Can individuals or organizations increase their creativity and achieve greater success? Tony Buzan says they can, I f they just put their minds to it. The creator of mind mapping talks to Stuart Crainer
Many look at the business world as they might a scientific laboratory: bounded by proven realities, tested verities and rigid logic. Every theory is supported by empirical evidence. Yet, even Albert Einstein considered himself an “artist”. In fact, he’s often quoted as saying, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Tony Buzan’s world is the human mind, and he’s the individual most responsible for bringing the concept of mind mapping to the business world. For the energetic and peripatetic Tony Buzan, the empires of the mind are not only limitless, they are his life’s work. He has made a career out of the idea of mind mapping, the concept of capturing ideas, thoughts and inspirations in colourful diagrams. Its adherents say it is a simple, but powerful, technique.
You don’t have to imagine how successful Buzan is. Revenues from his many and varied activities associated with mind mapping are estimated to be over £100 million annually. He has had a hand in more than 90 books (with over six million sold in 33 languages) and travels eight to nine months every year, covering 73 countries so far. To this can be added his expertise in the martial art of Ikedo, poetry (he was a close friend of the poet, Ted Hughes, and habitually wrote poems while flying on Concorde), rowing, teaching ballroom dancing and much more. Along the way he also started the World Memory Championships.
Buzan’s headquarters are close to the River Thames in Buckinghamshire. As you might expect, his is not the typical corporate office, but rather a low-key, one-person chalet-style house close to his home. “I always saw money as a circulation system. I didn’t want money, I wanted what money could get me; and what I wanted was everybody knowing about mind mapping. The money’s a happy by- product. I love cars, but my old Mercedes is comfortable. I was told by my accountant to go and buy a better car. I went and checked the better cars and didn’t find one that appealed. And why spend £50,000 on something that I’m going to drive 110 times a year?” The man himself cuts a sartorial dash, a fit and sprightly sixty-something invigorated, he tells me, by an early morning row on the river.
With his prolific output and hectic travel schedule, one would imagine that Buzan is either the best-organized person in the world or the most obsessive. The reality lies somewhere in between. His diary is planned 18 months ahead – “Not totally sorted, but the big islands in that ocean of time are established,” he says quickly. For Buzan, such organization is liberating rather than a tiresome straitjacket. One thing tends to lead to another. “Commitment does lead to opportunity, but I don’t plan two months ahead day-by-day and hour-by- hour; there will be certain days that are allocated. In fact, I was reading recently that the average senior business manager has a horizon of three months. I find that extraordinary; my horizon is eternity, and I play within that.”
Buzan talks big, but he does so naturally rather than egotistically. “My fundamental goal has remained the same – to have every single person in the world mentally literate. By that I mean they know how their brains and bodies work and how thinking and cognitive functions work. Basically, I want everybody to have the operations manual for his or her own brain. Everything I do is directed towards that.”
Buzan believes that mind mapping changed his life and enabled him to explore his many interests. “If I had known how to mind map, my school and academic life would have been extraordinary, a breeze, exuberant, open; instead of the standard student struggling against the reins of study and note taking and reviewing. And not getting as good marks as you knew you could get if you had somehow known a better method.”
In his homeland Buzan operates somewhat below the radar, although he did teach 9,000 children in the Royal Albert Hall a couple of years ago. Elsewhere, his ideas are embraced with gusto. Recent years have seen his popularity in Asia mushroom. Interestingly, the name Buzan can be distantly traced to Mongolia, by way of 17th-century French Huguenots; and, Buzan tells me gleefully, Buzan (population circa 9 million) is the second city of Korea. When in his company, it is easy to believe that if the city wasn’t originally named after him, they might want to do so now.
In Japan he taught 350 children, their parents and teachers in a leading theatre. Singapore hosts a two-week Mind Map Festival featuring the biggest mind map in the world. It is four stories high and six stories long, made up of panels completed by different schools in and around Singapore, and captures the 42-year history of Singapore.