- A system to remember your presentation so you don’t have to read your notes
- A technique that helps you take a project, see the big picture, focus on the key areas and understand all the inter-connections
- A means of making note taking from journals, books, e-articles, quicker, more logical, better organised
- A method for brainstorming that presents ideas logically structured
- An approach to time management, enabling you to focus on your priorities, make efficiencies
How would you like to spend just 10 minutes learning a new skill that will help you in all of the above areas? In the last year, Mind Mapping has given me all of these rewards and truly revolutionised my approach to knowledge, learning and business. Read on for the accountant’s introduction to Mind Mapping.
So what an earth is a Mind Map? Well this is a superb of example of how valuable the art of Mind mapping actually is; words cannot adequately express the essence of a Mind Map. The best way to explain is to look at one. Click on this example. And for those who like the words as well as the graphics, I would describe a Mind Map as a ‘thinking tool’; ‘a diagram which places a key idea in the centre of a page and uses words, pictures and linking lines radiating outwards from the centre to present connecting ideas, knowledge and information’.
So how would an accountant use a Mind Map? How long is a piece of string? I used a Mind Map to draft this article. Click here to have a peek. It’s a very economical way of making notes. The focus is on key words and their connections, so I saved loads of time in just drafting the core concepts rather than using all these superfluous linking words which glue our sentences together (and turn them into a readable article!). You will also see from the example not only how it facilitates the organisation of words and ideas into a logical format but also how it can enhance the structure by allowing you to view the big picture along with all the detail. And as the key words act as triggers it also facilitates brainstorming as your triggers spawn multi-dimensional concepts.
That’s just a little taster of how valuable Mind Maps can be to accountants and I will come on to more uses shortly. But first a slight diversion to answer the question ‘why do we need a thinking tool at all?'
We all know that we have a left and a right brain. Left brain deals with logic, analysis, numbers, words, reason, order, sequence. Right brain is in the business of creativity, thinking in pictures, patterns, colours, and uses intuition. Fast forward to caricatures. Think left brain-dominant scientist, ‘brainy’, numerate, weak on the inter-personal side. Think right brained arty farty creative genius, the musician, poet, artist, never could get their Maths O’level.
Now I would never for one minute suggest that we accountants are more likely to fall into the former stereotype! But the chances are that we have over-developed the left hand side because we needed to, to pass exams and do business in our traditional western ways. But while we may well have a preference for over-using a particular side of the brain its more than likely due to conditioning and education than nature. The good news is that we have infinite scope to continue to develop the lazier side of the brain. And by doing this the sum of the whole can truly be greater than the individual parts. By using the right and left brain together we can unlock talents we never knew we had, solve problems creatively and generally go about our business in a more efficient and effective way than we ever thought possible.
Mind Maps give us a very simple technique to make the most of our brain’s full capabilities. By engaging the right brain we enhance the logical thinking of the left by bringing in a creative perspective. Mind Maps help us do this by using very graphical means to express our ideas – pictures, shapes, colours, patterns, all very visual stimuli.
And as a thinking tool, a Mind Map also mirrors the way the mind works, storing and retrieving information. So of course it’s going to be an efficient way of organising our thoughts using the contours that are already hard-wired in there.
And there’s more. You may have heard of VAK preferences. VAK refers to visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. We all have a preference in our thinking and learning towards one of these styles. Visual people like to learn from seeing things and find it useful to use pictures and graphs. Auditory learners are at their best when listening – talks and lectures, ‘teach yourself’ CDs. And the kinaesthetic like to actually do the practical stuff, have a go, ‘get their hands dirty’. Many western educated individuals are either visual or auditory, with a slight majority preference for visual, but there are still a significant number of kinaesthetic thinkers and learners too.
So why does this matter? Well if we can identify our preferred style we can exploit it and look for ways to use it that can improve our learning, problem solving and memory skills. If you are visually preferred, like me, then Mind Maps are an absolute gift. I find my thinking is massively improved when I can get stuff down on paper, see it (rather than hear it); the patterns, colours, shapes in Mind Maps all enhance this. But what if you are not a visually preferred person? Well, as I said before Mind Maps will help everybody make the most of using their right and left brain together. But actually an auditory or kinaesthetic style is only a preference and like harnessing the multi skills of left and right brain together, we can improve all our techniques by developing other styles rather than just relying on our preferred ones.
Here’s an example. When I first took a learning preferences test two years ago my results were strongly visual. This didn’t surprise me as I have always had a problem paying attention on courses and lectures, when you just have to knuckle down and listen. The only way I can concentrate and remember anything said is to write it down, draw pictures, doodle, put things in boxes. Up until this point I had always relied heavily on my visual skills and as a result my auditory skills were puny, under-developed things. (This will ring a bell with any of my Ernst & Young colleagues who will remember me multi tasking away on conference calls – at the expense of full-on listening I’m afraid!). Armed with my personal development education I actively set about building those auditory muscles. It was going to be very important to me to be able to offer telephone coaching as well as face to face, so I really had to mature my auditory skills. And I did it! I used a number of techniques (which are beyond the scope of this article) but I really enhanced my auditory muscles. My recent tests show I am evenly split between visual and auditory. This is a fantastic result for me; it has given me a much wider toolbox of skills to call on in my work and life generally. So, the lesson here is, even if you are a kinaesthetic or auditory person then Mind Mapping will help you in building your visual muscle and give you a much more rounded skill set.
So there’s the theory. Mind Mapping is a ‘thinking tool’ which will help you do better all sort of things from strategic planning to problem solving to note taking.
Now on to the practice. What can accountants use Mind Maps for? Here are just a few examples.
Use Mind Maps for: How Mind Maps can help (just a few egs)
Technical note taking Focus on core concepts
Business Planning. Structure, organisation
Recall and memorising Hooks and cues
Exam revision Key facts and memorising
Presentations Logical structure, memorising
Brainstorming, idea generation See associations, logical ordering
Agendas Brainstorming, structure
Reporting writing Planning, organising
Time management, ‘to do’ lists Prioritising, efficiencies
Concentration Mirrors mechanics of mind, fun
Systems/processing documenting. Structure, organisation
Goal setting Big picture focus
Group projects Integration, flexible to add to
Decision making and problem solving Analysis, interconnections, interpretations
I am so blown away with the benefits of Mind Mapping that I tutor it as a core skill in all my one to one coaching programmes, encouraging my clients to use it as a part of their own professional and personal development. This is unique to my coaching programmes. All my clients can have an introduction to Mind Mapping and the chance to add this technique to their own personal toolbox of skills. A truly value-added extra which is exclusive to theaccountantscoach.com. Mind Mapping on your own is great but think also how your team – both technical and support – could add value by solo or group Mind Mapping. Consider a team Mind Mapping workshop. To find out more email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or would you like to take the test to determine your own preferred thinking or learning style? Email email@example.com for more info.
And one last thing…..If for no other reason give it a try because………..its fun!
Mind friendly learning is already in schools. Our kids know about it! Don’t you just wish we’d had it back then. This site will tell you more about it and how it is used in schools and has some great Mind Map examples too http://www.salt.cheshire.gov.uk/mfl/index.htm
The Mind Tools site is one of my favourites for resources and ideas. Check out their section on Mind Mapping at http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newISS_01.htm
Mind Genius software is my recommended choice if you want to go for the professional look. http://www.mindgenius.com/website/presenter.aspx?type=doc&uri=/home.htm#topofpage
For a brilliant quick introduction to Mind Mapping, ‘Mind Maps in a Week’ is published by Chartered Management Institute, available via Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0340849525/wwwtheaccount-21
For more depth you have to read Tony Buzan, the guru of mind mapping. Buy his books also on Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0007212917/wwwtheaccount-21
Read the Accountingweb article 'Mind Mapping for Accountants: lessons from Tony Buzan'