Ruly Bookshelf: Thinking for a Change by John C. Maxwell

"The Thinker - At the Rodin sculpture garden in Paris." Photo by Dan McKay. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

“Have the right attitude” is a common admonishment to anyone making a difficult change. The mind is a powerful ally or foe in the change process. We can convince ourselves of success or failure and often this core belief influences a future course of events.

Now, there are those who take this theory a bit too far and insist that if we want to change all we have to do is think our way to success. We know from Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch that this is not true as willpower is weak and easily exhaustible. You have to back up that willpower with constant motivation and practical tweaks to your environment to make your change process easier.

But thinking is undeniably a very important part of the change process and perhaps the most important part. After all, if we weren’t thinking, we probably would never decide to make any changes at all!

John C. Maxwell’s Thinking for a Change is an interesting read on the thinking process. He has clearly done a lot of thinking about thinking. He organizes thinking into 11 different types–each type having a role to play in leading a fulfilled life personally and professionally.

  1. Big Picture Thinking (thinking beyond your immediate needs to the greater goals of your organization)
  2. Focused Thinking (restricting your interests and contacts to those that are most valuable to you)
  3. Creative Thinking (invention, innovation, being unafraid of failure)
  4. Realistic Thinking (i.e. negative thinking, preparing a backup plan for when things don’t go according to plan)
  5. Strategic Thinking (planning and organizing, asking why and how)
  6. Possibility Thinking (believing you can succeed when the odds are against you)
  7. Reflective Thinking (reviewing the past, turning “experience into insight”)
  8. Questioning Popular Thinking
  9. Shared Thinking (seeking input from others)
  10. Unselfish Thinking (putting the needs of others ahead of your own)
  11. Bottom-Line Thinking (remembering the desired result or end goal)

Dr. Maxwell approaches thinking from an interesting perspective. He is a trained evangelical Christian preacher and now operates several businesses that help congregations raise money and train church leaders as well as provide general leadership training for the business world. He has written numerous best-selling books on leadership, communication and other topics. Because he has both the reflective and unselfish practice of a preacher and the realistic, strategic practice of a businessman, he ends up having quite a lot to say.

I went into this book not quite sure what I was going to get out of it. I was a bit skeptical that there would be some real insight to cling to but I am pleased to report that there was plenty.

While the main focus of the book is on the 11 different types of thinking, including questions to ask yourself and examples of the different types of thinking, some of the real gems in this book are the quotes about how thinking relates to the change process. Since an enormous part of Dr. Maxwell’s consulting involves changing churches steeped in tradition and resistant to change, it is clear that he has had to become an expert on change. Each of the quotes below made me stop to think further.

• “Unsuccessful people focus their thinking on survival.
• Average people focus their thinking on maintenance.
• Successful people focus their thinking on progress.”

–John C. Maxwell, Thinking for a Change

When I read this quote I immediately thought about my own organization challenges. I don’t find it motivating to embrace a “maintenance” mentality when it comes to organization. “A place for everything and everything in its place,” while certainly true and helpful, is not intellectually stimulating. I find it far more inspiring to have a higher and broader goal of improving and changing my environment that just returning it to the same state time after time.

“People are willing to embrace change when they:

• Hurt enough that they are willing to change.
• Learn enough that they want to change.
• Receive enough that they are able to change.”

–John C. Maxwell, Thinking for a Change

This one hit home as well. Think of the last time you made a change and identify how these three aspects made your change possible or how lack of one of these elements thwarted your change.

“If a change doesn’t feel uncomfortable, then it’s probably not really a change. . . People often forget that you can’t improve and still stay the same.”

–John C. Maxwell, Thinking for a Change

I realized that I often do think that I can get better in one area without making any changes to other aspects of my life that are already working well. Embracing change means being willing not only to fix something that doesn’t work well but also to revisit something that already works well to do it differently or perhaps even better.

“[T]he purpose of goals is to focus your attention and give you direction, not to identify a final destination.”

“Goals may give focus but dreams give power. Dreams expand the world.”

–John C. Maxwell, Thinking for a Change

These quotes made me tighten up my goal-setting language. Dream the destination, goal the direction.

“[E]xperience alone does not add value to a life . . . it’s the insight people gain because of their experience. . . . An experience becomes valuable when it informs or equips us to meet new experiences.”

“Some of the most valuable thoughts you’ve ever had may have been lost because you didn’t give yourself the reflection time you needed.”

–John C. Maxwell, Thinking for a Change

If you are in the business world in particular, the above quotes should give you pause. How many times do you find yourself rushing about from appointment to appointment on your calendar, fielding hundreds of emails and calls and never having a moment to stop to think about what you are learning from all this “experience.” Dr. Maxwell’s quote reminds us that just putting in the time is not enough if you aren’t truly learning from your experiences. Making time each week (on the weekend if necessary) to review your week and reflect on how it went is very important. A brief diary of accomplishments, lessons learned and key decisions and their impacts could make the difference between a future leader and the eternal employee.

For a taste of Dr. Maxwell’s speaking and teaching style, watch the short clip below from a presentation to businesspeople in Taiwan. It is interesting to see how he combines his religious background with his business presentation style. The result is an instant credibility because he is unafraid to hide what may be considered controversial or unpopular, presents his authentic self, and highlights the advantages of his engaging and emotional style.

Do you set aside time regularly for thinking? How do you characterize your primary thinking style? Has the right attitude made a difference in your change process? Please share in the comments.