An interview with Tony Buzan
Interview by: Alistair Craven
Tony Buzan has achieved the status of 'guru', an accolade accorded to very few. He has worked with corporate entities and businesses all over the world; academics; Olympic athletes; children of all ages; governments; and high profile individuals, in teaching them how to maximize the use of their brain power.
He is the inventor of Mind Maps®, the most powerful 'thinking tool' of our times. The Chairman of Microsoft, Bill Gates recognized its importance in his article entitled 'The Road Ahead – How Mind-Mappers are taking our information democracy to the next stage' which recently appeared in Newsweek Issues.
A prolific author, he has written – to date – 94 books, with sales in more than 150 countries; his books have been translated into more than 33 languages. His latest titles are Age-Proof Your Brain, published by Harper Thorsons in 2007; and The Buzan Study Skills Handbook, published by BBC Active also in 2007.
One of his recent books, The Ultimate Book of Mind Maps, published by Thorsons in 2005, bears testimony to his universally famous invention, and how their use can boost creativity and change lives for the better.
The Pocket-sized Buzan Bites, published by the BBC in 2006, is a series of three distillations on Mind Maps, speed reading and memory – perfect for busy people who want to learn these exciting concepts and techniques quickly.
Tony's techniques are also taught via a global network of Buzan Licensed Instructors in Asia, Europe, the Americas and Australasia. He is a familiar celebrity on Radio and TV, both in the UK and globally, with a long list of credits to his name. His name is synonymous with all things cerebral and his knowledge is widely sought after by a media and public perennially eager to learn practical advice on how to improve brain function.
You developed the concept of the Mind Map in the late 1960s. How has your concept grown and developed over the years?
The first explosive growth for Mind Maps occurred in 1974. I had been teaching the new concept in schools, Universities and businesses for six years, and the BBC, after investigating what I had been doing, requested a half hour programme on the topic. After Mind Mapping the contents for the programme, the Director of Higher Education at the BBC said that the Mind Map made it look more like a 10-part series than a simple half hour programme. I agreed! In 1974 the 10-part Use Your Head Series came out, accompanied by the Use Your Head book. This series was repeated at least twice a year from 1974 to 1989. The book, according to the BBC, became a “modern classic”, and now approaches sales worldwide of 2 million.
I have continued to travel around the world lecturing and appearing on radio and television, it being recently estimated that more than 3 billion people globally are aware of the Mind Map Concept. In China, in 2005, I presented a one-hour television programme on the brain, Mind Mapping and Memory which was viewed by an estimated 350 million people. Six weeks ago, in April 2007, a feature “Celebrity Talks” programme on Vietnamese Television, addressing the same question, was seen by 80 million people.
A check last week by my webmaster on Google, unearthed 126 million pages referring to Mind Maps alone. The growth and the development at the moment is, as you will have sensed, meteoric!
How can Mind Mapping help in the world of business? Can you provide us with a specific example?
Mind Mapping is especially useful in the modern business world, which is increasingly becoming a thinking, service and creative world. In business, the number of uses for Mind Maps is identical to, and as multiple as, the uses for thinking. In business, Mind Maps are being used for project planning, brainstorming and creative thinking, knowledge management, speech preparation and presentation, strategic thinking, negotiation, continuing personal development (CPD), meeting preparation, all forms of learning and problem solving. Indeed Bill Gates, in a recent NewsWeek feature, stated that Mind Maps were “the road ahead – taking our information democracy to the next level”.
There are many examples, the most recent of which is the May/June 07 issue of Time Magazine, which features Al Gore on the cover. In the contents of the feature article there is a photograph of Al Gore with his project Mind Map in front of him. The article points out that he uses Mind Mapping to help him keep control of his thoughts.
You claim that in virtually every Fortune 500 company, there are a number of people who are either doing Mind Mapping or helping others do it. In this setting it takes the form of a note-taking technique. Can you explain a bit more about this?
The Mind Map is the thinking tool that reflects the internal thought processes of the human brain. When human thinking is externalized in its pure form, this becomes a Mind Map, and is a note that reflects the brain’s own thinking processes. In the Fortune 500 companies, an increasing number of individuals are using this technique for all the purposes I mentioned in response to your first question. These thinking processes are now being greatly aided by the new Mind Map software to which I shall return shortly.
Is Mind Mapping particularly popular within certain regions or cultures?
Yes. This is not so much regional or type; it is attitudinal. Mind Mapping is popular in companies or countries which are cutting edge, which are focusing much of their resources on learning and thinking skills, and which have realized the significance of creative thinking and innovation in gaining a competitive edge in the modern world.
These companies and countries, of which there are an accelerating number, include Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, HSBC, Con Edison, Reckitt Benckiser, and Hewlett Packard etc. Among countries: China, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Australia, Germany, England, Scotland, Mexico and the United States of America.
In the 1950s it was estimated that we used around 50 per cent of our brain capacity. Some estimates today have reduced that figure to an incredible 1 per cent. Where do you stand on this debate? Is the apparent under- utilization of our brains indicative of a general failure somewhere in our education systems?
I stand with the 1-per centers!
In answering, let me first clarify an area of public confusion. In daily life we are using much of our brains much of the time. The “percentage debate” is not simply about which brain cells are being used. The debate is fundamentally about how efficiently we are using the equipment we have. This can be refined even further by linking the efficiency to the vital cognitive processes of learning, creativity, and memory. It is easy to demonstrate, by measured difference, that performance in these areas can be improved by a factor of 100.
“Most current methods of handling information are based on the 19th Century linear, verbal and monotonic model. This worked comfortably for the Industrial Age. It does not work comfortably in the age of knowledge, creativity and intelligence.”
With reference to our education systems, it is important to realize that our formal education institutions are on average less than 150 years old. They are, in the context of the evolution of the human race, babies! Until a mere 20 years ago, information on the brain was in very short supply, and therefore could not be properly integrated into educational systems. With the recent sudden explosion of brain information, we are already seeing a very rapid uptake and application of this information in education systems.
As an example, in the last 8 weeks I have lectured to educational groups fascinated by these new advances in countries as wide ranging as the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and, most recently, in Scotland. I believe that within the next 10 years we will see a global education shift in which all schools will have a mental literacy module incorporating information for the student on the brain, learning, thinking, creativity, memory skills, speed reading and study skills, and the application of these mental literacy skills to all subject-areas and to all aspects of learning.
This will bring about a tectonic shift in education and the positive future of our planet.
You are quoted as claiming that the world is “historically mentally illiterate”. How did you arrive at this opinion?
Mental literacy refers to the knowledge of the brain’s physical and mental function, and to the application of this knowledge to all aspects of life. Put in another way, mental literacy refers to having the “correct formulae”, the proper operations manual for the brain. Historically we have not known the correct formulas, and have gone down many brain cul-de-sacs and wrong turnings.
One simple and recent example is the use of lined paper for linear verbal note taking as a main method for enhancing learning and memory. Because the brain is based on imagination and association, this method is diametrically opposed to what the brain needs. Being diametrically opposed, it creates many of the learning problems and difficulties that virtually all students experience today.
One of your books, Head First, claims that every one of us possesses “multiple natural intelligences”. Can you elaborate on this?
In the beginning of the 20th Century a French educationist, Alfred Binet, came up with the very clever and new idea of measuring human intelligence. It gave rise to the IQ (Intelligence Quotient) test. At the time IQ was based, and remained based for 90 years, on primarily words and numbers. These intelligences do exist, and are very important. In the last 20 years we have discovered that there are other intelligences, and these are the intelligences that my book, Head First, introduces and discusses. The additional intelligences include:
Creative, spiritual, personal, social, physical, spatial, and sensual.
You have served as consultant to many multinational organizations, including Hewlett Packard, IBM and BP. What has surprised you most about the way in which today’s organizations deploy their Intellectual Capital?
I had always thought that when the human brain acquired information appropriate to its more successful use, it would make the best use of that information. The appropriate use of intellectual capital is an accelerating global business trend and will lead, as John Naisbitt predicted in his book Mega Trends 2000, to the growing realization that economic growth will be seen as limitless. How is this possible? By the simple equation:
Business is becoming increasingly based on creativity; ideas are the ‘new products’; the brain has an infinite capacity to create; therefore, business growth has an infinite future.
Your Buzan Centres worldwide form part of a global network organization designed to turn blue chip companies into “Thinking and Learning organizations”. How do you set out to achieve this aim?
My Buzan Centres help create thinking and learning organizations in a number of ways:
Through a global network of Buzan Licensed Instructors (BLI’s) we provide courses on learning, thinking, memory, Mind Mapping on computer, creativity and innovation, project management, and presentation and communication skills etc. These are done as either public courses or in company courses.
Buzan Centres have the full range of my own books, as well as training manuals based upon those books.
Buzan Centres arrange conferences based around the concept of the brain, learning and creativity.
These Memory Championships can be described as “decathlons of the mind” in which competitors test their “memory muscles” in 10 memory disciplines. These Memory Championships are often accompanied by a Memory Festival. For further information see:
Buzan Centres worldwide provide and distribute a growing range of brain-friendly products, including Mind Mapping materials, brain exercising games and Mind Map Software.
Can you tell us a little about your new iMindMap™ software?
Ever since I invented Mind Maps in the early 1960s I have dreamed of a Mind Map software that would allow anyone to produce a Mind Map on the computer that was indistinguishable from a Mind Map produced by hand.
This turned out to be a task apparently as difficult as splitting the atom! I worked with many companies and many iterations of proto-Mind Maps on computer, each time getting closer, but never achieving “the real deal”. I was fortunate to make contact with an educational businessman and computer expert, Chris Griffiths, who, this year, finally, with his “Manhattan Project” Team, solved the insoluble! The result is Buzan’s iMindMap, software that I predict will change the way in which the world thinks.
We often hear the term “information overload” in business today. How can your methods help to combat this problem?
Most current methods of handling information are based on the 19th Century linear, verbal and monotonic model. This worked comfortably for the Industrial Age. It does not work comfortably in the age of knowledge, creativity and intelligence.
As one example: standard linear and verbal organization techniques contain only 10 per cent of information that is relevant for the brain in its thinking processes. This means that they are 90 per cent inefficient. Using Mind Maps and other mental literacy techniques, all thinking becomes more efficient, condensed, refined, rapid and clear. One businessman said that before he had learned Mind Mapping and mental literacy skills it was as if he were driving through his life with the windscreen caked with mud. When he learned how to use his brain appropriately, he said that it was as if a windscreen wiper had suddenly, with one sweep, cleared away the mud, and for the first time in his life he could see clearly. Mind Maps and mental literacy techniques give you that new clarity. They also give you a much greater control of your thinking processes, and therefore a much greater control of your life.
Finally, what interests you outside of your professional life, and why?
My main interests include:
- Art because it feeds my eyes, mind and soul.
- Physical activity and sports, especially rowing, swimming, running and the Japanese martial art of Aikido. Each of these gives me extreme pleasure in the sheer activity and play of the sport, as well as providing me, as a wonderful by-product, robust muscular and aerobic health.
- Animals and animal intelligence. Ever since I was a child I have been enthralled by the astonishing intelligences of our fellow travellers. They provide me with constant bemusement, entertainment, amazement and awe.
- Astronomy. The beauty and dimensions of our universe provide a feast for my aesthetic sensitivities, and a constant humbling perspective on my and our place in that Universe.
- Friends. For every reason imaginable!
You can find out more about Tony Buzan at buzanworld