It was at the turn of the millennium when I bought my one and only mind mapping book, Tony Buzan’s The Mindmap Book. A solution I hoped would improve my memory retention, organise my thoughts and improve my note-taking.
I was working at Disney Online at the time and managing a team to deliver their online digital presence across Europe and the Middle East – around 27 countries. Initially, the team was very small but grew rapidly over the next couple of years. We would update UKFIGS (UK, France, Italy, Germany and Spain) on a weekly, if not daily, basis while the remaining countries were only refreshed each month.
Flash! … Ah-ha
It took a lot of coordination (this is pre-JIRA, Trello, DoubleClick, etc) and on top of the regular marketing updates we were developing new “sticky” content; mainly small games, built using Adobe Flash. For an animation company, Flash was an amazing product and we were producing games & interactive content every few weeks or localising material sent from the US; games including Penguin Bounce, Rubber Band, Colouring Books, Jigsaws, using companies from across Europe; Moonfruit, Lemon Digital, and Team cHmAn who developed Banja.com. It’s great to see a copy of their website is still available to view. Interestingly to set a password on this website you needed to set a colour, a flower and a number. The use of those combinations made it a much more memorable way for me to remember my password at the time.
To Do Lists
As the workload at Disney started to increase my to-do lists started to longer, tracking each project, each website, each game, while attending regular status and team meetings meant lots of minutes and actions to record as well. My notebooks were filling quickly and I wasn’t able to retain as much information in my short-term memory as I wanted. I would write and re-write my to-do list every couple of days, to check I hadn’t missed anything. How could the others within the company take it all in and never seem to get stressed? I figured it had to me, I needed to learn how to “memorise” more. The brain has a huge capacity and I simply wasn’t using mine well.
You can have a power-packed memory
At the time “Mr Memory” ads were appearing in magazines with claims to improve your memory within 7 days (and help you earn more). I contemplated it and decided to buy his book: Stop Forgetting. To this day I can still recall the ad because of the picture of Dr Furst.
Dr Bruno Furst to some is regarded as a Founding Father on memory improvement and his concept is based on the premise that people remember things like objects, places, colours, people, and stories much better than abstract concepts like numbers, schematic diagrams, or sounds. In his book and course, he demonstrated you can take abstract ideas and translate them into a story or idea using techniques such as exaggeration, comparison, or vivid imagery.
Encoding, Storage & Recall
Melanie Pinola’s great article The Science of Memory: Top 10 Proven Techniques to Remember More and Learn Faster also discussed the concepts of encoding, storage and recall. “When you first experience an event or read a piece of information…your brain consciously perceives the sounds, images, physical feeling, or other sensory details involved” and it uses these pieces of information to store it within your memory. In the future, a smell or a piece of music or a visual may trigger a memory and transport you back in time to the moment it was first encoded and stored.
Melanie’s Top 10 techniques to help you remember more, faster:
- Sleep on it – after reading something in short-term memory, you need time to store it in long-term memory; so make sure you get lots of beauty sleep.
- Get moving – our brains rely upon oxygen-rich blood to function well. and exercising about 4 hours after learning may help improve memory
- Improve your diet – as it says on the tin, drink more water, eat bananas, etc
- Use Mnemonics – BODMAS or BIDMAS, which one did you learn?
- Create a Memory Palace – “The number one technique top memory athletes use is still the memory palace. If someone were to learn one thing, it should be that.” Neil Dennis. (I hadn’t heard of this technique before but find it a very useful way to encode thoughts)
- Chunking – 123567892 into 123 567 892
- Make new connections visual – when developing product concepts I need to read understand and visualize the idea so that I can retain the information about the product.
- Write it down, don’t type it out – I could never write directly into my laptop ideas and meeting notes like the others at Google. I would use my scrappy notebooks and scrawly handwriting, but I could remember more. I would recall the colour of the notebook and the page on which I made the note by remembering the other scribbles around the note. Weird that. So always carry a notebook.
- Use spaced repetition – on day 0 you read some information, 2 days later see what you recall, 9 days later check in again, 2 weeks later…2 months.. 2 years… to drive facts into your long-term memory. This one is not top of my list because there is so much to learn these days and I’d never stick to that schedule.
- Teach someone else. While at Google, YouTube decided to change how brand channels would be managed and the product manager wrote a 70-page help guide. It was a long, boring read and I couldn’t visualise each of the process changes. So I demoed the new version and set about converting what I learnt into a 20-minute presentation, with video demos and screengrabs, which I presented to my peers, clients and internal teams. Word got around and I was inundated with requests to rerun the presentation because no one had the time or inclination to read the document. Within a few weeks, everyone was clear on the changes, challenges and the new opportunities the revised brand channels would have on YouTube. I think it’s my art, drama and TV background that makes me want to take dull content and turn it into something fun and entertaining.
What makes a mindmap special?
Paul Foreman’s website includes some great inspirational mind maps, though questionable advertising. His mind map “Never See Walls” is a constant reference for me that whenever in life you encounter a “wall” there is always a way to get around it, over it, under it or through it. You shouldn’t let anything get in the way of your needs, desires and aspirations. Understand you’ll always encounter obstacles in your life but these challenges simply provide opportunities that make you stronger. So never stop moving forward.
Mind Mapping Techniques
- Use emphasis – use a central image, 3+ colours, use images throughout, use dimension around images and words.
- Use association – arrows, connectors, colours, codes
- Be Clear – only ONE keyword per line, print all words, line length equal to the keyword, make central lines thicker
- Develop a personal style – put your own unique twist into your mind map, it helps you remember
- Layout: Use Hierarchy – basic ordering ideas promote the use of affinity associations, categorisation, and compartmentalization to support your encoding and recall
- Layout: Use numerical order – number branches to demonstrate a logical order to the mind map
- Break mental blocks – add blank lines, add questions, add images
- Reinforce – review, refine, iterate
- Prepare – your mental attitude, your materials, your workspace
The laws of mind mapping emphasise true mental freedom is the ability to create order from chaos and these laws are intended to increase, rather than restrict, your mental freedom.
Mindmaps are a great way to present and document ideas with clients and will improve communication, encoding and recall of your concepts and vision. Use Mind maps in your game-storming or user-story mapping sessions to help you generate new ideas and features.