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Mind Mapping Mistakes

18 Jul 2018
Mind Mapping Mistakes

When I am teaching Mind Mapping, or acting as Chief Arbiter at Mind Mapping championships, I often come across Mind Maps that could be greatly improved with a few simple tweaks. In this article I will discuss five of the most common mistakes made when Mind Mapping.

Don't fence me in

Mind maps always have a central image. This should be unique and colourful thereby capturing your attention and stimulating ideas. Very often people either use a bubble, a rectangle, an ellipse or other frame enclosing their image or, even worse, just a word. This has several consequences: Firstly, over use of boxes tends to leave different mind maps looking too similar to each other. The purpose of a distinctive, unique central image is to help you distinguish between mind maps in your mind’s eye when you come to recall them. The second consequence of enclosing your central image in a frame is that the brain sees this as complete. It is less inclined to make associations and flow outwards from the centre. The frame acts as a barrier fencing in the image. Unfortunately, mind mapping software tends to perpetuate this misconception as most of the default central images are boxes or similar shapes.

The Feng Shui of Mind Maps

In ‘The Mind Map Book’, Tony Buzan says, “Leaving the right amount of space around each item gives your Mind Map order and structure. Taken to its logical conclusion, the space between Items can be as important as the items themselves. For example, in Japanese flower arranging, the entire arrangement is based on the space between the flowers.” In Chinese culture, Feng Shui is the supposed to use energy forces to harmonise individuals with their surrounding environment. In Mind Maps harmony is found through appropriate spacing.

But I need everything!

When you ask students to select keywords in their notes, they often protest that everything is important. They are frightened that if they abbreviate the content they will either miss something vital, or forget the detail. The reality is that Mind Maps were never meant to faithfully reproduce study notes. The words and images used on Mind Maps act as triggers to recall. Let me explain with an analogy. Imagine a library in which all the books are placed randomly on shelves. It is almost impossible to find a specific book. Now imagine that the books have been sorted into categories. Mind Maps give you the categories. They do not aim to list all the books. When you need a specific fact that is in your mind’s library, the Mind Map points you to the correct shelf to help you easily retrieve it. A less busy Mind Map gives more clarity with better recall of the detail you need when studying for exams. One word of warning though. You need to review the Mind Map at appropriate intervals to maintain the connections.

Images float away

Mind Maps are all about connections. This is why all words and images are placed on a network of connected branches. When you leave an image unattached to a branch it becomes dissociated from the other information on the Mind Map. This even applies to images placed near the periphery at the end of branches. Always be sure to avoid free-floating images.

Back to Black
At school and in business we are conditioned to write in blue or black ink. Most people are happy to embrace multiple colours on a Mind Map, but many still feel the need to write the words in black. This may be because they are reverting to the old habit - going back to black; they have seen Mind Map software that defaults to black text; or maybe their pens are just too thick to write clearly. You should always choose Mind Mapping pens with fine nibs. I use either Staedtler Triplus Fineliners or Stabilo point 88 pens. Both allow you to write clearly and come in 20+ colours. The use of colour on a Mind Map is not simply to make it look pretty. By having a single colour predominate on a branch and its sub-branches, related information is ‘chunked’ together. In cognitive psychology, chunking is a process by which individual pieces of information are bound together into a meaningful whole. This benefits memory and is why is easier to remember a telephone number in groups of three or four digits rather than as a string of individual numbers. Each group of digits, or chunk, takes up one ‘space’ in your mind. By grouping, you use up 3 or 4 units of memory. This is easily manageable whereas 11 individual digits will overload your working memory. If you use black text on your mind map it disrupts the chunking process. So always write your text in the same colour as its corresponding branch.