At the same time, a little bit of structure can definitely help. Here’s a quick guide to help you create a mind map with ease:
Step 1: Start Simple
Your core idea is the foundation that the rest of your mental map is built off of. It needs to be simple, concise, but significant. You want your core idea to be simple enough to condense down but broad enough to allow for your map to grow and expand.
Step 2: Begin Branching Out
Build out from your central idea with broad, simple themes. These themes are going to be the main pillars of your map. Keep these simple as well, but clearly define these branches from one another.
These main topics act as anchors back to your core concept, but they also allow you to quickly see the interplay between all the nodes you create from here on out.
Step 3: Build, Build, Build
Once the main topics are define, you’ll continue to flesh out your mind map.
Add details to your individual branches, using keywords, short snippets of text, images – whatever you need to really “mind dump” and get everything down on paper. This is where you’ll want to start drawing little lines of connectivity between your branches, too.
Show how different components on your map work with one another, how the relationships of these disparate pillars connect, and how everything ties back into the central core of the map itself.
The more visual you can make your map the more useful you’ll find it, too!
Top Uses of Mind Maps (Idea Maps, Mental Maps, Thinking Maps)
The beauty of mind mapping is that it is so flexible and so versatile.
Take brainstorming, for example.
This just might be the most popular use of mind maps at home, at school, and in the workplace. Starting with a core central thought, branching off from there, and then finding relationships you might not have discovered or expressed before – especially if you’re working collaboratively – makes brainstorming almost happen on autopilot.
Mind maps are perfectly tailored to creative and collaborative note taking, too. Everyone can work on their own nodes branching off of the central concept, finding interconnected relationships with the branches and nodes collaborators are working on as the map gets filled out.
Traditional note taking pales in comparison to mind mapping when it comes to retaining information, especially conceptual material that can be difficult to express in a more linear structured kind of way.
The visual nature of mind maps increase mental retention as well.
Organizational charts can be perfectly expressed with mind maps or thinking maps. Tackling new projects, establishing new action steps, and completing each step in the right order becomes a whole lot easier when you have the entire map – from start to finish – in front of you and can see how everything relates to everything else.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Mind Mapping in Business
In business environment, mind mapping is incredibly popular these days, especially in businesses that are forward thinking and serious about tapping into the creativity of their employees and their executives.
Mind Maps or Concept Maps can be used in presentations to quickly convey a lot of information efficiently, can be used to troubleshoot and in problem-solving situations, and can even help to more clearly define a company structure or department hierarchy. The options are limitless!
Read our Mind Map in Entrepreneurship guide to learn more.
Mind Mapping in Education
Traditional notes have been proven time and time again to really leave a lot to be desired. The main problem is that it’s still hard to retain and grasp information with linear notes.
Mind maps, on the other hand, work seamlessly with the way your brain wants to interpret, understand, and memorize new and often complex pieces of information.
The visual nature of these maps, the relationship interplay between individual notes on the map, and the logical hierarchy of the map, all work together to activate every part of your brain – increasing creativity, boosting your memory.
Mind Mapping in Everyday Use
There are plenty of people out there that use mind maps in their personal lives.
Some use mind maps to outline their goals and action plans to make those goals a reality, where others use them to better organize and plan their day, their week, or their month.
Other people use mental maps in their everyday lives to solve problems, make major decisions (particularly financial decisions that may have far-reaching consequences beyond the obvious), and to simply better organize their thoughts so that they are more efficient and more effective on a regular basis.
Best of all, the real beauty of mind mapping is that it is so simple and so straightforward to master – even if you haven’t ever made a mind map before or even heard of it before reading this quick guide.
It’s incredibly intuitive, very flexible, and a powerful path to unlocking all the horsepower your brain has without having to do a lot of mental heavy lifting. Give mind mapping a shot. The odds are pretty good you won’t regret it!
Mind Map Examples
There are many ways one can use mind maps in both personal and professional contexts. Below are some examples of using mind map in practice: