If It's Good Enough For Leonardo

In 1994, Bill Gates shelled out USD$30 Million for 18 sheets of a notebook written by Leonardo Da Vinci. Called the Codex Leicester it contains sketches and notes by the great Renaissance man himself. When asked what drew him to possess the notebook, Gates remarked

“It’s an inspiration that one person—off on their own, with no feedback, without being told what was right or wrong—that he kept pushing himself,”

The Codex Leicester is a multi-tasking marvel, illustrating (excuse the pun) the range of Leonardo’s scientific and artistic interests. Little wonder that it attracted the interest of one of the 20th Century’s consummate multi-taskers.

Apparently, Leonardo was also a fan of my favourite technique for idea development. Mind-mapping. This graphical technique of organising ideas, concepts and thoughts is one that is frequently attributed to Tony Buzan, who popularised the technique in the UK in the 1960’s, but it’s actually been around for centuries and certainly preceded the Renaissance.

“Mind mapping is a technique based on memory and creativity and comprehension and understanding, so when the student or a child uses the mind map, they are using their brain in the way their brain was designed to be used”

Mind mapping allows you to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper (or your screen if you use a digital app) without self-editing or critiquing yourself. Used effectively, the thoughts are given the opportunity to emerge, to pour forth unedited and flow out onto the paper.

I’m a big fan of employing mind maps for workshopping ideas, nutting out processes and getting my thinking clear on projects I’m tasked with. I’m sure it’s got something to do with being a visual person but according to Tony Buzan, mind mapping is sympatico with the way our brains like to work. I’m not a mind-mapping purist (I’m sure I take some liberties with the technique) and I’m certainly not certified but I am a bit evangelical about it. Hey, it works!

Getting started can be a challenge if you’re someone who tends to “think” too much. You need to silence the “inner critic”, the voice that tries to squash the idea before it even sees a glimmer of the light of day outside the dark recesses of your brain. My advice is to politely (or not so politely) ask that particular inner voice to take itself elsewhere!

It doesn’t have to be on a par with a Da Vinci work of art to be effective either. It is a form of creative self expression – your self expression. Critiquing how “good” it looks is self-limiting behaviour and best avoided. Channel your inner pre-schooler and enjoy the journey of creating your mind-map rather than focusing on how good it looks when you’re done. Rest assured, the mind-mapping cognoscenti don’t conduct audits on your particular approach or ultimate output.

I recommend a staged approach as follows:

Invite Your Brain To The Party

  1. Grab some markers & a Sheet of A3 paper – I find A4 paper too limiting (small)
  2. Set a timer on your phone (give yourself 10 minutes for stage one)
  3. Write down the topic in the centre of the page and outline it…

why the centre of the page? because you want to give your ideas room to spread out…you don’t want to hem them in by starting in a corner!

Flip Your Head Open

  1. Start the timer and
  2. Tell your inner critic to check out for the next 30 minutes
  3. Write down on the page the key words/expressions/thoughts that come into your mind without filtering them…just let your pen be directly connected to your conscious thoughts and WRITE THEM DOWN

Helpful Hints

  • If the thoughts are connected, use lines to connect them, if they’re random and not connected then write them randomly on the page.
  • If you find it hard focus on words rather than phrases or sentences rather than phrases

Admire Your Work

  1. Read the words/phrases/sentences that you’ve written down.
  2. Have themes emerged? Are there words or concepts repeated?
  3. How do the ideas/thoughts connect (highlight or reflect this somehow – I use different coloured pens, circle common themes, draw lines to connect thoughts)
  4. Draw or add images (clip them from the web)

Helpful Hint

Use curved lines as opposed to straight lines – the brain like curvy lines better apparently..who knew!

Our brain works by association – think of it like the branches of a tree, they are interconnected, they are broad in places and they narrow down to thin twigs…our thought processes are the same

If you’re really struggling with the “free-range” approach, try the modified mind-mapping that uses the 5 “W” headings:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why
  • Oh and a ‘How’ can also be useful

This particular framework is the one I get my teenage daughters to use when they’re working on assessment tasks!

Do you use mind mapping as a way to brainstorm ideas and concepts? I’d love to hear your thoughts?

Liz Van Vliet

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Liz Van Vliet, The Linchpin Assistant

Meet Liz

I work with Executive Assistants and Administrative Assistants to deliver the confidence, consistency and career development that transforms them into thriving Linchpin Assistants. 

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