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The Evolution of Mind Maps®

Using a visual representation of information, is a technique that dates back many centuries, but the term ‘Mind Map’ did not come into common usage until the 1970s, when it was popularised by Tony Buzan in Use Your Head, a series of television programmes that was broadcast on BBC TV.  In Buzan’s conception, a Mind Map should generally consist of a central idea that is surrounded by spokes that flesh out the concept under discussion.  Each spoke can be further divided into as many ‘branches’ as needed, and branches can also be further divided so that a completed Mind Map becomes a free-form exploration of a key idea.

Software brings changes to the Buzan Mind Map

Mind Maps, as Buzan conceived of them, would appear to be almost organic, growing in directions that could not be predicted in advance.  The advent of software that could facilitate Mind Mapping, however, changed the basic appearance of the Mind Map.  Many different Mind Mapping software programs have adopted a highly linear approach in which elements being added to the Mind Map assume pre-set positions in a grid.

However, the overall appearance of such Mind Maps is still somewhat unpredictable, as it is not known in advance how many branches or categories will be generated during a brainstorming session.  These Mind Maps, however, do not usually have such an organic appearance, nor are they so ‘messy’ in appearance, in the way that Buzan’s hand-drawn Mind Maps were.

Mind Maps morph to meet new needs

It is now common in business settings to use a variety of different Mind Mapping techniques, even when software is not being used.  One common approach is to adjust the original Mind Map to fit the needs of a decision-making process, by generating ideas and fitting them onto a branching diagram and thus showing various courses of actions and the results they may create.

Another more recent iteration of the Mind Map is one that combines elements of a flow chart with techniques of brainstorming.  In a flow chart, a sequence of events is clearly delineated.  Software programmers and project managers use flow charts to control the progression of code or workflow.  When flow charts are modified to include a variety of suggestions and alternatives, they become a form of Mind Maps.

Mind Map – now a generic term?

As the above examples demonstrate, any type of charting that includes brainstorming elements can now be termed a Mind Map.  Many of these maps will not resemble Buzan’s original conception much at all, which means that the term, along with synonyms such as ‘mind web’ and ‘spider diagrams’ has to some extent become generic.

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