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Since I first posted this 8 hours ago, my colleague Dr Hans Buskes (@hansbuskes) has been sending me various design questions and suggestions. I added a paragraph at the bottom in blue to clarify issues about controlling for mapping style. The addition is about 8 hours after the original post.

Yesterday, I posted on research designs and data and showing the effectiveness of mind maps. Here are some research questions I would like to see answered to “prove” the effectiveness of mind mapping in certain applications and how the degree of effectiveness may be tied to different models of mind mapping. A lot of discussion about the topic was started and continues on twitter.

This is a DRAFT because I would I like to see others add to my list and or make the questions better. Please add any additional research areas or other comments to this list.

I will not be involved in any mind map research myself. So this is not a self-serving list. Feel free to make it your own if you are going to do the work. I would personally accept good quantitative, qualitative, or mixed quantitative-qualitative research/evaluation data and study designs in making a judgment of degree of efficacy.

I am NOT talking about anecdotal or theoretical evidence or that based upon expert judgments. Nor am I talking about “user satisfaction” with various programs or seminars they attend. I AM talking about studies that pass the tests of scientific inquiry AND the “smell test” of reasonableness and relevance AND empirically assess the major outcomes the mind maps are designed to enhance.

If you need to see this list in a mind map format, I may add one later. Or draw one for yourself using your favorite method.

Note: you need not try to answer all of my questions in one study. Study something small if your want. A technique called meta-analysis that will combine the results of numerous studies, small and big, exists.

I invite anyone to answer some of my questions. I believe the methods do-will prove effective AND the research will pass the standards of PEER REVIEWED SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY. Feel free to make me look smart.

  1. Is the best of typology mind maps, in terms of features, theoretical basis, designs that of a) organic Buzan-type; b) linear business-type (Mindjet and others); c) a miscellaneous category of spider-maps, concept maps, and other techniques often used to produce “mind maps?” If not, produce one.
  2. Are each of the types of mind maps effective in producing increases in learning new information, retaining information in long-term memory, sparking creativity in individuals and groups, communicating to groups visually, increasing the effectiveness of verbal communications, allowing individuals to “write” with conceptual trees, providing better understanding of concepts?
  3. Are some of the methods better for some applications while others prove more effective for other types?
  4. Does an extant theory from cognitive psychology/neuroscience explain the results?
  5. How can existing methods be enhanced using information gained in the series of research studies?

Addition: Covariates — In the set of questions above I have not addressed the natural variations in mind maps that occur because of the way that the maps are stylistically designed. Because such design issues tend to be correlated with the content of the map, I would propose handling such issues as covariates within a research design. So, in addition to the questions above we should ask how the answers to the questions above are related to the map’s structure, ordering, colors, visuals, symtax/semantics, size, and content information elaboration. Note that Dr Buskes and I have discussed this for many weeks and that there are a number of posts on both of our blogs about these topics. Because we would be evaluating an intact whole cognitive element (an entire map), it would be important to “control” for such factors as size, color use, etc., at the same time these factors are studied in conjunction with major models as specified above.

Let’s be honest, there is not enough empirical, hard scientific evidence that mind map based learning programs are as effective as there should be. In fact there is FAR less evidence to support efficacy claims about mind mapping than there should be. This has to be fixed.

Before the mind mappers start cursing me out, put this into context — I strongly support mind mapping and think it should be used far more than it is But I cannot find specific studies that strongly support efficacy.

Don’t flip the channel yet … I am now going to give you the most valuable free consulting I have ever provided anyone.

A few studies give people some training into “who knows what” mind mapping and see if they remember or “learn who knows what” better. Creativity is not measured, communication is not measured, long-term efficacy is not measured, training clinical practice efficacy is not measured, and many other aspects of cognitive enhancement claimed are not measured. Still, I believe that mind mapping is useful for most of these things and mind mapping works.

Now “prove” it.

Here is the biggest reason why mind mapping has not been shown to work in anything approaching a “definitive” scientific study or unbiased evaluation — too many things are called “mind mapping” are all lumped together.

A strong research (evaluation) design includes the following factors.

a) Different things called mind mapping are compared. As I see it, there is are three major things called “mind mapping.” The first is Buzan-style organic mind mapping. My bias is to say that this will work best in most (but not all) applications, but I would like to see hard data that my observations are correct. The second style of mind mapping is that embraced by those who use Mindjet aka Mind Manager and comparable programs. Such a style seems to be preferred among business types, and I used Mindjet (formerly known as Mind Manager) for about 15-20 years with many different types of health- and social-care professionals. Then there are dozens of other methods and diagrams called “mind maps,” most of which probably could be called spider maps. I would clump all of these methods together although I do recognize that the category is very heterogeneous.

Addition to original post: Separating these three categories will almost certainly show that the three clusters of methods are not equally effective for all applications. Combining them together dilutes the effects of the first and second methods because the third is probably comprised of a number of less than effective methods.

b) The effects of mind mapping need to be maximized. That is, the participants learning mind mapping or being taught to read existing mind maps need to be trained by experts (and I mean real top-of-the-food-chain mind mapping instructors) in one of the three types of “mind mapping.” The instructor needs to be a “real pro” at this, not a teacher or consultant who has had minimal formal training in mind mapping. Random assignment of participants (subjects) to one of the three mind mapping conditions needs to be made.

c) A lot of before and after variables need to be measured like memory, creativity, ability to learn new materials, ability to increase upon prior knowledge, sophistication of information processing, and all of the other things people claim about mind mapping.

d) Then the data need to be analyzed for enhancements (or not) from mind mapping according in each of the three three dominant models. That is, there needs to be a study of the interactions of learning one of the three mind mapping models from an expert, type of application, and type of effects.

Show me a dozen studies that support mind mapping (with random assignment, large samples, and conducted by a neutral investigator in this highly competitive commercial area) and I will tell everyone it has been proven that mind mapping works for these 10 applications and not these 5 others and what the best kind of mind mind mapping is for achieving certain goals.

Show me even better and more complex studies and I will jump with glee that my own observations have been confirmed.

Or, if it doesn’t work, accept the fact that this is voodoo, a management-education-training fad, or just plain commercial exploitation. (I don’t believe it is any of these things but I also cannot say YET that science unequivocally understands mind mapping.)

You wanna make the big claims, get independent parties to test them in an unbiased way that meets the most rigid scientific-educational standards. The odds are you will be happy you did as will potential users and educator-trainers.

[If you are an education, psychology, neuroscience, or healthcare student there are a lot of good PhD dissertations to be written in this area.]

A few of my examples of using mind maps from around this blog/website.

Click images to zoom.

blank canvas  apps not  mind maps

Obvious  Answer comfort work 35 crazy computer saturday3 huba's laws of  mind mapping

iPad mailbox app Software  Rankings  Visual Links handdrawn

Irv Oii  est. 2012 small want

XM Evaluating Mind Maps with %22Expert Content%22 iMindMap5 MapUnited States Presidents Timeline Final

writing in mind map

A few months ago I made a post about comparing three web sites in terms of the usefulness of each for collating links of related materials. This is a slight expansion of my prior concept and map. Branches can be used not only to show positions (rank, size, weight) but also the “reasons” for the position.

As before, in reference to the original title “Pinterest Pins and PearlTrees,” I am referring to “pin” in the context of wrestling.

Yup wrestling.

Pinterest,, and PearlTrees compete in the same space to be the best web-based way to refer readers of your blog, tweet stream, or web site to alternate sources of information.

Software  Rankings  Visual Links

Upon much further analysis, I have revised my conclusions, April 18, 2016. For my current views click here.

Let’s look at a simple set of perceptual changes and how these may be related to whether people are comfortable with Buzan’s rules of mind mapping.

Please click on the images to increase their size.

All mind maps are generated automatically from ThinkBuzan’s iMindMap program. Consider first Figures 1 and 2. The only difference between the two maps is that the first contains 1 word per branch while the second contains 2 or 3 words per branch. Because the program is parameterized to decrease font size at each new branch, the fonts in the second “incorrect” one seem more important.

The ThinkBuzan Enigma

This second set of figures has font size changes only, Note that the starting font sizes in Figures 1-4 are identical but that those in Figures 3 and 4 decrease less rapidly.

The ThinkBuzan Enigma2

In the top mind map variants (Figures 1 and 2), I used the full default style for iMindMap as it is delivered. The first mind map follows the 1 word rule, while the second uses a 2 word rule.

For Figures 3 and 4, I again used the default style but simply changed the font sizes in the style so that they would not go from large sizes to smaller font sizes quite as rapidly.

Comparing Figures 1 and 2, I want to put more than one word on a branch so it does not seem that the subtopics are dropping in importance so rapidly.

Comparing Figures 3 and 4, I am quite satisfied with having one word on a branch. I note in passing as I look out the window at hundreds of trees in our woods that nature seems to agree with me.

This little experiment came about after a Tweet from Tony Buzan (@Tony_Buzan) about changing one of my mind maps he liked from several words per branch to a single word per branch. I went back over the set of 100+ mind maps I had posted in this blog and realized that my shift from a few to one word per branch in the past few months coincided with starting to manually adjust the ThinkBuzan font size arrays in the styles supplied with the program. It strikes me that something that was not a problem in the era of hand drawn maps because artists would individually adjust font sizes and branch widths for importance now gets handled through a purely mathematically algorithm in all of the automated programs we (almost) all use for mind maps.

Once I started to tweak iMindMap a little in this way (and some other ways, see future blog posts), I came to agree with rules much than I had by taking the program implementation as the gold standard. My inference is that my belief that iMindMap is greatly improved by a little simple tweaking is shared with Hans Buskes (@HansBuskes) as his excellent blog “mastermindmaps” shows such enhancements on a regular basis.

I believe that the Buzan one-word per branch rule is correct but the implementations may need to be tweaked slightly in many of the programs including that of ThinkBuzan. Thanks to Tony and Hans for pushing me to formalize what I had concluded about decreasing font sizes (specifically, if they decrease too fast you want to put more than one word on the branch).

While it is possible to make up more extreme examples, this simple one seems to make the point.

In the past few posts I have discussed the new Mac app Scapple. #Scapple is what I would call a “blank canvas” app that can quickly pull information — simple or quite detailed — info forms suitable for much more sophisticated graphic modeling in #mindmaps or #conceptmaps.

#Scapple is a very quick way to generate timelines. Data can be complex or simple, long or short. Boxes can be easily aligned (automatically) along a timeline horizontally or into vertical categories or both.

A brief example to document one of my current television “addictions.”


Elsewhere on this site you will find blog posts on a much more elegant way to develop timelines of great beauty and utility in the imindmap computer program. Scapple is good for very quick drafts that contain much reference information. With a little care, relatively clear and useful timelines can be made in less than 5 minutes.

Note: The key to “pretty” and clear time lines is to master the alignment menus. Practice for 10 minutes and you will see how much clarity you can add to a draft timeline with a few clicks.

There have been several new “blank canvas” Mac apps released recently. The main three are Scapple (A+), Delineato Pro (A-) and Mindix (still in early development). These programs are not mind mapping ones. They are very simple ways of cutting and pasting snippets, links, pictures, paragraphs and other information onto a large canvas or sheet of paper like those we used to decorate the walls during meetings.

The mind map below shows features of the various blank canvas apps.

Scapple and Delineato are both highly recommended.

ADDITION March 2, 2014: Big Hairy Goal has recently been released for the Mac and is comparable to Mindix but much more highly developed. I consider Big Hairy Goal worth rating A.

blank canvas  apps not  mind maps



I wrote the original version of this post a few months ago, kind of tongue-in-cheek. Little did I realize that it would be the page/post most often accessed. (What do I know, I thought more people would rather look at pictures of my dog.)

These are the reformulated (actually reformatted) laws of mind mapping. All of this work, of course, falls within the more general framework of Tony Buzan, who made the seminal contributions to modern mind mapping.

I’ve now taken this whole business seriously and formulated my six laws as a real grown-up mind map. (I also took a few pictures of my dog off the web site.)

Drum roll please.

The first figure can be clicked a couple of times for various degrees of zooming.

huba's laws of  mind mapping
The next version of the mind map is annotated. Hover or click on the symbols to show comments about various portions of the map.

Appendix: Handwritten


Original Post

Ok, I know, kind of arrogant.

Yes and no. I do not care if you use circus colors, this year’s fashion colors, san serif fonts with kerning, cartoons, photographs, and one word per node.

More than anyone else I have ever encountered, I really give a damn about where the information in your mind map comes from. And data validity and reliability. And peer review of the map principles. And your smarts in putting together a valid and useful summary.

Wow. There needs to be an emperor, not just new clothes.

Without further ado, my self-named laws of mind mapping. It’s don’t mean a thing if the conclusions don’t swing. And, content IS Queen.

A significant number of individuals are drawing mind maps with computer programs. Others still draw them by hand.

I think we need to start calling computerized mind mapping by the term computer-assisted mind mapping as in computer-ASSISTED-mind mapping or CAMM. Unless you let the computer randomly draw the mind map from a bank of words and pictures, the program is ASSISTING you.

People are responsible for designing effective mind maps from important, valid, reliable, valid information. A good program assists in formatting the ideas. The best of the programs give you many options about how to draw the map and then produced nice artistic results that you can use as the first approximation for drawing the map.

I find it quite interesting that in spite of Tony Buzan’s strong promotion of rules for effective mind mapping, his own company’s program (ThinkBuzan, iMindMap) allows you to draw maps that clearly violate his “rules” (really best practices). I believe that ThinkBuzan decision is an excellent one: mind mapping continues to evolve with technology and development techniques.

The emphasis should be on “computer-ASSISTED.” No matter what type of mind map you wish to draw, and with any content, you are the BOSS responsible for design, valid information, and concept. Your trustworthy assistant fills in colored lines, draws curves, can rearrange the branches for optimal white space, and can even check your spelling.


The key concept here is computer-ASSISTED mind mapping.

Please click on the image to zoom.


I’d suggest the hashtag #camm3 for computer-assisted mind maps, generation 3.0. I think that it is important to recognize that mind mapping 3 is different from that which proceeded it in that high quality, valid, reliable, and important content is explicitly linked to computer-assisted mind mapping methods and the linkage of content and computer methods is different from non-documented mind maps derived from “who knows where.”

There are many posts on #camm3 and using computer-assisted mind mapping 3.0 throughout this blog. Virtually every blog post on was created through a process of  #camm3.

Click on image to zoom.


I’ve asked myself which of my skills were the most important in a senior role providing consulting and executive leadership of a small (<30 employees) consulting firm. We specialized in evaluating healthcare and socialcare programs for high need, disenfranchised groups who are often excluded from health services. I do think, however, that these are general skills which fit about every content area for a senior consultant expected to make significant creative contributions to the client organization.

It is important to know that the skills and technique specified are designed to optimize the value of the work and not to maximize profit to the consultant. There are other processes one might use to maximize profit.

After my mind map, I included some notes I made about the topic as I was thinking it through.

The five mind map diagrams start at the most abstract level and then each unveils part of the map showing the full detail of that section. The final map is fully unveiled.

I’ve gotten the reaction “you must be lying to me, it can’t be that simple” when I have provided conclusions and advice to others. All the while my business partner was sitting in the meeting alternating between having a panic attack because I was giving away the company secrets and falling off the chair laughing because the recipient of the information did not know to enough to realize that it was very hard to not over-think, cut through the distractions, and get to the bottom line when nobody (including you) knows the answer to the questions asked.

It’s simple. Just build the confidence that you can always fill a blank page with a great answer and implementation plan, build a safety net to avoid a major mistake, and use successive approximation in a resource-limited environment. It took me a long time to figure all of this out. It’s hard but do-able.

Live long and prosper (going where no-one has dared to go before).

Please click on the image to zoom.


senior creative  consulting  2 skills and  1 technique



Appendix: Notes (from iPad)

two skills

blank paper

safety net

feedback circle