Maxwell's 11 Types of Thinking

Ever wonder if your level of success in life is not up to par with the level at which you think? Do you sometimes feel that if you were to push the way you think and reach the true potential of your thoughts that you would be more successful in life? You’ve probably wondered these things because you know they are true. The good news is that anyone can unlock the true potential of their thoughts as long as they know the best methods to turn their thoughts into a reality. Just like anything else, becoming a good thinker takes time and practice.

In John C. Maxwell’s book How Successful People Think (Link to Amazon Preview of Book), he explains that after 40 years of studying successful people, he found that they are all alike in one way: how they think. In his book, he describes 11 different types of thinking, how to utilize them and why they are beneficial and will lead to success. He places emphasis on the fact that his descriptions of each type of thinking “do not try to tell you what to think; they attempt to teach you how to think.” Furthermore, he explains that “as you become acquainted with each skill, you will find that some do well, others don’t. Learn to develop each of those kinds of thinking, and you will become a better thinker.”

Along with each type of thinking listed below is a summary of Maxwell’s suggestions on how to put each one to use and the thinking question he proposes for each one.

“Cultivate Big-Picture Thinking”
Big-picture thinking requires discipline, patience and a little bit of courage. In order to be a big-picture thinker you must be willing to deal with complex, diverse and ambiguous ideas, learn from every experience (good and bad), listen to and learn from a variety of people and dare to expand your world. According to Maxwell, “big-picture thinking brings wholeness and maturity to a person’s thinking” and it is accomplished by expanding one’s horizons.
When it comes down to it, becoming a big-picture thinker depends on how much you let yourself go against the flow of the world. Many people see the immediate or short-term side of things so if you train yourself to see things from a holistic perspective, you will be a step ahead of them. Ultimately, the key is to avoid seeing things from only one perspective.
“Am I thinking beyond myself and my world so that I process ideas with a holistic perspective?”

“Engage in Focused Thinking”
Focused thinking is a true test of dedication that requires sacrifice and commitment. To engage in focused thinking you must first realize that you need to be willing to give some things up. Focused thinking can only be accomplished by narrowing your field of thought and giving your attention to the areas that bear fruit. According to Maxwell, “being willing to give up some of the things you love in order to focus on what has the greatest impact isn’t an easy lesson to learn. But the earlier you embrace it, the sooner you can dedicate yourself to excellence in what matters most.”
Once you have accomplished that, you can continually maintain focused thinking by removing distractions, setting aside time for uninterrupted focused thinking, setting clear, achievable, yet challenging goals and setting aside time to step back and self-evaluate your progress.
“Am I dedicated to removing distractions and mental clutter so that I can concentrate with clarity on the real issue?”

“Harness Creative Thinking”
Although it is true that some people are more inclined to think creatively than others, creative thinking can still be learned and improve upon by anyone. While creativity is most commonly associated with originality, Maxwell makes the claim that “creative thinking isn’t necessarily original thinking…Most often, creative thinking is a composite of other thoughts discovered along the way.” When creative thinking is seen from that perspective it probably becomes a little less intimidating for the uncreative person.
So what are the practical ways to discover the thrill of creative thinking? First, you must remove creativity killers. The best way to do this is to place yourself in creative environments that encourage creativity, individuality, innovation and the freedom to dream or go outside the lines and to place yourself in the company of other creative people. According to Maxwell, “creativity is contagious”, and “the more time you can spend with creative people engaging in creative activities, the more creative you will become.”
You can also improve your creative thinking by asking the right questions. Management trainer Sir Antony Jay said it best, “the uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a creative mind to spot wrong questions.” Lastly, creative thinking can be attained by simply getting out of your own comfort zone. Travel to new places, read on new subjects and meet new people. Creative breakthroughs are more likely to happen when you get out of your box.
“Am I working to break out of my “box” of limitations so that I explore ideas and options to experience creative breakthroughs?”

“Employ Realistic Thinking”
While creative thinking should be used when you can afford failure, realistic thinking should be used in the face of failure. Since realistic thinking requires objectiveness, the way to think realistically is to seek truth and be honest with yourself. In order to improve upon realistic thinking, Maxwell emphasizes the importance of picturing the worst-case scenario. He says, “if you picture the worst case and examine it honestly, then you really have experienced a reality check. You’re ready for anything.”
Maxwell also advises to align your thinking with your resources. You can put yourself in a big rut by not having enough resources to accommodate for your thoughts. When all is said and done though, realistic thinking requires a true appreciation for truth.
“Am I building a solid mental foundation on facts so that I can think with certainty?”

“Utilize Strategic Thinking”
If you are able to formulate plans that will achieve a desired objective, then you are a strategic thinker. According to Maxwell, on the path to achieving an objective through strategic thinking, the first step is to break down the issue into more manageable parts in order to increase effectiveness. Like Henry Ford said, “nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.”
Maxwell then explains that you must ask “why” before “how” when implementing a plan so that you can identify the real objectives, review your resources carefully and put the right people in the right place. Most importantly, strategic thinking must be continuous. To truly think strategically, you must never abandon the objective.
“Am I implementing strategic plans that give me direction for today and increase my potential for tomorrow?”

“Explore Possibility Thinking”
To achieve possibility thinking all you really need to do is harness your inner seven-year-old self. When you were a kid, you dreamt big and ignored the impossibilities. That is what it means to be a possibility thinker. Possibility thinkers are people like Walt Disney and George Lucas, who uncaged their imagination and never gave in to popular criticism. According to Maxwell, the easiest ways to explore possibility thinking are to stay away from the ‘experts”, look for positive possibilities despite circumstances, dream big, question the status quo and find inspiration from some great achievers.
“Am I unleashing the enthusiasm of possibility thinking to find solutions for even seemingly impossible problems?”

“Learn from Reflective Thinking”
Similar to focused thinking, reflective thinking requires you to set aside time. The way our culture is today, not many people take part in reflective thinking. Reflective thinking takes time and effort which can be difficult in the midst of our busy lives. Maxwell advises keeping a calendar or journal in order to keep track of your past thoughts or experiences. Then, when you do find time to reflect, ask yourself valuable questions and write down whatever good thoughts come to mind. According to Maxwell, “by mentally visiting past situations, you can think with greater understanding.”
“Am I regularly revisiting the past to gain a true perspective and think with understanding?”

“Question Popular Thinking”
Maxwell states that questioning popular thinking requires “a willingness to be unpopular and go outside of the norm.” This type of thinking is acquired mostly through your mindset rather than actionable methods. According to Maxwell, some of the best ways to effectively question popular thinking are to stop and think before you follow, appreciate thinking different from your own and embrace the idea of being uncomfortable.
It is also helpful to try new things in new ways and get out of your own routine, such as taking a different route to work, trying a new restaurant or hanging out with different people. When you start trying things for the first time, it will be much easier to start questioning popular thinking.
Am I consciously rejecting the limitations of common thinking in order to accomplish uncommon results?”

“Benefit from Shared Thinking”
In order to be a good thinker, as well as a good leader, it is vital to understand the value of shared thinking. Humility is a key attribute of a person who successfully uses shared thinking. It requires you to focus more on the thoughts of the people around you than your own thoughts. According to Maxwell, a great way to succeed in shared thinking is to move from a mindset of competition to a mindset of cooperation.
From a more actionable point of view, shared thinking can also be greatly improved by getting the right people around the table (selecting the best people from an objective perspective) and having an agenda when you meet. But as stated before, shared thinking begins with a mindset of humility and cooperation.
“Am I consistently including the heads of others to think “over my head” and achieve compounding results?”

“Practice Unselfish Thinking”
It only makes sense that Maxwell placed unselfish thinking directly after shared thinking on his list. After all, he strongly implied that shared thinking requires unselfish thinking. On the surface, unselfish thinking seems pretty cut and dry, but it can still be difficult to find ways to actively engage in it.
Maxwell provides a few suggestions that can help you immerse yourself in unselfish thoughts. He advises to actively expose yourself to situations where people have needs. Unselfish thinking can be difficult if you are constantly in situations where there are no opportunities to give or care for others. He also suggests to continually check your motives and take after the model of Benjamin Franklin, who would ask himself in the morning “What good am I going to do today?”, then at night ask “What good have I done today?”
“Am I continually considering others and their journey in order to think with maximum collaboration?”

“Rely on Bottom-Line Thinking”
Maxwell describes the bottom line as the desired result or takeaway. In a way, bottom-line thinking is similar to big-picture thinking in that it embraces a broader perspective. For instance, for an organization to succeed in bottom-line thinking, it must focus much of its attention on its overall vision or purpose. The same goes for you as an individual.
Now, in order to achieve bottom-line thinking, Maxwell states that “the first step is to set aside your ‘wants’. Get to the results you’re really looking for, the true essence of the goal.” Maxwell also emphasizes the importance of preparing a strategy to achieve the bottom line. In addition to that, he advises to stick with one system to monitor results because “mixing different systems or continually changing from one to another leads to failure.” In the end, bottom-line thinking helps to keep the overall purpose in focus and will truly help you reach the full potential of your thinking.
“Am I staying focused on the bottom line so that I can gain the maximum return and reap the full potential of my thinking?”

 The post was written by Cody Pruitt, Client Service Manager at GreenEfficient.

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