John Maxwell is widely known as an author and speaker on the topic of leadership. Whether or not you are engaged in leading an organization, there is much to be gained from a Maxwell book. His style tends to be heavy on quotations, stories and inspiration. For readers used to footnotes and data tables, it takes some time to get used to his style. Maxwell has written over fifty books so it can be difficult to know which one to choose. Recently, I read Maxwell’s “Thinking for a Change: 11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life and Work” and much enjoyed it. Eleven types of thinking are described: I will cover just a few of them in this review.
Why read a book about thinking? After all, many of us think and write every day as we work on our professional projects. Consider the leverage one can receive from improving one’s thinking process: if you could make your thinking 5% or 10% more effective, what could you accomplish? While the book does offer some insights regarding specific procedures to improve thinking, I don’t see that as the main benefit of the book. Rather, “Thinking for a Change” encourages the reader to give care and attention to the thinking process and self-reflection. It occurs to me that the book’s recommendations can help a reader combat common cognitive biases such as the confirmation bias (per Wikipedia “the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions”).
Maxwell’s insights on strategic thinking are valuable in their precision. Here are some of the strategy points Maxwell makes: plan on different time horizons (e.g. plan the year, plan the month and plan the week). Strategic plannins is a way to build and maintain leadership credibility – just imagine a leader without a strategy or approach for the future! Ultimately, Maxwell sees strategy as “nothing more than planning on steriods.”
The concept of reflective thinking is appealing but it can be a challenge to implement without the right strategies. One approach to increase one’s reflective thinking is to build the habit of a daily journal – Michael Hyatt has a helpful journal template. How exactly do you get more reflective? Maxwell suggests setting aside time for it (e.g. an annual review) and choosing the right context for reflection – a quiet place free of distractions. If you’re unclear what to reflect on, this chapter of the book offers a variety of excellent prompts on values, relationships, experiences. The breadth of Maxwell’s questions here are very good. Having a checklist for reflection prevents one from simply considering the same points over and over again. In particular, I like Maxwell’s focus on looking for lessons and recording successes.
What comes to mind when you read the word “thinking”? It might be a certain famous sculpture by Rodin or some other kind of solitary figure. While such thinking has great value, it does have certain limitations. The book’s chapter on shared thinking points out that thinking with other people over leads to tremendous results. Maxwell is particularly fortunate to have a circle of people who are keen to provide comments and work with him on ideas. If you don’t have such a group readily at hand, consider adopting a brainstorming protocol (e.g. Manager Tools Brainstorming) as a method to produce more ideas.
In close, give some thought to the quality of your thinking today. Is your thinking effective? Do you have structures in place to give your thoughts form and direction? Even if you’re content with your thinking, there’s so much to be gained by improving one’s thinking. Just taking one or two of the thinking approaches described in “Thinking for A Change” could have a big impact.
Next book review: “The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham.