Tony Buzan , our founder and mentor, whose passing occurred just over one year ago, was originally motivated by the question of ” who is intelligent?” During his time at junior school the young Tony was struck by the anomaly that one boy, Barry, who had a tremendous knowledge of nature, repeatedly failed in school tests on his own favourite topic , because of an inability to express himself. He was so absorbed by nature that he failed to engage with other necessary elements of the academic curriculum.
It was no surprise that the nature expert was regularly consigned to the bottom of the class, in spite of the fact that Tony knew that this boy’s knowledge , of nature at least, was far superior to his own. The authorities had decided who was a good student and who was not. Tony experienced this as grotesquely unfair . He began to question this equation:
Who was intelligent and who was not?
This questioning eventually led him to three beliefs, which came to form the intellectual bedrock of his legacy.
The first belief was that an operations manual was needed for the human brain, not its medical functions , but the way it works.
The next was that every human has a spark of genius within himself or herself, but the problem was to ignite it.
Tony’s third and final insight was his invention of the Mind Map, a tool for recording thoughts, plans and general creativity, which bypassed conventional academic norms.
The Mind Map was based on radiant thinking, spreading out from a dominant central concept, using colour, dimension and association. The Mind Map also revealed itself as a powerful memory aid. Mind Maps have inspired millions of people, from global statesmen such as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, USA presidential aspirant, Al Gore, to school kids around the planet. There is now, as a powerfully enduring testament to Tony’s legacy, a regular World Mind Mapping Championship, the most recent of which was staged in Beijing December 2019.
Tony went on to write over 140 books , translated into 40 languages , as well as lecturing around the world and making numerous tv programmes about his ideas. He was an enthusiastic player of mental games , such as chess and go, and a near Olympic standard rower on his favourite stretch of The Thames at Marlow, where he often skulled with Sir Steve Redgrave.
The perception that the Mind Map also promoted memory, drew Tony towards the foundation of the world memory championship at London in 1991. This was won (for the first of eight times) by the dyslexic Dominic O Brien. Growing from just eight entrants in 1991 to over four hundred entrants, the 2019 world championship was won by a teenage North Korean girl, against all comers, thus proving that the Mind sport of Memory has no boundaries, whether of gender, age, geography or beliefs. Both of those champions exemplified Tony’s belief that everyone possesses that immortal spark of genius, which merely awaits the right flame to set it in motion.
Having known Tony closely for thirty years, and written his biography, what struck me most indelibly about him was his inner child. As already noted….It was clear that his own school experiences had marked him deeply and left a lasting impression on him. This was an impression, welling up from his formative years, which was to translate into a powerful and enduring legacy of mental achievement, which continues to affect and inspire millions of people around the world.
I have already remarked upon his early questioning of which authority it was that decided who was intelligent or not, and throughout the rest of his life Tony repeatedly positioned himself as that authority, in other words: the headmaster of the human race.
And his conclusion, the most endearing and inspiring aspect of his massive legacy of books, lectures, DVDs, inventions and creations, was that everyone is intelligent. Every human being has that Marshall’s baton of Genius within them. What prevents that spark from bursting forth in the luminescence of a Leonardo, a Beethoven, an Einstein, was often accident, circumstance, environment or mental repression and discouragement during a child’s formative years. The Jesuits reportedly said that give them a child by the age of seven, and he will be theirs for life. Tony equally believed that given the opportunity to train young children, he could enlighten their path to Genius.
Indeed, one of his numerous unfinished books at his death was an ambitious report card on the human race, marking humanity out of 100 on such topics as the environment, education, peace, economics, race and gender relations ad infinitum. Another was an exploration into animal intelligence, a subject which constantly absorbed him. His specialty was the brain, so how could insects with micro brains achieve such feats of organisation as, for example, shown by ants and termites, or arachnids such as the Portia spider? Indeed, for a man who wrote over 140 books during his lifetime, an entire library of as yet unpublished writings still awaits an enterprising publisher. A further potent arsenal of his intellectual legacy, waiting to be discovered.
Unsurprisingly Tony found himself particularly at ease with kids and one of his triumphs was the TV series In Search of Genius, in which Tony, on camera, took a class of delinquent comprehensive school children and converted them over six programmes into model pupils.
In contrast , at the elite end of the spectrum, Tony once received a mysterious phone call inviting him first class, no expense spared, to a desert hideout in Bahrain; sworn to secrecy, Tony was greeted by non other than Michael Jackson, who offered Tony £100,000 for a weekend to teach mental literacy, Mind Mapping, memory power and speed reading, to the megastar’s offspring. While Tony lectured the family on mental improvement, Jackson retired to his inner sanctum to imbibe a potent drug infused concoction of what he described as “Mother’s Milk.” The contrast between the Mind snapping activities unfolding upstairs and the brain enhancing teaching imparted downstairs, could not have been more striking!
In spite of his impressive catalogue of published manuals on the working of the brain, what Tony truly craved was recognition as a poet. Particular favourites were his friend and poet laureate Ted Hughes, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Shakespeare’s Richard II, especially those lines where John of Gaunt advises his son Bolingbroke , to regard his banishment by the King as his own choice of driving away the King. As part of his legacy, many volumes of his unpublished poems still await their introduction to the light of the world.
Tony’s enduring legacy will, however, be those generations of readers of his books and attendees at his lectures who found unsuspected depths within themselves and were inspired to maximise what Tony frequently referred to as that sleeping giant, the human brain.