Science - June 17, 2004

Mind Map can help us think more clearly

We use only one percent of our brain capacity, but we can do something about this. The Mind Map is a ‘map of our thoughts’, and works particularly well when made by a group. Peter Smeets, a researcher at Alterra, sees the Mind Map as a useful instrument for students and staff at Wageningen UR.

The Mind Map is a creation of Tony Buzan, a psychologist and management guru. According to research, our thinking takes the form of a hierarchical tree-like structure. Linear representations of these processes, such as notes or presentations in the form of a story with a beginning and an end, do not adequately reflect our thought patterns. That is why we often remember things badly, and these representations do not inspire us. Mind Maps are quite different, according to their supporters. If you look at a Mind Map five times you will never forget it. And if you make one yourself you will come up with more creative ideas.

You have to try it out for yourself to find out if it’s likely to help you. All you need is a large piece of paper, although it’s more fun with a computer programme like Mindmanager. In the centre of the paper you write down a key word that describes the problem, idea or subject for an article or presentation. The branches radiating from the centre describe parts of component of the central issue. If a brainstorm is all you are after, then this is already enough. But if you are working on a project in a group, it can be taken further, resulting in a complete project proposal, where the individual tasks are clearly outlines.

Peter Smeets has been mind mapping for a while already, and could not live without it. Together with about twenty other researchers at Alterra he uses Mindmanager to set up projects, write articles and arrange his Internet behaviour according to his interests. Smeets also uses mind mapping in his work as a process supervisor at WING, the Wageningen Interactive Network Group. He uses a laptop and a beamer to present his discussions in the form of Mind Maps.

Smeets: “It gets really interesting when people start to react to the Mind Map on the screen during a discussion. You get comments like ‘Hey, I didn’t mean that’. It means you get joint reflection on a subject.” According to Smeets, both students and staff could gain a lot from Mind Maps, and hopes that Wageningen UR will buy a license for the computer programme.

Joris Tielens