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Showdown: Paper Mindmaps vs Computer mindmaps

I’ve seen so many discussions online about which mindmap is better, the one on paper or on a computer. I write for real people who want to use mindmaps, not for big corporations who need to read everything extremely business-like. That’s why I want to allow myself to write this article in a different style.
I organized a little showdown for you. Below is a short article on a match between a computer map and a paper mindmap.

After all, we are trying to become more visual thinkers, right? Just let your imagination run wild as we watch the match.



Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to the match of the year.


In your left corner, we have a Paper Mindmap known as. P.M. P.M. is almost 40 years old. He is still a great tool for people of all ages.

In your right corner we have Computer Mindmap, initials C.M. This young adult is eager to take over the place of P.M.

It’s going to be an exciting match I believe. The winner will take home not only the honor, but also have the entire mind mapping community in his corner! Total supremacy, that’s the price there are fighting for.

I believe they are about to get started let’s watch

ROUND ONE: Young vs. Old, or Established vs. Upcoming

As you know P.M. is a very experienced assistant for getting an overview of your information. That’s why he is used and useful for so many years. C.M. is relatively young. He had to wait until computers were capable of producing the nice visual overviews we need. And still, they are not very capable, yet…

The people already familiar with P.M. usually find it a little bit difficult to understand the style of C.M. After all… they are quite different.

ROUND TWO: They mean Business!

We now enter the second round. Both C.M., as well as P.M., are really showing us they can be used in a business environment. As you know, the business side of mind mapping is all about:

1. Creating overviews with lots of information about your databases and with co-workers
2. Easily sharing information with teams and co-workers

We immediately see that P.M. is having a problem. Sure, he’s great at showing an overview. The problem is that:

A. He can’t really work with databases
B. The maps are often perceived as being too colorful for a business environment.

On the other hand, C.M. is performing like a Champ this round. He easily connects to databases and retrieves the requested information. Then he shows the data in a good visual overview. Although these maps are often populated with too much or excessive information, this is because of the user, not the technique. He simply does what he was asked.
C.M. shows much flexibility by allowing many people to work on the same map at the same time!

The presentation of the information by C.M. often is very strict and business-like. This leaves less room for discussion regarding interpretation (don’t even get me started about P.M. on this topic).

ROUND THREE: Oh, now it’s Personal!

Final Round! Who’s got the most stamina?

Both C.M., as well as P.M., showed some impressive moves in the first and second rounds. This match clearly has become personal!

And that’s exactly what P.M. loves! He is all about adding your own personal style to mindmaps. After all, you create the map, you choose the colors, and you add your own images to the map. The map truly is a Map of and from your Mind.

Most of the time P.M. is therefore used for personal overviews, quickly jotting down your thoughts and ideas, etc.

C.M. clearly is experiencing a difficult final round. He knows that in order to make a computer map, you should have… a computer! And even if you have one, you need to switch it on, start your tool, and then finally add your information.

Most of us don’t have a computer at our disposal 24×7. And even if you do have one… well, let’s just say it’s more work to get started.

Even if you have a computer tool, the maps are less personal. You use a different font than your normal handwriting, you have less flexibility and most of us don’t use our own images. You just grab one from the software library or download them from Google.

Quickly organizing your thoughts is easier on a computer when you have to move the information around (C.M. can do that much faster).


And that’s the end of the final round. Let’s have a look at some quick responses from people who have been watching with you.

Since we all are visual individuals, the mindmap you create should match the one in your head. I would go for P.M.
C.M. clearly has the advantage of youth and opportunities for the future. I’ve never been able to share maps as easily as I do with C.M.
All I can say: is P.M. is personal and can be used everywhere!
We all love C.M. because of the flexibility in editing maps.

These are just a few comments from people watching the Match of the Year.

Who is the winner of this match?

For nearly 40 years, Paper Mindmaps have been around. They may be old, but they have had a huge impact. Everybody can use the technique and most of us do it (sort of) by nature.
They’ve shown us that presenting your information only a little bit more brain-friendly has a huge impact. Paper mindmaps have not (yet) been able to take over the business world. From the looks of this showdown, it probably will not do that.

Computer Mindmaps are relatively young. There are perhaps not yet fully matured. This is probably due to the fact that computers don’t allow us to create ‘real’ mindmaps yet.


Here are the results of the judges:

Judge one: Paper Mindmaps won. Especially the fact that it is so easy to do and so brain-friendly was it for me.”

Judge two: Computer Mindmaps won. Easy to share with co-workers and exceptional master mind mapping features make this tool a perfect business companion!

And now for Judge Three. You are the third judge. You are the person who decides which kind of mind mapping wins. Do you like mind mapping on Paper or on your Computer, and why?

Please do tell your fellow MindmapsUnleashed members about your preference.

Would you like to know my opinion?

To me, mind mapping is done on paper.

Computer mind mapping is not really mind mapping due to the limitations the computers have. And in my honest opinion, there is no software tool around that captures the essence of paper mind mapping. But that’s fine!

I firmly believe that computer maps are what they are: Computer Maps. They should not be seen or treated as paper mindmaps. This is mainly due to the fact that a computer map is less personal and more a good tool to share information and present it in and to groups.

You may have heard about data mining. This is something you can’t really do effectively with paper mindmaps. Computer maps are perfect for this!

I think that we have two very distinct forms of mapping information:

1. Mindmaps, which are created and used on paper (a.k.a. Traditional Mindmaps)
2. Computer (Mind) Maps, created on a computer (a.k.a. Modern Mindmaps)

The two can work together in a very powerful way but that’s a completely different topic.

For now, I think that we must understand that in (most) business situations, a traditional map is not delivering what it should do. After all, it is very hard to connect your paper mindmap to a database and work on it with team members from different locations.

On the other hand, the Modern map is less personal and may not be the perfect companion for recalling information and getting personal insight.

The most important issue for you right now is:

Use the map you created in a productive manner. This may sometimes be by using a paper mindmap. Other activities require you to use a computer mind map.
I’ve seen so many people use the ‘wrong’ kind of map During my online training courses, we share maps and people learn how to really USE their maps so they work for them.

When you use the wrong mapping method, it reduces the effect and effectiveness of the map greatly. Don’t limit yourself by only using computer maps or paper mindmaps.


It has been an exciting match. Do share your thoughts on which tool is best for you (in general and specific situations). When and why would you use mindmaps on paper and a computer?

It would be great to hear from you.

Arjen ter Hoeve
Let your visual maps work for you!

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13 thoughts on “Showdown: Paper Mindmaps vs Computer mindmaps”

  1. I’m going to go with paper mind maps and here’s why.

    Paper mind maps are more visual, creative and personal. At the moment, the only thing that software mind maps can better paper mind maps is interactions with other digital assets like documents, hyperlinks and rss feeds. Sure they have great features like project management, document generation and interaction, but for these features you lose the visual and creative side of the mind map.

    Paper mind maps capture so much more and more importantly reflect the personality of the creator of the mind map. Most of us spend a significant amount of time sitting in front of computers, so it’s important that we get away from it every once in a while. Paper mind maps let us step away from being constantly connected and distracted and allow us to focus on getting more creative.

    I’d be interested to hear what others have to say on the software vs paper debate!

  2. Ah this is a good one! I think that there is a time and a place for BOTH and even a combination for software based and hand drawn. I often produce combined maps particularly when I am using them as handouts in lectures or presentations. I give a part built map and the delegates fill in their own information to suit their learning style. take a look at this short video to show the effects of combined mapping techniques:
    I am a user and trainer of iMindMap the ONLY Buzan licensed product. It is simply the best if you are a person who must follow the guidelines for successful Buzan Mind Mapping. The new version came out last week and it is truely amazing. Try it free for 7 days, there are three versions available and to suit all pockets. I am happy to provide any advice and support that you might need with this wonderful product.

  3. Computer based Mind Mapping for sure, because of:
    – infinite canvas size
    – ability to reorganize/graft
    – easy coloring/recoloring
    – drag and drop images
    – hyperlinks to other documents, web pages etc
    – as much information as you like on a topic in the notes
    – task/resource information
    – easy exchange with other people / import & export other formats
    – easy editing by yourself or others
    – presentations directly from within the software
    – reusable templates and map parts

    The focus with NovaMind has been to bring these features along with the capability to place your topics exactly where you want them, and making it easy to create stunning looking Mind Maps – this works well with NovaMind 4, but NovaMind 5 will take this to a whole new level.

  4. Arjen,
    Software for “Mind Mapping” has essentially evolved past the original concept of mind mapping. Pen and paper will always be great to get your ideas out of your head and quickly onto a single purpose format. However, there are many limitations to pen and paper which Gideon points out.

    Unlike pen and paper, Mindjet lets you connect ideas, information and people together in a dynamic visual format. Whether you are driving the sales process, managing a project, conducting a meeting, or simply getting organized, Mindjet provides you with a visual productivity application (mind mapping) combined with a comprehensive collaboration platform. We’re committed to develop solutions for people that work individually or collaborate in real-time to organize, manage and communicate ideas and information while solving real business problems.

    Great subject! Looking forward to hearing input from others.

  5. @Michael,
    I agree that software mapping is different than traditional mind mapping. I would like to state that computer maps took an entirely different direction from the start. They had to because of the limitations computers had then. For me the two forms exist together in my toolbox of techniques.

    I believe that a computer (visual) mapping tool should not try to create hand drawn mindmaps on a computer. For more artistic reasons one could create a special tool for that of course. Looking at for example MindManager and MindMapper: these tools are great the way they are for their users. They don’t need to be able to create hand drawn maps.

  6. I have been working on paper mind mapping in the last 30 years. Somehow I do occasionally complete a computer version of my paper mind map for lectures or for publication as they are more neat.

    I believe that eventually the computer technologists will overcome the current difficulties with the limitation of the available mind maps or concept maps soft ware.

    i do hope that there are Chinese version as the Chinese language i concept base, work a lot along the key concepts. I long for the day when I can hand draw the mind map on a superior type of iPot type mechanism that can capture all my hand writing systematically onto the computer with interlinks and colour scheme.

    I will definitely turn computer mind mapping if it can answer my basic needs in my current work.

  7. iMindMap v4 is the only mind mapping software that follows the ‘rules’ of mind mapping and as I have already in my previous post it is the only software that the originator of Mind Mapping – Tony Buzan has licensed because it follwos the rules.

  8. Arjen,

    I agree. There’s no need to put them both in a ring, as both methods…hand drawn and software could be effective depending on the goals, situation, etc…


  9. Michael,
    I fully agree. It all depends on what you want to use it for. It may even be better to use a different name for mindmaps on a computer (since mindmaps are for most people ‘only’ created on paper).

  10. My background is in technology, design and design education: I was always taught and have always taught, never discount or reject an idea without recording it because you never know when it might become important or lead to an effective solution. In Mind Mapping we have a range of tools to cover, I would say, everything.
    Software based mapping has its time and place, paper-based has its time and place and equally a combination of the two. Not a lot of people combine both methods which I struggle ti understand. For example if I am going to see a client, I will prepare a digital map of the information about the client, contact details, location. details of the meeting, agenda etc. This will all be digital. I print it out, why? because technology sometimes fails and because clients do not always feel comfortable with someone tapping away on a keyboard in a meeting, especially when they cannot see what you are recording. I add any notes and info from the meeting to the paper map, and the later update my digital map. It works for me.
    There was another discussion about Mind Mapping on equipment such as iPhones. I am a technologist and love to use electronic and digital equipment, however mapping on a small device seems to me like ‘just for the sake of it’. Yes use it to view an existing map but not to create, its too small and cannot possibly be quicker than a paper based map.
    I have been doing a lot of counseling of two clients recently to help them through difficult times. It would not have been appropriate to use digital mapping in the sessions, but I did use it to prepare and record the sessions.
    As I and others have already said: use the most appropriate method in each situation.

    • Very good to see your thoughts on the integration of paper and computer mapping. I also work this way. It also makes sure you are spending more time with your client in stead of typing on your computer.

      Regarding the iPhone… agree 🙂

  11. Nice discussion. I use hand and computer mind maps everyday, with my work and personal life. I find the PM as a better raw note taking method for live conversations and lectures. I know this because I tested myself by creating a CM as my note taking method during a recent lecture by Edward Tufte. In this application, the CM was a little harder to deal with on the fly than the PM. With the PM for notes, I am so loose that I have more confident that I am catching what I have to with this approach. Then again, my paper notes are not “true mind maps.” They are a hybrid kind of doodle map with nutty arrows, scribbles and shapes.

    That said, the flexibility of output, scalability, and versatility of the CM is just fantastic. I do not, however, use one of the more established corporate tools. I do find their imposed structure and formality deadlining. There are also key inherent problems with software problems that force you to make choices before the choices are clear. For these reasons, I use Inspiration, the well established school targeted product. I work with it with K12 clients, Higher Ed clients, and Corporate clients as well. Inspiration keeps the mind mapping fun, loose, flexible and quick. It is also as powerful as any of the more corporate oriented software tools.

    To weigh in to the discussion, I have to call it a draw. Neither is better for all situations, and if you are an experienced mind mapper, you need to choose which approach fits the application.

    • Especially the way you can quickly capture information using PM is very powerful. The organizing of that information can be done using a second mindmap (on a computer for instance).

      I think it is very interesting that you use Inspiration with your corporate clients. Usually people like to use a tool that creates clean and business looking maps and they use MindManager then. You write that you have lots of success using Inspiration. Do you think this is because Inspiration is not creating maps that have a very strong business look and feel?

      I love to hear your thoughts on this.

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