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"I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think." Warren Buffett The "Oracle of Omaha" is famous for his nearly empty date book. "I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking." He says that's "how knowledge builds up, like compound interest." The idea that CEOs and business owners need to spend time, alone, thinking is widely accepted - but not widely practiced! But what is missing is the realization that there are ways to approach thinking to maximize the time and effort spent in the pursuit.

John C. Maxwell writes in Thinking for a Change: 11 Ways Highly Successful Approach Life and Work that the most critical element separating those who succeed and those who do not is "Good Thinking."

What is Good Thinking?

Maxwell attributes this keen interest to his father, Melvin. The elder Maxwell was raised during the Depression, and at the age of six, lost his mother. He was morose, sad. But he also wanted to be successful, and he realized the successful people he knew had one thing in common: they filled their heads with positive thoughts.

Melvin Maxwell embodied the "fake it till you make it" ideal. He changed his thinking, and ultimately, his thinking changed his life... and that of his son, who says he has been a "student of good thinking" all of his life.

In Thinking for a Change, Maxwell proposes, like his father, if people change their thinking, they change their lives. Among other benefits, good thinking:

  • Creates the foundation for good results.
  • Increases one's potential.
  • Produces more good thinking - if it becomes a habit.

Making Time to Think

One of the "11 ways" highly successful people think differently is recognizing the importance of strategic thinking, and, of course, making time for it.

This is a practice LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner used to find an "indulgence." Now, he says it's a necessity. EVERY DAY he blocks 30-90 minutes to be alone, thinking.

"As an organization scales, the role of its leadership needs to evolve and scale along with it. I've seen this evolution take place along at least two continuums: from problem solving to coaching and from tactical execution to thinking strategically. What both of these transitions require is time, and lots of it. Endlessly scheduling meeting on top of meeting and your time to get these things right evaporates."

As businesses transition out of the startup or initial stages of growth and take steps towards becoming a professionally managed enterprise, leaders often find themselves caught between being "doers" and "thinkers." While they cannot abdicate "doing" completely, they certainly need to make time for thinking.

Like Weiner, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and other "highly successful" people, these leaders must schedule alone time to think. The morning shower just isn't going to cut it. Thinking time has to become a top priority, or, as Weiner says, they'll be constantly reacting to the environment instead of influencing it.

What takes Maxwell's book from an interesting read to a useful, practical guide for leaders is the weaving of his 11 ways with concrete examples and exercises that can help readers change their thinking. Also well worth reading if leaders are interested in changing their thinking is Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner. He outlines the five types of cognitive abilities (Disciplinary Mind, Synthesizing Mind, Creating Mind, Respectful Mind, and Ethical Mind) that will be required of tomorrow's leaders.

Each book acts as a roadmap to more effective thinking. Maxwell writes, "[K]nowledge alone is not power. Knowledge has value only in the hands of someone who has the ability to think well. People must learn how to think well to achieve their dreams and reach their potential." Likewise, knowing how to think well only has value in the hands of someone who takes the time to do so.


Larry Hart

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