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Mind Mapping: Are you making the most of it?


Mind mapping isn’t new, but John Edmonds asks whether enough people being given the opportunity to learn using this technique to help them to solve problems and make decisions.

How many times have you been on a training course which is instantly forgettable?
That’s because training isn’t a ‘one size fits’ all solution. Different people need different types of training - some respond best to traditional lecturing, some people think in pictures, others like to put it down in words. 

Types of Learner

The same applies when it comes to learning and applying new knowledge, people prefer to learn in very different ways. That’s what is so great about Mind Maps - they can be drawn in different ways, to suit the individual. The most potent and memorable Mind Map is the one which each person draws for themself, but they can also be developed by a group in a classroom, or prepared beforehand by a trainer then discussed with a group and used as a revision aid.
In a learning context, Mind Maps have currency and value for the learner to the degree to which they are dynamic. The dialogue the group makes in the genesis of a mind map mirrors or 'maps' how they came to understand the narrative. It doesn’t matter that the drawing itself is a little scrappy – a mess even – but that it’s a growing picture upon which the group can recall the narrative.
Accelerated learning guru, David Meier, recognises four basic types of learner in his business model:
  • Aural: well served by traditional lecturing, 'chalk-and-talk' type teaching
  • Visual: people who doodle, think pictures, are more comfortable with illustrations of abstract concepts, processes and organisations
  • Kinaesthetic: those who prefer 'hands on', tactile learning experiences, they tend to be activists, and so we find this type is well represented among senior managers. The worst thing a trainer can do to this kind of learner is to make them sit behind a desk for long periods and ask them to listen.
  • Intellectual: comfortable with abstract models, but must see the 'big picture' first. They have less tolerance for being drip-fed information that the other three groups
Most of us have one preferred dominant style for learning, but we also have secondary styles as well. So, the best approach for a trainer designing a mind mapping session is to assume that all four types of learner will be present, and to coach in a multimodal way that appeals to each type.
In the 21st century at least three of these types will no longer tolerate bulletpoint based lecturing. So sighs of relief all round - no more 'Death by PowerPoint'.
Most of us do have the visual mode of learning as either our primary or secondary preferred style of learning, so Mind Maps work well with this. The ‘Intellectuals’ value the holistic, see-it-all-at-once-joined-up aspects of Mind
Maps, the ‘Kinaesthetics’ appreciate the narrative of dynamic Mind Maps and the ‘Aurals’ really want to talk them through.
Ultimately, I suppose, all management theory can be regarded as a mental grid against which the practitioner interprets reality. The power of Mind Maps is that they immediately portray these grids in a concrete, visual way.

Some uses of Mind Mapping

  • Project Management - map out management of tasks, time, resources and goals.
  • Presentations - bring a presentation to life, using lively illustrations and key words.
  • Change - a clear and concise way to make sense of change and illustrate how it will be managed and how it will affect people.
  • Marketing - a way to lay out a marketing plan to include everything from creative ideas through product analysis and promotional activity.
  • Problem solving - a mind map is a great platform from which to find a solution.
  • Meetings - agendas and briefings can be mapped in advance and after a meeting, goals and objectives developed.
  • Consolidation - mind mapping can reduce large volumes of info which can be summarised in a manageable plan.
You also need to ensure that you are giving a consistent service across the whole company, however the customer contacts you. That means both pre- and post-sales, and whether the customer enquires, orders, returns goods, asks for support, or complains via the web, telephone, mail or face-to-face. That’s a lot of processes to integrate and manage.

Keeping it right

Good customer service is hard work; it takes time, energy and dedication and sadly it’s not particularly sexy, especially with fast growth businesses. If you want to be a success you have to keep things going for the long term and it’s very easy to lose concentration. In fact, you need to keep on coming up with new initiatives so that all staff involved stay at the top of their game.

Listening to customers

Recently I attended an event run by industry organisation The Catalogue Exchange. One of the major topics of conversation was a new web-based service called Feefo. Feefo emails customers a few days after they have purchased in order to get their feedback on the service received. Several of the entrepreneurs who presented mentioned how they used the service to listen to their customers. One, the CEO of a £65m business, receives every email personally and looks at all of the previous day’s feedback each morning. I was chatting to Feefo founder Bill Cawley recently and we were discussing what happens when a company whose customer service is poor implements the system. “It improves rapidly,” was Bill’s comment, “because it has to. Often, owners aren’t aware of just how poor their service is perceived to be by their customers.”
Feefo is just one way of getting feedback. Another way is to regularly survey customers for their view of service. The key point is that every business needs a formal method for getting customer feedback.


One important area that is often neglected in instructional design is recall. Such is the focus on clear communication of new information and concepts that we can often overlook the need to help the learner manage their recall.

There is some evidence that cognitive assimilation, (memory) is not the issue. Research suggests that we never truly forget most experiences, it’s just that we often seem unable to recall them. Also it appears that recall works best by association, and that the brain has a facility to bring back stored data to consciousness when it is strongly associated

with some key image, mnemonic or other word. The ancient Greeks and Romans knew this and developed whole memory techniques around this that are still used today.

So Mind Maps can be regarded as a visual metaphor of the radial, associative links between the brain's synapses. This is probably why it works so brilliantly. I have found in training sessions that if we tour an individual or class through the branches of a Mind Map against a particular subject, it then becomes something each delegate can visualise. They discover that they can recall a surprising amount in this way.


There is one very simple test of the effectiveness of a business investing in Mind Mapping - results. In my experience, this simple technique works in multiple ways to help businesses get control and become more effective. Of course, just as people learn in different ways, they use Mind Mapping in ways. Some find themselves mind mapping meetings. Others use the technique to compose difficult reports or proposals. But there is no doubt that Mind Maps can help people orient themselves in a chaotic confusing business environment.

John Edmonds is an experienced project and programme manager and head of training and development at pearcemayfield He uses Buzan Organisation’s Mind Mapping™ and has used Mind Maps extensively in training design as well as in helping people to learn new management approaches. John writes in his blog called The Opsimath .

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