Meet the master of Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping is not just a private enjoyment for individuals. As a proof that it can lead to public activities influencing many different areas in society I asked one interesting man to share something from his experiences and activities. Thum Cheng Cheong.

You are from Singapore. Is it a place you were born in or did you move there at some point in your life?

TCC: I am from Penang, Malaysia. Most of my education was in Malaysia. I came to Singapore in 1982 to study Law in the National University of Singapore and proceeded to practise law for 6 years followed by 19 years in the banking industry. Currently, I am an Associate Lecturer with a local private university and also a polytechnic.

The first mention I have found about you was in the book Mind Maps written by Tony Buzan. I noticed that from simple mind mapping activities you moved on to a larger projects overpassing far beyond the basic scope of this creative system. Could you shortly tell us about this path?

TCC: I am also looking into creative ways to express myself. Mind Maps provided this avenue for me. I started with simple mind maps and was looking into ways to improve my personal mind maps. The simplest approach was to include more colours and visuals into my mind maps. That was when I started designing and drawing Mind Map Art pieces which were featured in Tony Buzan’s books. As I experiment more with Mind Map Art, the art element became stronger and empowered the message. Ideas could be communicated with visuals which are loosely connected. That was when I ventured into a totally different area of visual arts and visual communication.

Tony Buzan – how did you meet him? What is / was for you most inspiring feature of his personality?

TCC: I met Tony Buzan in Singapore on 25th September 2004. I was invited by my son’s school to attend a talk by Tony Buzan. His message about the synergetic use of both sides of the brain leading to infinite possibilities stayed with me after I left the seminar. Tony’s very positive personality ignited my passion in promoting his vision of “Global Mental Literacy”.

With Tony Buzan at Sim Management House - Global Mental Literacy Movement

With Tony Buzan at Sim Management House – Global Mental Literacy Movement

Law – it is your job. Why law? How do you connect it with the rest of your activities?

I studied law and have been in the legal industry since 1986. The legal knowledge is still relevant in my current occupation as I am a Business Law lecturer. Most lawyers are left-brained with the focus in the use of words. My interest in Mind Maps brings a different perspective to the law.

I like the sentence from your mission statement: “Reinventing the way we teach and learn in Singapore.” It is a bold statement – how can one person influence education system deeply rooted in society? Tell us more about it.

I am a product of the existing education system. Should the education system be changed? That got me thinking about the alternatives. My personal journey into Mind Map and Mind Map Art brought me much benefits. I started sharing this new way of thinking and realized that the existing system needs to be reinvented before we could change the way we teach and learn. Thus, the birth of my bold mission statement. I am alone in this journey and have been rejected numerous times with the reason that “only Thum can draw such mind maps”. My outreach as a mind map instructor was limited to those who are interested or curious to find out about my Mind Map Art. To influence the education system deeply rooted in society, I need to be in the system. I finally managed to juggle my time to become an Associate Lecturer in 2010. My main aim was to have a better understanding of the education system and the challenges faced by educators and learners. This is still an on-going process and I am still alone in this venture. My first break-through was in 2011 when the head of program for a new course identified me as the candidate to write a Study Skills module. She was interested to have this module for all first year School of Business students. The Study Skills module has a Mind Mapping component and we had the first run in January 2012 for university students. The response from the students and the university was very positive. It is now a compulsory program. This is a very important and bold step towards my mission statement. The private university is now exploring ways to redesign the materials and I am involved in sharing my personal experience in the project.

International Forum of Visual Practitioners – can you introduce this project?

A fellow associate lecturer introduced me to International Forum of Visual Practitioners (“IFVP”). I was totally mesmerized by the Visual Practitioners’ work which is beyond mind mapping. I joined this community of visual practitioners who share a common passion for bringing information and ideas to life visually. My focus shifted to “live” visual recording of speeches and subsequently, used this approach to use visuals “live” in my lectures this year, 2013. It is still in its raw form and I am fine-tuning the technique. Response have been very encouraging. The challenge is to change the mind-sets of learner and educators who are used to the left-brain approach.

Thum with students

Thum Cheng Cheong with his students

TAP Learn to make badges

TAP Learn to make badges

What kind of people join this project in biggest number?

I realized that most of the visual practitioners are very strong in their drawing skills. It is their niche and they are engaged for their unique skills in capturing information “live” visually in big pieces of paper.

Thinking Art Programme is a part of IFVP. Is it programme for students only?

Thinking Art Programme is a term I invented to put the Thinking in front of Art. The focus is on the learners and the art element is to help the learners to thinking. Basic drawing skills are taught and the main method is to doodle in a single colour i.e. black or blue pen or even pencil. Anyone can doodle with guidance on the thinking outcome. I use the doodle technique in my lectures. It will take some time before this technique catches on.

MAD – what it stands for?

In July 2013, I was given the title the “MAD illustrator” in a project for “Chefs With Heart” (page in Facebook). MAD stands for “Make A Difference”. This latest project for opens up a totally new dimension of visual tools for myself. I invented a technique to create doodle story-telling videos at a fraction of the time and costs of the other animators. This truly Made A Difference. Just MADness!

I remember you launched a Mind Mapping Art exhibition some time ago. How this happened? Who joined? What was public response to it?

The purpose of Mind Map Art Exhibition was to introduce Mind Map Art and drawing to the larger community. The first Mind Map Art Exhibition and drawing competition was held on 29th September 2012. The response was very encouraging and more were successfully organised. The exhibition and competition brought art to the community.

You initiated as well couple of other activities. Can you describe them for us?

My main project is the “Thinking Art Map” (“TAM”) together with the “Thinking Art Programme” (“TAP”). I designed TAP for a group of needy students to provoke their thinking and build character through art. The main form is the doodle.

TAM is effectively a visual map approach for thinking and learning. This has its roots in Mind Mapping and IFVP. A free-form doodling which maps out the ideas whether static or animated. Colours may be added to bring out the essence of the visuals and ideas.

Mind Map Art at Woodlands Civic Center

Mind Map Art at Woodlands Civic Center


What kind of people did you meet through your mind mapping activities? Any interesting stories?

Most of the people I met are very curious about my ability to draw. Lawyers don’t draw! I am an anomaly. Drawing is a hobby which I am passionate about. My advantage is the ability to associate it to higher order thinking skills.

The most challenging workshops are those conducted for teachers and educators. They have their own tried and tested methods to teach. The first reaction is always to prove that new techniques work. I will show them the “secrets” to mind mapping and other creative tools which empowers them. In the workshops, I enable the participants through activities and this changed their minds. My current role as an Associate Lecturer also provided me with the opportunity to apply the tools directly to a subject. My participants could relate to my personal struggles and experience as an Associate Lecturer.

Is there a worldwide (or local) community of mind mappers who keep in touch and plan bigger projects together?

I am active in the social media platform, facebook. Through facebook, I stay connected with the community of Mind Mappers and Visual Practitioners. I have visitors from Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and other countries. We share ideas, experiences and projects. I am still learning along the way.

What most unusual / bizarre mind map / mind mapper did you see?

I have seen many passionate mind mappers from around the world. The most memorable mind mappers are from Japan. One is known as the Picasso of Mind Mapping. His name is “Hanamichi Maoka”. The other who is a fantastic doodler, Yoshisada Arawaka. Both of them are passionate about mind maps and they made a personal journey all the way from Japan to visit me. They represent about 40 Japanese who are my fans! I did not even know I have a fan club in Japan where I am known as the Global Mind Mapper. My Mind Map Art piece on the Lantern Festival was specially featured in the Japanese version of Tony Buzan’s The Mind Map Book and it was very well received. I am still in contact with my fans in Japan and hope to visit my fans there one day!

Why mind map is so attractive to you?

It was Tony Buzan who inspired me to join the Mind Mapping community. He saw my mind map art which I drew in his workshop and he persuaded me to be an instructor to share my mind mapping skills and teach others. I was holding a full-time job in a bank and did not see the need to become an instructor. After much encouragement from Tony Buzan, I became a licensed instructor in 2007 and drew the world’s first largest mind map. I drew it pro bono and kept a low profile. The public did not know I drew the mind map until Tony Buzan published it in his books. Mind Mapping started as a hobby I am passionate about and it is remains so even now.

 The Thinking Art Map on "The Power and Strategies of Visual Thinking" and "Sharpen Your Visual Thinking". 

The Thinking Art Map on “The Power and Strategies of Visual Thinking” and “Sharpen Your Visual Thinking”.


Guerilla marketing Mind Map

Guerilla marketing Mind Map created by Thum Cheng Cheong

Drawing skills are not necessary for mastering the creative mind mapping. Still – you started to study drawing more intensely. Why?

I was not satisfied with the way I express myself through the mind maps. I felt that visuals play a vital part in getting people’s attention. Not the words no matter how attractive. I started drawing mind maps the “traditional” way and I was no different from other mind mappers. I started to add more visuals and colours to “Make A Difference”. The results were impactful and drawing a message or communicating a message through visuals become central to my mapping. Total freedom to express and yet the viewer will be able to interpret the desired outcome. This is enabling and empowering the viewer who will ultimately learn through the “Thinking Art Map”. In its most desire form, the “Thinking Art Map” does not have words but pure visuals and doodles. This is truly a human language which everyone regardless of language is able to appreciate. This is my global vision to “Reinvent the way we teach and learn”! I leave behind all my drawings as a legacy!

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All images in this post are published with kind permission of Thum Cheng Cheong.