Tony Buzan 1942-2019 – A Personal Reflection

Tony BuzanI just heard about Tony Buzan’s passing. Since hearing the news I have been reflecting on his life and the impact he and his work have had on my own life. His influence goes back over 40 years to the day when my father tossed me Tony’s first book, Use Your Head, and suggested I might find it interesting. At the time I was perhaps 17 years old and had just started my A level courses. I have no idea why my Father thought I’d find the book useful or interesting – and since he is no longer with us, I can’t ask him – but he was right.

Use Your Head was the book of the BBC TV series that Tony had made. It introduced the world to the idea of Mind Maps but also included valuable information about speed reading, memory and effective studying. Perhaps I was seduced by the idea of spending less time studying to achieve the same as students who were prepared to put longer hours into their studies. Whatever the reason or motivation, there was much in that book that appealed to me.

However in reality, although I dabbled, I didn’t have the confidence to commit fully to the techniques until I went off to college to do a Business Studies degree. By now time really was short; there was a lot of beer to be drunk, rugby to be played and fun to be had. So I really started to use Mind Maps in earnest!

In every lecture I was the one with pages of connected key words rather than linear notes. My new friends questioned me occasionally – Mind Maps were still very new and little known – but generally my way of taking notes and learning was met with disinterest. If I wanted to mess up my degree that was up to me! It worked well enough that when I left college and went onto start studying for my Management Accountancy exams, it seemed natural to carry on using them. By then, I had also bought into the speed reading techniques and the importance of repetition in memory. I was doing my accountancy exams on a correspondance course so had piles of little books to get through. And since I was working fulltime I really was time poor and the combination of techniques were brilliantly effective.

Rolling forward a few years, with long nights of studying a distant memory, I joined Coopers & Lybrand as a Management Consultant. The job often involved detailed interviews, collating information, solving problems and presenting findings back to corporate clients. Again, for me it was natural to use Mind Maps to help me manage the volumes of data and information, see patterns and present conclusions. I did get the occasional comment – ‘why are you doodling while I’m talking?’ – but generally I was left alone to work in whatever way I saw fit. There was the time when one of my senior colleagues took exception to my use of Mind Maps – but by then, they were increasingly commonplace in classrooms and offices around the world.

After six or seven years of travelling around the world telling other people how to run their busineses, I was beginning to wonders ‘what’s next?’. By then I had read Tony Buzan’s ‘Mind Map Book’ and had further refined my own use of Mind Maps. So I started a large ‘life planning’ map. The map was pretty comprehensive and included strengths, weaknesses, qualification, interests, things I liked and disliked about various jobs I’d had, personal goals and much more besides. The map grew over several weeks. My friends helped me flesh out the ‘weaknesses’ branch and each time I returned to the map I saw more connections and possibilities.

I’ll short circuit the entire process of reviewing and re-reviewing the life planning map, but suffice to say, the outcome was to leave consultancy and set up a training company. This was to become Illumine Training which we set up in 1996. I decided to train with what was then called Buzan Centres, led by the wonderfully effervescent Vanda North, Buzan’s long-time Partner and Editor-in-Chief of many of his books. The first course we ran was…Mind Mapping, followed by Speed Reading and Memory courses. We quickly added many other courses – all related to thinking as a source of competitive advantage – but as the business has grown we have never lost our connection to our roots, with even our logo bearing a passing resemblance to a Mind Map! And we are very proud to have introduced thousands of people to Mind Mapping, Speed Reading and Memory techniques which will have enhanced – and in some cases, transformed – many lives.

I met Tony for the first time in 1996, some 20 years after first reading Using Your Head. I had the privilege of working and collaborating with Tony on several occasions. He was an inspirational figure and a quite brilliant public speaker. His vision and work undoubtedly reached and transformed the lives of many millions of people – and will continue to do so for many years to come. Tony Buzan’s goal of global mental literacy was one that he worked tirelessly towards and to have been able to contribute his goal – allbeit in a very small way – makes me very proud. His remarkable contribution to the world should have been more generously and widely recognised in his lifetime. I have no doubt that recognition of Tony’s work will continue to grow and that his work will continue to touch and enhance lives all over the world.

Perhaps my most cherished memory of Tony was from just before Christmas perhaps 20 years ago. I had recently been working with Tony and he had invited me and my family round to his house for pre-Christmas drinks. Tony didn’t have children himself, but although he had many guests that day, he went out of his way to make a fuss of my then young children. He let them have a go on his rowing machine, played them at chess and got them to do some mind mapping with him – encouraging them enormously; leaving a very positive and lasting impression – and a memory that has stayed with them both into their adult years as learners and teachers themselves.

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