One of the pleasures of growing up in Britain in the 70s and 80s was that there was no daytime television. It seems weird now, but in those days there was no transmission during the day.
But sometimes there was the Open University. The OU is a distributed learning initiative, a bit like an online learning institution but using television and radio to broadcast the course lectures rather than the Internet. That learning model was also applied to a number of self-improvement programmes, and one of the stars of the genre of self-improvement programming was Tony Buzan with his mind maps.
Mind maps are freeform relational diagrams. Tony Buzan always claimed they were novel (his company has a trademark on the term) but there are other diagrams of this type – fishbone diagrams, for example. He also has lots of structural rules, although personally I ignore them a lot of the time. The basic notation of a branching radial diagram is broadly applicable.
In a classical mind map, you start with a circle in the middle of your paper with a word describing the core concept you wish to explore. From there, you make radial lines, labelled in whatever way you feel appropriate, covering related concepts. And you continue like this, adding branching nodes and labels, and connections between branches, until you have something that either maps the conceptual space or you run out of paper. Buzan encourages you to use colour, and to draw pictures which illustrate the concepts, but I usually don’t bother since my maps are rarely the end product.
I use mind maps for:
- taking notes in meetings, which includes roleplaying sessions, both as GM and player (I took a lot of notes at Wordstock as mind maps).
- making notes for presentations – I don’t present often, but when I do I have a mind map to hand showing everything I want to cover. It’s not an intrinsically ordered format, so it is easy to vary the sequence of the material as needed.
- thinking about design problems – this has paid great dividends, as I sometimes see relationships between elements of a problem that I simply hadn’t seen before.
- recording story elements
For live note taking I use just pen and paper, going on to a new sheet if I fill one, but for anything where I am going to edit the map I will use a software tool to construct it. So the gazetteer that I have of all the plants, animals, geographic features, and cultural conventions within my world of Kissiltur are in a series of Freemind mind maps on the computer.
I find these to be a useful tool, though. I recommend trying them out at least once.