Full text of power brainstorming expert Hazel Wagner’s talk: Want to Learn Better? Start Mind Mapping at TEDxNaperville conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Hazel Wagner – Power Brainstorming Expert
Mind mapping is a method by which you can make notes, take notes, and help your memory, because you’re working in a way that helps your brain instead of gets in the way.
I spent most of my life worrying about whether I was going to remember things. I had parents who had wonderful memories, and other people in my family, and mine wasn’t.
So I went to college, four degrees, including a Ph.D. in mathematics. Obviously I spent lots of time listening to lectures. I made thousands and thousands of pages of notes. I worried so much that I would forget something that I felt like I had to write everything.
But whether you hand write it, like I did which ended up with a callous on my finger, or you type it, you’re still just transcribing. You’re not thinking about what you’re hearing or reading; you’re not organizing it the way your brain needs to organize it, so that it will remember it better, so that you can learn it, store it, and then retrieve it when you want to.
And that’s really important: being able to retrieve it.
So also when you are writing so fast, typing so fast, you’re not paying lots of attention. And all of a sudden people around me would laugh, and I’d go: What did he say? What did she say? because I’d missed it. You’re not really hearing everything. You can’t write as fast as someone speaks.
So this is a mind map. This is a handwritten mind map. It’s the kind that I recommend to most people to do. It’s much better to do them at least when you’re first learning, but even later with just a plain piece of paper and a pencil or a pen.
The idea is that you are doing something very visual. You’re also using kinesthetic… you are using your hands, your arms, you’re thinking about this whole thing as you’re going. You’re developing something that starts in the center and builds out radially.
So in the center goes the topic. It could be the name of someone you’re listening to. It could be the title of a book. It could be a question that you’re trying to brainstorm. And then you build out just free form and you only put down what’s important to you. So each person’s mind map, even of the same talk, of the same book, will be very different, because what you want to remember, what’s important to you is going to be different than someone else.
And that’s wonderful. It’s very personal.
And notice also, you put down single words or short phrases. This isn’t whole sentences or paragraphs. Do you think you store in your brain paragraphs? How about sentences? What about those outlines? You know you spent a lot of time in school, roman numeral 1, a, b, c… remember that stuff. Do you think that’s what you store in your brain? I don’t think so.
You store images. You store key ideas. You store the connections between the things you’re learning and things you already knew.
So shortly after I finished my fourth degree, I learned about this thing called Mind Mapping. I had never heard of it before.
This as you can see is a piece of a mind map. In fact, it’s the part of the mind map of my talk. But there I was learning about it for the first time. And first I felt great regret because boy, would that have saved me time and helped me a lot when I was taking notes and trying to learn things and especially getting ready for tests, or being able to tell somebody else about what I heard.
And then I started to get angry: how come I never came across this before? How come nobody had ever shown me this thing called mind mapping?
And as I researched it, I found that there were places around the world where things were being talked about. In England, they were doing a lot of it and in Australia, but we hadn’t heard very much about it here.
And I finally felt very grateful that I had finally, because it works like the brain works.
My research published way back in 1975 proved how important the visual and kinesthetic is to people understanding mathematics. And now I had found a tool to apply in all kinds of curricula and all kinds of subjects, not just mathematics.
So we need to be able to do something to help our brain to work with our brain, rather than against it. And the way a Mind Map works it’s compact, it’s all on one page. You only write keywords or short phrases. But those trigger words, those keywords trigger for you the bigger idea. So you learn to pay attention to what you’re reading or what you’re hearing and write down what’s most important so it triggers the bigger idea.
So later when you want to think about it and talk about it, you can easily do it. I was attracted because of what it does for academia, but I used it all the years in business too: every meeting… every meeting with a customer, every sales meeting, everyone that you go to. Fantastic way to take notes and to explain it to someone else.
So here is how it works. You take a piece of paper horizontally. The reason it’s horizontal is so that while you’re writing and while you’re reading, most of the words are facing the way we usually read.
By the way it shouldn’t have lines but if you can’t find a piece of paper without lines then don’t worry about it, just put it horizontal and ignore the lines.
Write down keywords. Write down short phrases, and very important, the connections between these things. You build out radially, so in the center is the topic or the name or the person or the question, and you build out completely free form. Writing… doing your branches and writing what’s on it whatever works for you.
And sometimes there was a subject you were paying attention to and writing something on one branch, and suddenly later something else comes up or you think of something, you go back and add it to that branch. Completely free form; again very personal. the way it works for you, so you can go back to looking at it.
You are thinking you’re not blindly documented, you’re not blindly transcribing something. You’re thinking about how does it fit together, how does it work, and how will I remember it when I need to.
So I’m going to give you a couple of examples and I think it’ll help you really understand how this works. And I chose TED examples because I think you might be familiar with it.
The first example I thought I’d share with you is Dan Barber’s talk about how I fell in love with a fish. Now here is the way I would have done it the old-fashioned way, right?
I would have written everything down, line after line, just following what he said. And how would I explain that to someone else? I have to read the whole thing. How would I find a particular point that I wanted to remember? Again I have to read the whole thing, just like studying and going back through the exactly the same things you heard the first time.
But here is the mind map of Dan Barber’s talk: how I fell in love with a fish. So if you look at the branches here, first, he was a chef and he served a lot of fish. And he fell in love with a particular fish, because he understood it was sustainable.
And he did a little more research and he found out that they were feeding the fish 30% chicken. And he decided ah, it’s not sustainable and he fell out of love with that fish.
So later he tasted a fish that was overcooked and still delicious. He fell in love with fish too. And this fish was so amazing that he even ate the skin which he said he never did before, because it was delicious.
And he went to talk to Miguel. Miguel was the person who he understood ran the fish farm and Miguel said “I don’t really run a fish farm. I run a sanctuary for birds and there are lots of fish there. And I don’t have to bring any food for the fish. It’s all natural; they just eat what they naturally eat and the water is clean and everything.”
So Dan Barber learned a lot about this, and learned a lot about agriculture and has recommendations on it. But what was most important about his talk is that I noticed he asked questions… really really good questions. And it was the questions that gave him the insights.
He asked questions about what is sustainability? He asked the question: how could an overcooked fish taste this good? How could a fish that is overcooked tastes this good?
And then he asked: why do flamingos fly so far for their food? So it was about the questions they are what helped him understand the whole issue and then be able to share it with us.
And you see a mind map allows me to explain it to you. You can follow what I am saying.
Let’s do another one. Sir Ken Robinson has done a number of talks. He talked about creativity in schools and claims that schools are killing creativity.
And here again is my little hand done mind map, and I do recommend that when people are first learning them, they do that. But you’ll find even later, even after you get really good at it, just grabbing a piece of paper and a pencil, that’s handy at the moment you want to take notes, you’ll do that all the time. You won’t have to worry about doing it so in any special form.
But of course, when you want other people to read your handwriting, sometimes it’s not so good. I admit that, so I do put it sometimes into a computer program and there are lots of them, and that allows other people to read it as well.
So Ken Robinson is the one who talked about creativity in school, and he said that the problem… the good thing about children is that children aren’t afraid to be wrong and so therefore they’re more creative. But we kind of schooled some of that out of them.
He also had some wonderful quotes that I wanted to remember. One of his quotes had to do with the fact that if insects were gone, he said all life would be over. But if humans were gone, the rest of life would flourish. I thought that was pretty good and I want to make sure I remembered it, so it’s one of my branches.
He also talked about the use of jokes and he had lots of jokes in his talk. And there were so many jokes and I also wanted to keep track of some of them, so I put a branch out there for jokes that I wanted to remember.
One of them was: imagine for a moment that you’re an English teacher and you have nine year old Shakespeare in your class, how are you going to handle that, right?
So here I have a mind map where I showed what was important to me in his talk, and being able to do that on a mind map allows you to be able to pay attention to just what you want, write down just the things that you care about.
And there they are ready for you to explain, and he wanted creativity at the top of the pyramid along with literacy. And I’m reminded of that when I look at the mind map.
So what about you?
Maybe you’re feeling a little angry too, if you have never heard of this before. Maybe you’re thinking you could have been helping your brain all along. Or maybe you knew about this a bit but never really paid attention and learned to use it. It takes some practice. Anything new that you do takes some practice.
So I challenge you now to practice using mind mapping and you’ll really be helping your brain.
I have one last little story or anecdote to share with you. And that is that some years ago, I was asked to help my young granddaughter who was not doing well in social studies. And I went over to help her and I showed her how to mind map. And she mind mapped the chapter about the U.S. Government.
And the next day, she got an A… the first A she’d ever gotten in social studies. It was very exciting.
So two days ago, I called her and I asked her: “Hey, do you remember that day I came over and showed you mind mapping?”
And she said “I sure do. We had all these colored pens and we drew this picture and I really understood that chapter and I did very well on the test the next day. And I kept using it in school, especially in high school.”
So I challenge you not only for you to practice mind mapping and learn it better, but share it with some others. When you do that, you will internalize it better and be able to use it better. Teach someone else and especially teach some children to use mind mapping.