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How Successful People Think


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Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life
By John Maxwell
What's the one thing that separates successful people from unsuccessful ones?

It's the way they think. Despite the astounding diversity among successful people, they're all good thinkers. Good thinkers solve problems, never lack for ideas and always have hope for a better future. And the way they think can be learned.

In this execuBook, author John Maxwell says no matter what your circumstances, you can learn to be a good thinker - as long as you're willing to engage in the process every day. He describes 11 specific thinking skills that you need to develop to the best of your ability in order to become a good thinker.

This summary offers an intriguing way of thinking about thinking. It will be of interest to anyone who wishes to improve his or her mental abilities.

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How Successful People Think

  1. 1. How SuccessfulPeople ThinkChange Your Thinking, Change Your LifeBy John MaxwellBusiness Plus, 2009ISBN 9781599951683IntroductionGood thinkers are always in demand. A person who knows how may always have a job, but a person whoknows why will always be his boss. Good thinkers solve problems, they never lack ideas that can build anorganization, and they always have hope for a better future.The diversity among successful people is astounding. But theyre all alike in one way: how they think. Thats theone thing that separates successful people from unsuccessful ones. And heres the good news: how successfulpeople think can be learned. If you change your thinking, youll change your life.No matter what your circumstances, you can learn to be a good thinker. All you must do is be willing to engagein the process every day.11 Thinking SkillsGood thinking isnt just one thing. It consists of 11 specific thinking skills. Becoming a good thinker meansdeveloping those skills to the best of your ability: Seeing the wisdom of big-picture thinking Unleashing the potential of focused thinking Discovering the joy of creative thinking Recognizing the importance of realistic thinking Releasing the power of strategic thinking Feeling the energy of possibility thinking Embracing the lessons of reflective thinking Questioning the acceptance of popular thinking Encouraging the participation of shared thinking Experiencing the satisfaction of unselfish thinking Enjoying the return of bottom-line thinkingBig-Picture ThinkingBig-picture thinking can benefit any person in any profession. Real-estate developer Donald Trump quipped,"You have to think anyway, so why not think big?" Big-picture thinking brings wholeness and maturity to apersons thinking. It brings perspective. Its like making the frame of a picture bigger, in the process expandingnot only what you can see but also what youre able to do.Big-picture thinkers are comfortable with ambiguity. They dont try to force every observation or piece of datainto pre-formulated cubbyholes. They think broadly and can juggle many seemingly contradictory thoughts intheir minds.Big-picture thinkers broaden their outlook by striving to learn from every experience. They dont rest onsuccesses, they learn from them. More importantly, they learn from their failures.But big-picture thinkers also learn from experiences they dont have. They learn by receiving insight from others- from customers, employees, colleagues and leaders.Focused ThinkingPhilosopher Bertrand Russell once said, "To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficultachievement." Sociologist Robert Lynd observed, "Knowledge is power only if man knows what facts not tobother with." Focused thinking removes distractions and mental clutter so you can concentrate on an issue and
  2. 2. bother with." Focused thinking removes distractions and mental clutter so you can concentrate on an issue andthink with clarity.Does every area of your life deserve dedicated, focused thinking time? Of course the answer is no. Be selective,not exhaustive, in your focused thinking. Identify your priorities.Once you have a handle on what you should think about, you must decide how to focus on it better. Start bykeeping distraction to a minimum and making time for focused thinking - perhaps early in the morning. Keepitems of focus before you. If you have an assistant, ask that person to keep reminding you of the items youwant to focus on.Creative ThinkingCreativity is pure gold, whatever you do for a living. Annette Moser-Wellman, author of The Five Faces ofGenius, says, "The most valuable resource you bring to your work and to your firm is your creativity. Morethan what you get done, more than the role you play, more than your title, more than your output - its yourideas that matter."Creative thinking isnt necessarily original thinking. Most often creative thinking is a composite of other thoughtsdiscovered along the way.Creative thinkers value ideas, explore options, embrace ambiguity, celebrate the offbeat and connect theunconnected. Creativity demands the ability to be unafraid of failure. Creativity requires a willingness to lookstupid - to get out on a limb, knowing that the limb often breaks.To improve your creative thinking, remove creativity killers - negative thoughts such as, "Im not a creativeperson," or, "I must follow the rules," or, "I must think of my image," or, "We cant afford to make a mistake."If you think you have a great idea, dont let anyone talk you out of it even if it sounds foolish.Realistic ThinkingReality is the difference between what we wish for and what is. If youre a naturally optimistic person, you maynot have a great desire to become a more realistic thinker. But cultivating the ability to be realistic in yourthinking wont undermine your faith in people, nor will it lessen your ability to see and seize opportunities.Instead, it will add value in other ways.Realistic thinking minimizes downside risk. Actions always have consequences, and realistic thinking helps youdetermine those consequences.To improve your realistic thinking, develop an appreciation for truth. Unfortunately, too many people want toavoid the truth, as Winston Churchill noted: "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselvesup and hurry off as if nothing has happened." The truth will set you free - but first, it may make you angry!Being a realistic thinker means doing your homework, to get the facts. As well, theres nothing like thinkingthrough the pros and cons of an issue to give you a strong dose of reality.Strategic ThinkingStrategic thinking is nothing more than planning on steroids. Spanish novelist Miguel deCervantes said, "Theman who is prepared has his battle half-fought." Strategic thinking takes complex issues and long-termobjectives, which can be very difficult to address, and breaks them down into manageable sizes. Everythingbecomes simpler if it has a plan!Strategic thinking can help you simplify the management of everyday life. You can do that by using systems,which are nothing more than good strategies repeated.To become a better strategic thinker, break down the issue into smaller, more manageable parts so you canfocus on them more effectively. How you do this isnt as important as just doing it. For example, you mightbreak it down by function, as Henry Ford did when he created the assembly line.When most people begin using strategic thinking to solve a problem or plan a way to meet an objective, theyoften make the mistake of jumping the gun and trying to figure out how to accomplish it. Instead of askinghow, they should first ask why. If you first jump into problem-solving mode, how are you going to know all theissues?
  3. 3. Possibility ThinkingPeople who embrace possibility thinking are capable of accomplishing tasks that seem impossible because theybelieve in solutions.The first step in becoming a possibility thinker is to stop yourself from searching for and dwelling on whatswrong with any given situation. That also means staying away from the "experts." So-called experts do more toshoot down peoples dreams than just about anybody else.Look for possibilities in every situation. Don Soderquist, former president of Walmart, tells a wonderful story ofvisiting a competitors store with his firms founder, Sam Walton. At the end, Soderquist said it was the worststore hed seen in his life. But Walton was enthused by the pantyhose rack - so enthused that he pulled thefixture out to get the name of the manufacturer on the back - and the fact that the store had 12 feet of ethniccosmetics rather than the four feet in Walmart stores. "Were absolutely missing the boat," said the possibilitythinker who was Soderquists boss.Reflective ThinkingThe pace of our society doesnt encourage reflective thinking. Most people would rather act than think.Reflective thinking is like the Crock-Pot of the mind - it encourages your thoughts to simmer until theyre done.Your goal should be to reflect so you might learn from your successes and mistakes, discover what you shouldtry to repeat, and determine what you should change. Its always a valuable exercise. By mentally visiting pastsituations, you can think with greater understanding.Set aside time for reflection. Remove yourself from any distractions. Review your calendar, which isnt just aplanning tool but also a reflective thinking tool, as it allows you to review where youve been and what youvedone. If you keep a journal, review that as well.Popular ThinkingIf you want to become a good thinker, then start preparing yourself for the possibility of becoming unpopular.Good thinkers question popular thinking, because popular thinking sometimes means not thinking at all. Popularthinking offers false hope. Its slow to embrace change. Popular thinking brings only average results.Think before you follow. Unpopular thinking contains the seeds of opportunity. Unpopular thinking is required forall progress.Appreciate thinking thats different from your own. Continually question your own thinking. Get used to beinguncomfortable.Shared ThinkingGood thinkers, especially those who are also good leaders, understand the power of shared thinking. They knowthat when they value the thoughts and ideas of others, they receive the compounding results of shared thinkingand accomplish more than they ever could on their own.Shared thinking is faster than solo thinking - and more innovative. It brings more maturity, as its likelier tocatch our blind spots.Shared thinking requires learning to value the ideas of others. It requires moving from competition with othersto co-operation with others. For shared thinking, it helps to have an agenda when you meet with others -knowing what you want to accomplish in each encounter - and getting the right people around the table.Unselfish ThinkingUnselfish thinking can often deliver a return greater than any other kind of thinking. It brings personalfulfillment, adds value to others, increases quality of life, and makes you part of something bigger than yourself.To begin cultivating the ability to think unselfishly, put others first. Realize that everything is not about you!That requires humility and a shift of focus. Expose yourself to situations where people have needs. Give quietlyor anonymously in situations - instances when you can receive nothing in return. Check your motives to ensureyoure acting unselfishly.
  4. 4. Bottom-Line ThinkingIn many businesses, the bottom line is literally the bottom line. Profit determines whether youre succeeding.But money shouldnt always be the primary measure of success. It isnt in families or in non-profits, for example.Identify the real bottom line. It can be as lofty as the big-picture vision, mission or purpose of an organization.Or it can be as focused as what you want to accomplish on a particular project. Whats important is that you beas specific as possible. If your goal is something as vague as "success," youll have a painfully difficult timetrying to harness bottom-line thinking to achieve it.The first step is to set aside your "wants." Get to the results youre really looking for, the true essence of thegoal. Set aside any emotions that may cloud your judgment and remove any politics that may influence yourperception. What are you compelled to achieve? What must occur? What is acceptable? Thats the real bottomline.ConclusionAs you become acquainted with each of those skills youll find that some you do well, others you dont. Learn todevelop each of those kinds of thinking, and youll become a better thinker.- End -About the author: John Maxwell is a leadership consultant.Related ReadingAny of these books can be ordered directly from Amazon ( A), Barnes & Noble ( B) or Chapters ( C) or may besummarized in our execuBook library (E).Think Better: An Innovators Guide to Productive Thinking, by Tim Hurson, McGraw-Hill, 2007, ISBN9780071494939. A B C EAppreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn, by Tojo Thatchenkery and Carol Metzker,Ingram, 2006, ISBN 9781576753538. A B C EExecutive Intelligence: What All Great Leaders Have, by Justin Menkes, HarperCollins, 2005, ISBN9780060781873. A B C E