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Mind Maps are Childish - Not for Serious Business?

25 Jan 2019
Mind Maps are Childish - Not for Serious Business?

If you saw a business colleague with a bulging pencil case full of coloured pens and other art materials would you question his/her sanity? Had she been working too hard and was now experiencing a second childhood after executive burnout? If you then saw her drawing pictures and seemingly doodling in work would that be conclusive proof she'd flipped?

Mind Maps, and by association Mind Mappers, can be seen by the uninitiated as childish and thus foolish or un-businesslike. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mind Mappers can be said to be child-like. This is very different to being childish. The child-like individual is creative, innovative and well balanced. Education researcher N. V. Scarfe said, “The highest form of research is essentially play” (a quote often misattributed to Albert Einstein though a sentiment I am confident he would have agreed with). Scientists often describe child-like playfulness and imaginative daydreams as 'Thought Experiments'. These can lead to intuitive leaps of understanding that can be later backed up by step-by-step reasoning and calculation. Einstein imagined riding on a beam of light; Newton deduced the motion of the moon and planets by imagining firing cannon balls; August Kekulé claimed to have discovered the benzene ring in a daydream. There are many other examples.

Mind Maps allow you to capture whimsical ideas but at the same time build a highly structured and logical network of associations.
You may think this is all very well for scientists in their ivory towers but it won't work in business. American writer and business management expert, Tom Peters, said, “The number one premise of business is that it need not be boring or dull. It ought to be fun. If it’s not fun, you’re wasting your life.” With a similar sentiment George Bernard Shaw said, “We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
I hope I am beginning to convince you that Business should be fun and Mind Maps are the perfect tool to stimulate creativity and support playfulness whist maintaining necessary focus and rigour. But surely carrying coloured pens around and drawing pictures is an unnecessary, time-wasting folly, isn't it?


The use of images in Mind Maps is often misunderstood. Some people assume they're extraneous embellishments to make the Mind Map look pretty. Objections include: pictures lack the precision of words, it takes too long to draw images so wastes precious time and you need to be an artist to avoid the embracement of unrecognisable scrawling. In fact, they're a vital part of the process of creating a Mind Map regardless of whether it is for business, study or personal life.

Pictures dramatically aid memory. If part of your intention is to memorise and recall your Mind Map making it visually stimulating will pay massive dividends. If you lack confidence in your drawing abilities do not despair. Find an image to copy - Google has millions. The act of thinking about an image, even if it is a struggle, will help embed it in your memory. It’s not necessary to be Leonardo da Vinci to use images. Stick figures can be effective! If the Mind Map is for your own use, you don't have to show it to anyone else, exposing your lack of artistic prowess to ridicule. Though if your images are criticized remember “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind” (unknown but often misattributed to Dr. Seuss.) If you are self-critical, develop your artistic skills by attending an art class or cartooning course.

Images promote creativity. The radiant nature of a Mind Map is designed to generate creative ideas and associatively expand upon them. Key words can stimulate many associations. Images, however, are even more effective at triggering new ideas.

You can summarise a great deal of information with a sketch, diagram or even a graph. A well-chosen image can replace many words. Thus, graphical components will simplify your Mind Map without compromising important details.


I was jokingly dubbed the person with the most coloured pens in British history in the ‘Graduate Yearbook’ at my first job, working in the mainframe IT department of a major bank. I was never called crazy though. At least not within earshot. Starting a job in a new sector requires a lot of studying so naturally in training sessions on LIBOR, SWIFT, CREST, etc. I avidly took Mind Map notes.

Like images, colour’s purpose isn’t just to prettify your Mind Map. Each main branch (Basic Ordering Idea) and its descendants share the same colour for lines and text. This visually ‘chunks’ the information together. Chunking is a concept in psychology which makes better use of memory. It is easier to remember a telephone number if it is broken down into chunks of three or four digits than a single sting of eleven. You can show associations by colour coding. For example, in a meeting all action points could be red or you could assign a colour to each attendee to track their contribution and responsibilities. You can identify important ideas by highlighting or using a contrasting colour to the ‘base’ colour of the branch. Used well, colour can be a very effective tool to clarify, aid understanding and, in a group context, engender engagement.

If your business is serious about having a competitive edge, boosting productivity and being at the forefront of innovation, you ridicule Mind Maps at your peril. Give your staff permission to play – it really does make perfect business sense.

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