"Genius is in-born, may it never be still-born."

"Oysters, irritated by grains of sand, give birth to pearls. Brains, irritated by curiosity, give birth to ideas."

"Brainpower is the bridge to the future; it is what transports you from wishful thinking to willful doing."

"Unless you keep learning & growing, the status quo has no status."

Monday, August 16, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: MIND MAPS FOR BUSINESS, by Chris Griffiths & Tony Buzan

From the standpoint of reading on the lines or among the lines, this 250+ page book looks visually appealing to me, because of the many colourful mind-maps – plus myriad interesting stories - coming from a broad spectrum of businesspeople across the globe.

Of all the stories, I reckon the one from Masanori Kanda stands out.

The book is generally well-structured, & also shows many business applications of mind-mapping from several luminaries as well as numerous diehards.

In this respect, I reckon kudos should go to Chris Griffiths for his entrepreneurial spirit in soliciting & collating all the relevant stuff from across the globe into the book.

However, reading between the lines as well as reading beyond the pages, I find a number of stuff that really irks me. I would even say that there are some fundamental flaws in the book.

I will run through all the irksome stuff with readers.

In the first place, at least from my perspective, mind-mapping is essentially a mind dump, so to speak, on paper, plus some fancy nodes & branches to denote radial bursts of information. In other words, it’s a great tool for capturing & organising ideas on the fly.

The real power in mind-mapping is actually the deep questioning process, as one constantly needs to ask “where does this lead to?” or “what else is there at this point?” or “what is the implication or consequence here?” at each node & branch.

I have noted this vital aspect is only perfunctorily addressed in the book, although for a handful of applications, e.g. sales, negotiations, the authors did go at some length, but not indepth.

The book gives a lot of static captures of information on their respective nodes or branches in the illustrated mind-maps, but did not go further. In fact, some of the mind maps in the book should have been rejected outright, as one needs a magnifying glass to read them.

For example, let’s take a look at the mind-map on page 119, pertaining to ‘Mind Mapping the Buzan Asia Project'. To me, it was frivolously drawn – a 12-year old would have done better than that. It shows no traces of “strategic thinking” at all, if that was what the author had intended to demonstrate to readers.

In any strategic thinking endeavour, it is the strategic questioning process that eventually leads to the crucial solutions.

The same problem exists in the mind-map on page 232.

Worst still, & to my chagrin, the mind-map on page 140 is a real laughing stock. It purports to illustrate the “8 Secrets of Leadership” from the mind-mapping guru. The contributing author from Down Under simply couldn’t differentiate a habitual routine like “daydream” or “associate” from a true leadership trait.

I reckon the basic problem lies in the fact that the author desperately wanted to fit her shallow understanding of leadership traits into the acronym, M-I-N-D-M-A-P.

Actually, as it stands, a larger over-arching problem exists with mind-mapping, where everything is required to fit into a centralised concept. That is to say, all ideas or observed facts must start - rigidly - at the centre.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work in the real world, business or otherwise, since everything is connected to everything else.

I have one very important point to make though, to stand as a correction to what the contributing author/consultant from Down Under had talked about “Tony Buzan’s core work on leadership”.

It is well recognised that Tony Buzan’s apparent forte lies only in mind-mapping, speed reading & memory techniques, or “mental literacy" as he likes to call them collectively.

He might have given some official speeches or group presentations – from Dubai to Australia via Hongkong - where the term “leadership” had probably appeared.

Also, his name might have been listed on book titles to enhance the saleability of the books, like “The Brainsmart Leader” & “Grass Roots Leaders”. I would not be surprised that the real contributions in terms of thinking & writing actually came from the co-authors of the two books.

With due respect, I feel that the consultant from Down Under shouldn’t have trivialised the brilliant & pioneering work of leadership experts, like Jim Kouzes, Warren Bennis, Bill George, Noel Tichy, or even John Maxwell, by ranking the mind-mapping guru spuriously in the same league.

I would strongly recommend her - for her own leadership education - to read & digest ‘Conversations on Leadership: Wisdom from Global Management Gurus’, by researcher Lan Liu of Beijing University.

Nonetheless, the authors of ‘Mind Maps for Business’ have cleverly added in various proven strategic thinking & decision making models to dovetail with mind-mapping, e.g. Scenario Planning, PEST Analysis, Porter’s Five Forces, SWOT Analysis, Balance Scorecard, BCG Matrix, Porter’s Value Chain, McKinsey 7-S Framework, The 4Ps, & Product Life Cycle.

Frankly, I feel that they didn’t do a good job, other than highlighting those processes. This segment of the book contains only the authors' suppositions, in both narrative forms & skeleton mind-maps.

More surprisingly, out of the supposedly 200+ million mind-mapping users in the world, they couldn’t bring about a single business case to illustrate each of them. That would have been great – for readers’ sake - if they had done so.

Worst still, the deep questioning process as I have emphasised earlier, was not incorporated at all.

Let me take an example from the book.

In the PEST Analysis, the authors have given readers some really good indicators of information to be gathered, but stop short of advising readers to go beyond the information gathering process. That is to say, information processing - to be more precise, insight generation - is missing. The latter step necessitates the fishing out of implications &/or consequences from each of those indicators… starting with first order… then, second order… finally, third order, if necessary.

The critical stage of insight generation, as I see it, holds the vital key to effective analysis, not just static captures of information on a node or branch.

Another example: SWOT Analysis.

It certainly looks good when you have gathered all the pertinent information on “Strengths”, “Weaknesses”, “Opportunities” & “Threats”.

The harsh reality is that the effectiveness & efficiency of SWOT Analysis lie in the next stage of intellectual work, i.e. to identify the implications &/or consequences of the gathered information, just like in the PEST Analysis I have highlighted earlier. [These are the “unintended consequences” which futurist/filmmaker/author Joel Arthur Barker talks about.]

In fact, I would encourage readers to ask pertinent & powerful questions, like “how can I amplify or build on “Strengths?”; “how can I eliminate or reduce “Weaknesses”?; “how can I maximise or leverage on “Opportunities”?; “how can I mitigate or contain “Threats?” to help generate valuable ideas.

I would even go one step further: “how can I combine “Strengths” & “Opportunities” to deal with “Threats”? &/or “How can I convert “Weaknesses” &/or “Threats” into “Opportunities”?

Like I said earlier, it is the deep questioning process that make mind-mapping powerful.

So, it seems that the authors just wanted to throw in some credibility to entice the business world by highlighting all those strategy models in their book.

I like to qualify what the authors (or the publisher?) have written on the back cover: “The Mind Map is the most effective thinking, organisational & productivity tool of our time…. [my addition] provided that the deep questioning process is put in place rigorously & vigorously.

I think it is also very bad taste on the part of the authors to belittle other visual tools, like concept mapping [on page 50].

As a matter of fact, concept mapping, which has a lot of empirical research to back it, is far more superior than mind–mapping, especially when it comes to reading & navigating through very complex texts, as in scientific subjects.

One last point: the authors keep on directing readers to their corporate website at every chapter, but I couldn’t get new information other than what’s already in the book.

Interestingly, on their corporate website, some of the user testimonials came from their collaborators as well as from their own licensed instructors - with vested interests of course. What a sham!

Judging from their corporate website, & from their constant exhortations via incessant email shots, it seems that the authors are more interested in getting readers to become their licensed instructors.

Imagine becoming a licensed instructor with only one single tool to work on. Think about it, if you have only a screwdriver in your toolbox, how does everything look to you?

Juxtaposing mind-mapping as a Swiss Army Knife is more of a misnomer. The latter is a truly multi-gadget, multi-function tool. Mind-mapping is not. Period.

So, in the end analysis, I reckon that the ‘Mind Maps for Business’ book has been written primarily as a marketing promotional tool for pushing their 'iMindMap' software to the world at large.

To be fair to the authors: if you are longing to read many interesting stories from around the globe with regard to varied mind-mapping applications, this book can readily serve as a valuable memento.

Beyond that, I don’t think readers will miss much.

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