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Tony Buzan: Brain play – the never-ending story


It’s hard not to feel exhausted after talking to Tony Buzan, the brain-power guru best known for his Mind Mapping techniques, for Buzan is a man who never tires, who endlessly achieves and whose commendable positive attitude never fails - he is a veritable example of how to enjoy life to the full. Annie Hayes reports.

Seven Steps to Making a Mind Map:
  • Start in the CENTRE of a blank page turned sideways. Why? Because starting in the centre gives your Brain freedom to spread out in all directions and to express itself more freely and naturally.

  • 2. Use an IMAGE or PICTURE for your central idea. Why? Because an image is worth a thousand words and helps you use your Imagination. A central image is more interesting, keeps you focused, helps you concentrate, and gives your Brain more of a buzz!

  • 3. Use COLOURS throughout. Why? Because colours are as exciting to your Brain as are images. Colour adds extra vibrancy and life to your Mind Map, adds tremendous energy to your Creative Thinking, and is fun!

  • 4. CONNECT your MAIN BRANCHES to the central image and connect your second- and third-level branches to the first and second levels, etc. Why? Because your Brain works by association. It likes to link two (or three, or four) things together. If you connect the branches, you will understand and remember a lot more easily.

  • 5. Make your branches CURVED rather than straight-lined. Why? Because having nothing but straight lines is boring to your Brain.

  • 6. Use ONE KEY WORD PER LINE. Why Because single key words give your Mind Map more power and flexibility.

  • 7. Use IMAGES throughout. Why Because each image, like the central image, is also worth a thousand words. So if you have only 10 images in your Mind Map, it's already the equal of 10,000 words of notes!


Life began for Buzan in the June of 1942. Born to English parents his mother noted from an early age that he showed ‘intelligence beyond his years’ yet it was animals and not the brain that was his first love. “I wanted to be an animal behaviourist to start with,” explains Buzan whose best friends were Paddy the cat and Pongo the rabbit until inevitably the sad day arrived when Pongo died. Buzan also showed an early interest in people and especially those who others ‘scorned’ as different or ‘stupid’: “My best friend was called ‘stupid’ but he could recognise birds and butterflies by their flight patterns alone and I began to think about what we meant when we said someone was ‘stupid’ and another was ‘smart’.”

These seedlings of thought began a life-long love and work with the power of the brain and a pursuit to find out the true nature of intelligence: “The traditional definition of intelligence is to do with mathematical and verbal powers but there are a whole host of other areas that denote our intelligence including our social, creative and spiritual powers.” And so it followed that he landed the job of Editor of Mensa, the journal of the international high-IQ society for a period of three years, 1968-1971. It was during this time that he had the time to discover more about the mind.

In 1973 the first public foray into his world-famous Mind Maps began when he was approached by the BBC who wanted to do a programme on them: “I mind mapped what they wanted and it grew and grew and the director said it looked more like a 10-part than a two-part series and while I was there would I like to write a book as well.” The series never happened but the Mind Maps took hold.

According to Buzan’s official website a Mind Map is ‘a powerful graphic technique which provides a universal key to unlock the potential of the brain. It harnesses the full range of cortical skills - word, image, number, logic, rhythm, colour and spatial awareness - in a single, uniquely powerful manner. In so doing, it gives you the freedom to roam the infinite expanses of your brain.’ And according to Buzan it can be applied to every aspect of life to improve learning and thinking and at all stages and grades of life too. The Mind Maps nickname: ‘The Swiss Army knife of the brain’ is a fitting tag.

“It’s now used by half a billion people across the globe, in schools for teaching, note-taking and exam preparation and it has been developed with key words, more colour, images and codes and has been translated to the computer,” says Buzan who also tells me that it is used to plan weddings and by the Singapore Ministry of Education to communicate with its students.

It has also been of great benefit to special needs communities including those with Dyslexia as well as businesses that want to hone the already gifted or use it to solve problems: “It was used in 9/11 and by Boeing to design new aircrafts,” says Buzan.

I ask Buzan if he is comfortable with the label ‘guru’ that is so often attached to his name and goes seamlessly with his introduction: “I’m always complimented to be called guru but it really just means learner. I’ve put a lot of hard-work in, I’m approaching my hundredth book, I’ve spent nine months of this year travelling and I do a lot of charity and media work.” It’s hard to keep up with Buzan’s achievements which he says stem from a solid belief in the human race and its potential.

To add to the list, Buzan is a keen sportsman: “I’ve always loved physical exercise, when I’m back in England I row and I’ve helped coach the Olympic rowing squad. When I undertake long-distance exercise I find it’s a great time to think it helps me to be more productive. I love it and do it everyday.” Buzan says he emphasises the motto: “Healthy body, healthy mind” and stands by the acronyms GFGB (good food, good brain) and JFJB (junk food, junk brain).

Poetry is another love. To date he has written some 4,000 poems and says: “It is a tremendous mental exercise which ‘bubbles’ up like an eternal spring.” The creative gift comes in spurts and he laughs when he tells me he once wrote a whole series of poetry whilst travelling on Concord dubbing him the name ‘the Concord poet’.

So does he ever switch off? “Well I hope not because I’d be dead if I did (he laughs) the brain is still working at 80% capacity even when we’re asleep.” You get the feeling that Buzan’s is closer to 100%. He does admit, however, that whilst he ‘loves to challenge himself he also loves to relax’ and finds comfort in living as close to his values as possible which he lists at: “Honesty, creativity, persistence, learning from mistakes, taking appropriate risks, commitment, living by a positive approach, humour and enjoying his work.”

For Buzan work is play and he holds great store by Hypocrites saying that ‘you’ll never see anything as serious as a child at play’. So what next for Buzan? As you might imagine 2009 is already packed with exciting new developments including a new book for the BBC, work with the Memory Championships, a whole new version of Mind Mapping for the computer, developments in language Maps and not forgetting his work with coaching the Olympic athletes for 2012. There’s also three new books of poetry to get to grips with.”

Do you ever feel overwhelmed, I ask. “When I do I think hmmm but it quickly passes and I think there is a way to do this, there’s always a solution.” Buzan never rests on his laurels and rather than pinching himself to think how much he has accomplished he admits he is always thinking how much more he has got to do. For his underlying wish is that, “Every brain on the planet is given the power to accelerate,” it’s a belief in the power of the human being however, ‘stupid’ or ‘smart’ that has never left him and has shaped his life, work and passion.

Want to find out more? Tony Buzan has very kindly agreed to answer any of your questions. You can either post a comment below, or email [email protected]
We'll publish the answers in the New Year. We've extended the deadline for submissions was 31st December. Watch this space for the responses.

Annie Hayes, MCIPD, is a former editor of our sister site She now works part-time as contributing editor for both and using her wealth of knowledge to write features for both websites

Tony Buzan will speak at the Learning Technologies Conference in January.


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