How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life

How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life
Publisher: Center Street
Published: 6/1/2009
A Wall Street Journal bestseller, HOW SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE THINK is the perfect, compact read for today's fast-paced world. America's leadership expert John C. Maxwell will teach you how to be more creative and when to question popular thinking. You'll learn how to capture the big picture while focusing your thinking.

How Successful People Think by John C. Maxwell

Going against commonly held traditions and speaking your mind against commonly held ideas can lead to a lonely road. It is a road most successful people know well. In fact, it's their ability to think for themselves that often leads people to find great success lead by innovation. Their willingness to think creatively, push their ideas (even when they’re unpopular), and to solve problems is an essential driving force behind their ability to achieve. Fitting in might be easier - but it's not going to make you successful or empowered. How Successful People Think discusses how you can train your mind to problem solve, think creatively, and stand out like the best of them.

What did you learn today?

To be a creative problem solver, you need to be a big picture thinker. You never know where a great idea, solution, or breakthrough might come from. Just ask the author, who starts every day by looking at his schedule and considering where he might find opportunities to learn. He then prepares himself for whatever opportunities might arise: when he had dinner with NFL coach Dave Wannstedt and learned some important things about teamwork he could apply to his own work. Another component of big picture thinking? Empathy.

Empathy is key

Empathy is essential for building successful client relationships, and successful client relationships are the cornerstone of any business. Just ask General Electric CEO Jack Welch. He regularly tells his employees that maintaining existing relationships with their customers is more important than how many sales they make. One key element of maintaining relationships with others is the ability to empathize with them. In order to meet the needs of both clients and those who are closest to you, you must have an understanding of how they work and what they want. In order to develop this, carefully consider (in all of your relationships) what the other person wants and needs.

Research and realism

What was the most important aspect of passing most classes in school? Doing your homework. And thinking clearly. These two things come into play in business as well. The author talks about how most of his best thinking was done by other people: meaning that research has allowed him to access those who’ve solved some of his biggest dilemmas already. But in order to apply what you learn correctly, you’ll need to think realistically. And being realistic is very different from being optimistic. Reality is the difference between your ideas of how things should be, and how they actually are. Being realistic means you’ll have a strategy and be ready to face whatever comes up for your company, good or bad. It means getting rid of preconceived ideas about how you would like things to go, and instead preparing and researching solutions for worst case scenarios.

How to think more creatively

Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. Einstein had a tremendous amount of both. Let's say you’re not Einstein, how can you access your own creative problem solving skills? First, remember that being creative doesn’t necessarily mean you’re always bursting with ideas and solutions. In fact, an important part of being creative can be the willingness to be open minded. When presented with a problem, if you’re thinking creatively, you would consider many different options. So, go ahead and take in as many options as possible, and then consider which ones get your mind moving in a good direction. Let’s say you’ve gotten inspired and come up with an idea or solution - don't stop there! Think about how it could be improved upon. Think about solving problems like casting a fishing net: come up with as many solutions as possible and go from there! There are a lot of perks to thinking creatively too - people find creative ideas to be more attractive. Remember, creativity is intelligence having fun, so have some fun!

Focus your thinking on someone other than yourself

Have you ever thought about how you want your obituary to read? Alfred Nobel got the chance to see his, while he was still alive! While he was reading a newspaper, he was surprised to see his own obituary, which credited him with creating dynamite. The obituary went on to talk about how many deaths dynamite had caused. Alfred realized he didn’t like that his most significant contribution to humanity had harmed so many people, so he came up with another one. The Nobel Prize was the result of his realization: an award given to someone who excelled in their field. Luckily, you don't have to come across your own obituary to think about what you want your legacy to look like. Take it from Merck and Company, a pharmaceutical company that discovered a cure for river blindness. This disease affected millions in the world at that time. They could have made an enormous profit selling the cure, but gave the product away for free, helping people instead. Afterward, that company was well known for caring about people more than they cared about profit. Think about how you would like your legacy to look: helping others can leave a lasting impact that far surpasses your existence.

Think for yourself

Though it can feel like there’s a lot of safety in doing what you are told, or upholding tradition, sometimes thinking outside the box can change things for the better… and even save lives. That was the case when Joseph Lister went against conventional wisdom in the 1800s that surgical equipment didn’t need to be sanitized. Another great example was when Copernicus proved that the earth revolved around the sun using math, in spite of that fact that commonly heald knowledge was that the earth was the center of the universe. People who are brave enough to speak out against what everyone else is thinking or doing can change the course of history.

Whatever it is that doesn’t work anymore, whether it be data that doesn’t support long held theories, or procedures at work that hinder workflow more than they help - if you have an idea that could change things for the better, don’t be afraid to speak up.

One good way to stop senselessly doing what everyone else is doing, is to simply start using your mind more. Listen for when others around you are making assumptions, and think them through. Does what this person is saying actually make sense? Don’t just go along with the crowd. An excellent example of this is when the author heard that flying to New York was no longer safe due to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. He didn’t buy it, and instead used this opportunity to visit New York since flight tickets were at an all time low because everyone else bought into conventional wisdom - which was incorrect. It pays to think for yourself.

Collaboration leads to innovation

In school, we learn everything we need to know from our teachers. Though they might not be experts, they know more about the subject than we do. This idea can be translated into learning new ideas in life, and if you pay attention, teachers are all around. Jeffrey J. Fox, author of How to Become a CEO, states that you need to be on alert for good ideas at all times, regardless of who they might come from. That means your kids, your friends, anyone can provide you with important inspiration. They key to maintaining awareness is generating a healthy amount of humility, which also comes into play with team work. You don’t know who on your team might have an idea that could lead to innovation. You must be willing to be humble enough to accept the ideas of others. It's easy to think of the stereotype of a brooding genius, but most geniuses get inspiration and information from others. Even Einstein said his achievements were founded on the labors of other men. Humbling yourself and listening to others, especially when you want to spotlight yourself can be hard. However, great things sometimes can only be accomplished once you put your ego aside and really listen to others. Focus on cooperating with others instead of trying to one up them, and you may be surprised by how your ability to achieve multiplies.


How you think might be influencing your ability to be successful more than you might think. Discover how to think like a successful person, with tips to inspire creativity, to help you avoid common thought traps, how to find inspiration in unexpected places, and many more. Read on to learn how to train your mind to problem solve, think creatively, and stand out like the best of them.


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