“What is the one skill that helped you the most in the creation of the first world’s largest mind map?”

I was asked this question soon after the unveiling of the mind map measuring 14.6m wide and 10.1m long in Singapore on Nov 13, 2007.

My answer, which still holds true today, is the ability to think visually.

“Thinking” relates to the ability of the brain to process information from the outside world and also from within ourselves.

The sensory receiver of information in visual thinking is the eye (visual). The other two main sensory receivers of information are the ear (auditory) and the body (kinaesthetic).

The auditory thinker listens to the words spoken in sequence and thinks in orderly steps. The kinaesthetic thinker thrives on movement and touch. He tends to take notes for the sake of moving his hands during a lecture or talk.

The visual thinker uses pictures, diagrams and abstract plans and works through these materials thoroughly in “fits and starts”. He tends to be a holistic thinker who is often confused at the beginning with the overwhelming information.

One of the key objectives is to find creative connections and associations to make the materials click and form a big picture for clearer understanding.

The visual thinker has an eye for size, space and relationships. This awareness leads to a powerful way to find inherent problems. The visual thinker is associated with inventiveness, intuition and divergent thinking — essential characteristics for creative thinking.

There are often gaps in information even after gathering all the data and materials. In such a situation, the imaginative mind of a visual thinker is required to sense the missing elements and test and evaluate the results of the “guess-work”. The frequent use of metaphors in visual thinking helps to promote long-term memory.

Visual thinking is a creative thinking process that incorporates the following key areas:

* Problem awareness through a big picture approach

* Information gathering and sensing gaps

* Idea generation by making guesses and formulating hypotheses about inadequacies

* Better planning with evaluation & testing and revision & re-testing of guesses and hypotheses

* Producing a solution and communicating results that often incorporate visuals.

Here are some strategies you may adopt to develop visual thinking:

* Visualisation. Study images, pictures, flow charts and concept maps. Hold them in your mind’s eye. Take time to manipulate them.

* Learning styles. Learn to apply visual techniques of converting the words and concepts into visuals and design concept maps, flow charts, mind maps and other forms of visual mapping.

* Brainstorm. Think up as many ideas with individuals and groups.

* Timelines. Implement timelines when planning and sequencing your targets.

* Deadlines. Set shorter deadlines for the activities required to achieve your targets at the end of
the timeline.

* Big picture. Look for the big picture in any situation. Put the pieces together and connect the various ideas and concepts. Look at the contents page or overview of the lecture. Make more important ideas bigger and set priorities.

* Organisation. Bring together large pieces of information. One technique is to actively and creatively categorise pieces of information. You may use a creative thinking tool, for example a mind map, to bring together and highlight various ideas. Once you have organised the large pieces of information, fill in the details.

* Listening. During a talk or lecture, repeat the key words or ideas by writing them down. Learn to doodle so you may incorporate what you hear into the doodle.

* The voice. Learn to “hear” your own voice instead of other people’s voices when you practise visual thinking strategies. The outcome of this creative process is unique to yourself.

May the following words from the “Father of Creativity”, Mr E. Paul Torrance, inspire you: “Don’t be afraid to fall in love with something and pursue it with intensity.” Begin your visual thinking journey by looking at the photo in this article.