Michael Tipper is an experienced speaker, facilitator, presenter and writer specializing in the practical business and educational applications of accelerated learning principles and techniques, mind mapping, creativity, speed reading and memory improvement. Over 70,000 people have directly experienced his live presentations and trainings, and more than half a million children and young people have benefited from programs he has developed for schools and colleges. His specialty is explaining how these tools can be used to increase individual productivity and effectiveness in today’s rapidly changing business world.
After perusing his blogs, I was convinced that Michael had a lot of great insights to share about how mind mapping fits into today’s business world, how it helps today’s information worker to manage information overload, and why mind mapping isn’t taken more seriously as a productivity tool by businesses. So I asked him for an interview, and he enthusiastically obliged. Here is my conversation with him:
Chuck: Michael, your training and speaking engagements are aimed at helping people to become better managers of their time, talents and projects. What made you decide to include mind mapping as part of your focus?
Michael: Well, first of Chuck I think it is vitally important to understand that no one really wants mind mapping. Let me explain. Millions of drills are sold to people every year who do not want a drill. What they want is the hole and of course the drill is the route to that. But ultimately it is the hole they are after. In other words, they don’t care about the tool as much as the benefit that the tool provides. It’s the same with mind mapping. In my professional past I was seeking ways of improving my performance and through my reading and research I discovered the joys personal development. I wanted to improve my thinking, be more creative, learn faster, be a better communicator, manage complex tasks more effectively – these were my “hole,” so to speak. It just so happened that my “drill” turned out to be mind mapping.
I think the biggest impact that this had on my process was the sudden elevation of my thinking and learning skills to a much higher plane than I had been used to.
The inclusion of mind mapping as a core strategy in helping people become more productive is purely based on the experience I have had in it helping me become more effective. So I am just teaching what I know, rather than what I have read in a book. Of course, it’s not the only strategy I use but it is the one that underpins all the rest and is probably the foundation of my thinking success.
How mind mapping helps today’s knowledge workers
Chuck: What are the unique challenges that knowledge workers face today, and how can mind mapping help?
Michael: All of the core thinking tasks that any knowledge worker needs to be proficient at can be enhanced by using mind mapping. My favorite analogy for this is a computing one. Imagine that your brain has been designed to (Apple) Mac hardware standards. But when you went to school, you were programmed with a Windows operating system, because your school didn’t know the Mac software was available. I like to think of mind mapping as being the Mac operating system for the Mac hardware of your brain. As soon as your brain is suddenly thinking using a process completely in harmony with the way it’s structured and operates, then you are no longer held back by the “wrong” operating system. So the first point is that mind mapping helps any knowledge worker because it is the right “software” for your brain, and that has been true since Buzan unleashed the concept of mind mapping on the world in 1974.
While it’s not necessarily the perfect answer, mind mapping allows for efficiencies, because one word can carry the meaning of an entire page of text, and speed, because writing one word takes far less time than jotting down a full page. In today’s knowledge environment speed and efficiency are necessary just to survive.
Why mind mapping is an ideal tool for business
Chuck: One benefit you cite for mind mapping is that it makes knowledge workers “better equipped to learn and update their professional knowledge and expertise to keep pace with the changes in their industry.” How does it do that?
Michael: Continuing professional development has been around for a long time, but for many industries and professions only now is it being mandated as part of a career development. Updating skills – the “how” of your industry – and extending your knowledge – the “what” of your industry – maintains your competitive advantage and of course that of the organization you work for. So in essence the skill of learning is one that is vital for that environment.
The trouble is, very few of us were taught the skill of learning at school. We were given the “what” to learn but I certainly never remember getting the “how” of learning. Fortunately I found ways that got me my grades. But imagine my frustration when I discovered how effective mind mapping is and how much easier it is to use to learn and recall new-found information.
So mind mapping is an ideal learning tool for a variety of reasons – primarily because the very process of using the tool forces you to think, and does so in a way that is more in tune with our brains than the way we have been taught.
Let’s look at how we have been taught to write as an example of what I mean. In school, our note taking strategy essentially evolved as a note “gathering” strategy because of the heavy emphasis on copying as a means to teach the skill. Sure, over time we stopped copying everything, but even noting key sentences and key words was still just a more refined form of copying. So our note taking skills are firmly rooted in the gathering of content.
Now this is where mind mapping differs significantly from conventional note taking. First of all, you have to think more deeply just to create a mind map. You have to analyze, categorize, summarize and organize the data and show the relationships and hierarchy of the content. In essence, you are getting to the bottom of the meaning of the information and not just capturing what it is.
When it’s time to recall that information, your memory of it is far superior, because of the deeper level of understanding you have of it, because you have got far more involved in it by applying the tool of mind mapping.
So when you combine that understanding of how mind mapping is so powerful with its efficiencies you suddenly have a potent learning and thinking strategy.
Your own surveys, which are excellent by the way, support this. In the survey you did in February 2007, you asked about the major benefit people got from using mind mapping software. A staggering 66 percent said that the main benefit was helping them to clarify their thinking. That is because it is a brain-friendly device and because of the process necessary to complete a mind map forces you to think.
Chuck: Is using our brains more efficiently the only practical way to tackle information overload? How can mind mapping help us to do this?
Michael: No, we need to use more than just our brains. We need to leverage the brains of others to avoid duplicating effort and we need to harness technology effective so that it serves us.
The internet and the communication advances of recent years have made it so easy to collaborate these days that, even as I sit here in my office in the middle of the countryside, I am just seconds away from any expert in any field in any country in the world. If they were so inclined, I could collaborate with the leading experts in my niche without even leaving my home but be able to see and hear them instantly and be able to share vast amounts of information at the click of a mouse.
And we are starting to see the blend of technology, collaboration and mind mapping come together to support this. As you know from the survey you did in September 2006, 42 percent of mind mapping software users often share their mind maps with others because collaboration is at the heart of the way they work.
So mind mapping helps us deal with information overload in the way that we think and, when used in the form of software, it extends those efficiencies from our mind and into our mouse.
Mind mapping software still in early adopter phase
Chuck: You’re convinced that mind mapping is still in the “early adopter” phase of acceptance by education and business. Why is that?
Michael: I think it has been really badly taught over the years and has not achieved the critical mass it should have reached, because of the lack of understanding about what mind mapping is all about.
Unfortunately the focus of its promotion has all been about the drill and not the hole. As I said earlier, people don’t really want the drill they want the hole. They don’t want the tool, they want the benefit that the tool provides.
Much of the early attention focused on this colorful diagram that was so far from the norm that it created a lot of interest just because of that. An expanding interest in the brain at that time meant that instead of citing the benefits and just how big a “hole” it could provide, the message got diverted onto the importance of the grey matter that sits between our . While the brain is a fascinating subject, it doesn’t really help convert the benefits of mind mapping to the bottom line. Because it has its roots in education and studying, it was probably dismissed as a good idea for revision and memorization and little else.
Chuck: I saw some figures in your blog about the number of people who you have talked to who are either barely aware of what mind mapping is, or don’t know about it at all. That’s astounding!
Michael: It amazes me all the time! Back when I used to do a lot of work in education it always staggered me that there were teachers who had never heard of it. These weren’t newly qualified teachers either, but long in the tooth, been around for years types.
Generally about 10% of my audiences use it regularly, 45 to 55 percent are aware of mind mapping and the rest have never heard of it. Occasionally there are pockets of greater awareness but usually that is where they have had mind mapping training. But even then I still find that people don’t understand its true power and potential.
Growing the acceptance of mind mapping in business
Chuck: In your opinion, what has to happen for mind mapping to achieve critical mass in business?
Michael: I don’t think that will happen until it has achieved a critical mass in education. But I don’t really want mind mapping to achieve critical mass in business as such because that is once again focusing on the drill. I want to help people be more confident in their natural abilities and access more of their latent potential for them to achieve great things in their lives for them and for the people around them. That means giving people the skills to learn, be creative, solve problems, communicate ideas, manage their productivity and so on. Mind mapping just happens to be one of the drills and there are lots of them out there. In my humble opinion, mind mapping is a great place to start because it gives all of the other techniques a better chance and a stronger foundation.
Chuck: How big of a hurdle to the acceptance of mind mapping is the predominant Western focus on linear, logical thinking?
Michael: I think it is a big obstacle if you approach that issue head on. However, if you drop a few crumbs here and a few crumbs there you will start to get some attention. Slowly educating people on understanding how we think and then giving people a tangible experience of the power of mind mapping such that they see, feel and hear what it means is the way to do it. I think it is really about the marketing of the benefits and it comes back to focusing on the hole and not the drill. If you talk to a CEO about helping their people become more creative, faster learners, clearer thinkers and so forth, and then you will have their attention.
I think the biggest hurdle to mind mapping is people’s misguided beliefs that you have to be able to draw really well to create a mind map and they can’t draw, have never been able to draw and never will be able to draw. And time and time again I see it as a convenient excuse for them to say, “mind mapping is not for me.”
The other challenge that does stop people from really trying to come to terms with using mind mapping is the fear of failure. Copying everything by taking notes in the standard linear, left brain way is a safe bet because we have got all the data. As soon as you begin mind mapping you have to summarize and categorize and make judgments about what is important and what is not. That puts us in the place of possibly getting something wrong by making the wrong choices.
A time-saver at work
Chuck: How, specifically, can mind mapping save people time in their work?
Michael: I think the simplest answer is that the clarity of thinking resulting from the application of the tool, as confirmed by your survey, means any thinking tasks take less time. We all have to think at work and anything that can focus our attention more efficiently in what we do will give time savings. Over half of your survey respondents claimed an average of 20% efficiency savings. That is a day a week – what would you do with that extra day?
Chuck: What’s your feeling on hand-drawn vs. computer-produced mind maps? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each?
Michael: I’m a big fan of both and think that they are both essential. Anyone doing one without the other is missing out on its benefits and where it strengthens and supports their chosen methodology.
Hand drawn mind maps are much more personal, spontaneous and involve far more of you, making them a powerful learning and creativity device. They are also extremely portable and don’t rely on any equipment other than a piece of paper and a pen, ideally a multi-colored one. I generally take my notes from books, tapes and live events using hand drawn mind maps as it allows me to put my own mark on what I am hearing.
Software generated mind maps are better suited to the handling, manipulation and management of large amounts of information. They are also far better for interfacing with existing software suites and of course much easier to store. I use software mind mapping for planning, product design, project management, creation of courses and knowledge management. I don’t think it is worth exploring their weaknesses because if you have and use both, these are accounted for by the strengths of the other.
You will also find that your use of each depends on where you are working. If I am at my PC for much of the say then I flash up the software. If I am out meeting clients or running a course I will use hand drawn mind maps.
My daily and weekly plans are always written out using a hand drawn mind map because my day may include a mixture of PC and non-PC time and I need to have the plan constantly at my finger tips. There is also something more satisfying about crossing something off my mind map plan when it is done than just pressing the delete key.