A Beautiful Mind

Tony Buzan is a poet, author, lecturer, creator of the mind map, rowing coach and the world record holder of the creative intelligence IQ. But underneath the mind maps and speed-reading methods lies a beautiful idea: we’re all smart.


According to one of Tony Buzan’s books, the human eye can, in theory, scan a page of a book in one twelfth of a second. That means that you could, in theory, read a 300-page book in 25 seconds, provided that you could have all the pages laid out in a way that would let you scan them easily. In theory, you could read this article in a quarter of a second and an entire Profile in three seconds. Or less, since there are a lot of photos in the magazine.

To make it a little easier for you, Tony Buzan says that using the right technique, you can read a 300-page book in 30 minutes. Sound better? You don’t know anyone who can read a 300-page book in a half an hour? Meet Tony Buzan: the man who also gave you the mind map, a way of organizing your thoughts and therefore remembering things better.

Only, we can’t really get to know him since Profile only had 45 minutes with him. But, we’ll give you some key words and directions

Tony Buzan is a 60-year-old British gentleman who looks you in the eye when you meet him, and makes sure to remember your name as soon as he hears it. He’ll probably have a rule in his mind to associate your face with your name. He has a blue jacket and a white shirt with a collar that reminds me of the Beatles. In this cookie-cutter world of businessmen always wearing a suit and tie, Buzan is a pretty sharp dresser.

When Tony Buzan was still just a little Anthony in grammar school, he took a test in natural sciences. So did his good friend Barry. The boys were seven years old at the time. Tony knew that Barry was the real science master of the two, so he was astonished to hear after the test that he had ranked on top of the class, while Barry – the boy Tony was sure knew the subject matter best – ranked at the bottom.

“That’s when I lost my faith in tests,” Buzan says now. “How could I rank higher than Barry, even though Barry did know more about nature than I did? I asked then what I ask now: who says?” Buzan says.

Tony went on to graduate from the university and to an impressive career in business and education. Barry, according to Buzan, is now a “lorry driver and an environmentalist” back in Britain .

When he was 18, Tony Buzan moved to Vancouver and enrolled the University of British Columbia in Canada .

“I spent a lot more time on sports and girls than on my studies of natural sciences,” he says. “In fact, my only regret is that I didn’t create Mind Map when I was in the university.” He had, however, learned speed reading and was using that technique to make some more time for sports, games and girls.

Still frustrated with his own inefficient studying methods, he walked into the university library one day and asked the librarian for a manual for the brain. He was taken to the medical studies department. “But I didn’t want to operate on the brain, I wanted to know how to operate the brain,” he says. And if there wasn’t a book to read, he would have to write it himself.

The first one he wrote in 1974 after hosting a ten-part series “Use Your Head” for BBC. Over the years, he has published over 80 books in over 100 countries, and these days Tony Buzan travels about eight months a year promoting his brain business.

Not that Tony hadn’t shown signs of being smart before. After all, he had been the editor of Mensa’s International Journal before hosting and writing “Use Your Head.”

One of the most famous mind tools Tony Buzan has developed is the Mind Map. Mind Map has entered our vocabulary and behavior the same way writing lists must have done in the … way back. Mind mapping is a technique where the author connects his thoughts of a theme in a natural way, where one idea provokes an association that leads to another idea and so forth. Colors and other graphic elements are used to create memory associations.

But we still have just scratched the surface of Tony Buzan. Mind maps are very useful, but his pursuit of understanding how the brain works is still going on.

At 60, he still follows a strict workout program. He has a black belt in aikido and he is coaching a British Olympic rowing team. “A sound mind in a sound body?” I ask him. “Mens sana in corpore sano,” he replies.

“If I can train my body and make it stronger and faster, why couldn’t I train my brain? I want to learn how to learn,” he says.

“But really, Mr. Buzan, isn’t this all easy for you to say,” I try. “After all, you were the editor of the Mensa journal, so you must be intelligent, right? What is your IQ?”

Tony looks at me and smiles. “Off the charts, off the charts, but simply because I know how the tests work. You can’t measure intelligence with one test only, and you should be skeptical about the tests. A person who scores high on the IQ test can be utterly stupid in other areas of intelligence,” he says.

According to Buzan, there are ten measures of intelligence: creative, verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, musical/rhythmic, physical, social, intrapersonal/interpersonal, spiritual and sexual. And there is currently no test that could measure all kinds of intelligence, as Buzan demonstrates with an example:
A young girl took the standard IQ test, where she had to cross out the odd one of the following: a piece of coal, a coal mine, a daffodil and a fireplace.

She crossed out the fireplace.

When asked why she had picked the wrong – according to the test – answer, she replied. “Well, I know that I probably should have crossed out the daffodil, but I thought the picture was so pretty, I didn’t want to destroy it.”

“Here, the girl scored poorly on that question, when, in fact, she showed great naturalist and esthetic intelligence AND she knew the right answer as well,” Buzan says. “Surely you can play the piano with two fingers, but it gets really beautiful, when you play it with all ten.”

In the end, we all have just one big challenge ahead of us. That thing called Life. And we all just have to use whatever smarts we have to make the best of it.

Published in Profile in December 2002.

Poems by Tony Buzan:

Her wrinkled hand
Her wrinkled hand
as it is
as it is
on this night
as it is
that his wrinkled hand
is not sure
that his wrinkled hand
is a caricature
a re-affirmation
of what
a wrinkled hand
should not be

Poem Prince
I wait
in a bird
like a toad
for the fly
for the tongue
of my mind:
the next

How does that make you feel?