Tony Buzan had a number of well-rehearsed, ‘set piece’ routines which he built into his keynotes. Anyone who knew Tony well realised he thought deeply about his lectures and his theatrics were never just for effect, but always had a serious underlying meaning.

One of his most memorable ones, was his depiction of how a baby learns. The juxtaposition of Tony, the guru, immaculately dressed on stage, behaving like a one-year old had the audience in fits of laughter. Unfortunately, for some, they got the joke but missed the point.

Tony would ask for a piece of paper. Acting the part of the baby, he would shake it violently from the corner to listen to the noise made (does this new thing have potential as a musical instrument?) He would grab the two short sides and attempt to pull apart or stretch the paper (it has good tensile strength). He would rip it (noticing the different sound) and take a bite, spitting out shortly afterwards (not a good taste). 

The reason why babies sooner or later place whatever they find in their mouths is not just for the sense of taste but also the incredible number of touch receptors in the mouth. The tongue and lips, in addition to the fingertips, are the most touch-sensitive parts of the body. Imagine having a blackberry seed stuck in one of your molars. It is much smaller than a grain of rice but to your tongue it feels like a boulder. If you want to experience the touch of something in tremendous detail the tongue and mouth are the best tools. Concerned parents, worried about germs or choking hazards will often sternly reprimand the infant with the words, “No! – It’s dirty.” 

Tony continued, one last time shaking the paper before offering it out to see if anyone else wanted the now crumpled and torn sheet (does it have commercial value?)  before discarding. Time to move on to the next learning experience.

Everyone, as a baby, is totally engaged in every minute facet of their experience. They show single-minded focus and make use of all of their senses. As we get older we become blasé to our environment, conditioned into social conformity and educated out of our creativity. In-school there is only one right answer to an exam question. 

Child development specialist, Glenn Doman said, “Babies love to learn. In fact, they prefer it to eating food.”

Richard Buckminster Fuller, architect, author, inventor and futurist who popularized the geodesic dome said, “All children are born geniuses and we spend the first six years of their lives degeniuzising them.” 

Buzan concurs, “At the moment the child is born, it is already brilliant. It picks up language much better than a doctor of philosophy in any subject in only two years and is a master of it by the age of three or four.”

If we preserved only a fraction of our early passion for learning, sense of wonder and curiosity into adulthood everyone would be a Leonardo-da-Vinci-like genius. This was the insight Tony was trying to convey and a key element of his goal in life of Global Mental Literacy.