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Mind Mapping for accountants: lessons from Tony Buzan

15th Sep 2008
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Mind Mapping for better information recallMind Mapping was invented by Tony Buzan in the 1960s to give people a better way to organise and recall conceptual information. Nigel Harris went along to one of Buzan's seminars to find out how the technique could help his daily work as an accountant.

If there’s a topic that gets AccountingWEB readers going almost as much as 70s rock music and value billing, it’s mind mapping. Richard Murphy’s December 2007 article attracted over 10,000 hits and 22 comments.

I have been intrigued for some time by the technique of mind mapping but never really ‘got’ it, so I couldn’t resist when I saw that Mind Mapping creator Tony Buzan was running his first public training seminars in years in London this summer. Here are some of the highlights of "Mind Maps, Memory and Creativity" which supplement Richard’s article.

Mind Map tips
1. Use a plain sheet of paper in landscape orientation – this layout is more compatible with our wide peripheral vision and can contain more information than a portrait format Mind Map. Avoid lined paper as you may be tempted to adopt a rigid, grid style which limits the creativity which Mind Mapping tries to stimulate. Have coloured pens and highlighters at hand.

2. Start with your topic in the centre of the page. Use a colourful central image to stimulate your senses and encourage those synaptic connections. The process should be fun, so don’t think too hard while you get your initial thoughts down on paper.

3. Branches are what it’s all about: the central picture will trigger associative processes in your brain, so go with the flow and draw in branches and sub-branches as they come to you. Don’t try to work out the structure too much in advance, but leave space to add and extend branches as new ideas occur to you. The brain finds curves more interesting than straight lines, so make the branches curl a little – but keep the text fairly horizontal so you can read the whole page without needing to turn it around.

4. Use key words – one word or picture should be enough on each branch. If it’s a long word, make it a long branch, so that the branches, words and pictures make an organic whole.

5. Reflect from time to time – review at the whole Mind Map to look for links and associations. Draw in or highlight the links with an appropriate colour or image. Don’t worry about repetition – this might well lead you to discover new connections.

Some background

Buzan developed Mind Maps back in the late 1960s, partly driven by his own frustration with traditional note taking while studying as a student himself. Having taught psychology he went on to study creativity, memory, how the brain works – and how we can train it to work better, and keep on improving. He has published more than 98 books to date and continues to write and consult with the top companies worldwide.

Mind Mapping is more than an alternative way of setting out your notes. It is a tool to increase your creativity by using techniques that work the way your brain works.

Buzan describes the brain as a “gigantic Branching Association Machine, a biological super-computer where thinking radiates from a truly infinite number of data nodes.” It’s a vast matrix of connections or associations. Can we reach our full capacity? Put it this way, if your brain assimilated 10 information units (individual words or images) every second over a 100 year period you would only use about 10 per cent of your brain’s capacity!

Physically, brain cells constantly reach out to make connections with adjacent cells. Mind Mapping is so effective because it mirrors this by creating a web of connections and associations.


A big part of the day was spent looking at how the brain works and how we can use it most effectively. In all of Buzan’s books Mind Maps feature prominently as a powerful tool to help improve memory. Here are just three reasons why they are so effective:

1. Relaxation is a key to retrieval and even creation of data. Our brains just don’t work as well when we’re under constant stress. Mind Mapping is a far more informal method of note taking and helps to encourage the sort of ‘relaxed concentration’ that helps us remember data and be more creative.

2. Our brains need us to collect data into clusters. We can cope with five to seven non-linked items, but beyond that we need to group them in order to assimilate the data. Linear note taking doesn’t do this very well. Mind Mapping, particularly with its highly visual elements, is far better at facilitating clustering of data and helping us to remember it.

3. Repetition assists the recall of information. Those of a certain age will remember this well from their school days! ‘Reviewing’ data reactivates and strengthens the synaptic connections in your brain, making the memory stronger and easier to access. As they gather everything on only one page, Mind Maps encourage the brain to constantly review and repeat the data.

Some examples

For some inspiration, take a look at Tony Buzan’s Mind Map gallery. Coincidentally this page currently features some interesting examples on audit evidence and IAS 36 and 40 which showcase the technique as an effective note taking and summarising tool.

Treat the gallery as design examples though, rather than trying to follow the content too closely. A Mind Map is personal to the creator and will mean far more to him or her than to an unconnected reader as it will help to recall the thought process and physical experience of making the original Mind Map.

What next?

Am I a Mind Mapping convert? I can’t say that I have made great use of them since the seminar, but the few Mind Maps I have made have been extremely helpful. Unlike the many letters, notes and lists I have written, I can recall the Mind Maps in some detail many days and weeks afterwards.

If you are interested in learning to Mind Map I would highly recommend finding a hands-on course with a Buzan-licensed trainer, if not the man himself. Buzan World has links to further information, resources and training events.


Replies (5)

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By User deleted
26th Sep 2008 10:55

Strategic alliances of the mind!
With the mind "programmed" and "mapped-out" so precisely, will the mind be as if hypnotised to carry out pre-conditioned and preset programmed ideologies that never fails to deviate from what was already preset?

How is it different from enlightenment or buddhahood?

Thanks (0)
By MikeBellisimo
23rd Sep 2008 10:02

Forget Paper
I never found Mind Maps on paper to be helpful - they couldn't evolve.

On a PC I found that they were much more useful and could change easily as associations changed.

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By User deleted
16th Sep 2008 16:06

Mind mapping is a core skill for Accountants
Great article and well done at getting this core skill on the map (oops, a pun!). At the accountantscoach, I see mind mapping as so fundamental to optimising thinking and learning skills that I offer it as a given on all coaching programmes. For more info read my article on the applications of Mind Maps for Acccountants at

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David Winch
By David Winch
16th Sep 2008 08:59

Mind maps on computer

I have recently started using Mind Maps in relation to report writing (some of my forensic reports run to over 100 pages and cover a lot of detailed points).

It helps me to think out what I want to say, and the supporting detail points I wish to cover.

I do my mapping on my pc. That way I can re-draw the map, make and break connections, and re-shuffle the arrangements of points at will, over and over again.

There is lots of mind mapping software available - much of it free or nearly free.

I am using Mind Genius Business, not least because one of my co-directors had a copy and showed it to me (and we can now exchange maps by email), but it is by no means the only option. Try googling mind maps for more.

The Mind Genius Business has a 21 day free trial if you want to try it and see if you find mind mapping helpful to you. (Just download the software, but don't "buy" at that stage - you can buy later if you decide to.)


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By baseline
15th Sep 2008 16:16

To be Recommended
I have used Buzan's technique for far longer than I really care to think about.

The technique is invaluable to the creative process which is non linear. One of the handicaps of education such as a college or university qualification is that everything must be laid out in a linear fashion. You tend to miss things that are important.

What Tony does is allow one to collect all the random thoughts that are related to a central theme and then place them in a linear list with priorities of your own choosing.

Some of his other techniques are how to study effectively and how to become aware of memory issues such as retention.

Invaluable stuff!

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