How Successful People Think

how successful people think

Summary of the book “How Successful People Think”: People who achieve high levels of success in their lives think differently from ordinary people, and according to author John Maxwell, who has spent forty years studying these exceptional men and women, their different way of thinking is the main factor explaining their phenomenal success.

By John C. Maxwell, 2009, 160 pages.

It seems that a similar version of this book was originally published in 2005 under the title: “Thinking for a Change”.

Note: This article is a guest post written by Paul Duvoisin from the Secrets du Succès (‘Secrets of Success’) blog.

Review and Summary of “How Successful People Think”


This review is subdivided into 2 parts. It essentially follows the structure of John C. Maxwell’s book “How Successful People Think”.

The first part of my review aims to lay the foundations that will allow you to progress, by cultivating better thinking habits. Let me quickly summarize them:

  1. The reasons why you might need to change the way you think.
  2. The general approach to becoming a “better thinker”.
  3. The ideal process for developing big-picture thinking.

In the second part of this review, I will detail the different “thinking approaches” mastery of which has enabled many people to create extraordinary lives for themselves and to have a powerful and lasting impact on the world. It will be covered, in accordance with the various chapters of the book How Successful People Think, as follows:

  • “Big-picture” thinking (Chapter 1).
  • Focused thinking (Chapter 2).
  • Creative thinking (chapter 3).
  • Realistic thinking (Chapter 4).
  • Strategic thinking (chapter 5).
  • “Exploring possibilty” thinking (Chapter 6).
  • Reflective thinking (Chapter 7).
  • Popular thinking (chapter 8).
  • Shared thinking (Chapter 9).
  • Unselfish thinking (Chapter 10).
  • “Bottom-line” thinking (Chapter 11).

Part 1: The Fundamentals of New, More Effective Thinking

Photo Credit – Jacob Botter

A. The reasons why you might need to change the way you think.

If you become a “good thinker” – and therefore learn to master the concepts developed in this book – you will notably experience the following benefits in your life:

  1. You will have no trouble climbing the professional ladder and securing the best positions in your business, provided that you don’t decide to start your own. As John C. Maxwell puts it, “a person who knows ‘how to’ will always find a job, but the one who understands ‘why to’ will always be his boss.”
  2. You will become more independent and freer. You will no longer be “at the mercy” of others and their manipulation. Some dictators could only take power because the mass of the people did not think effectively. Moreover, John C. Maxwell underlines that Adolf Hitler allegedly had said: “What luck for rulers that men do not think.” Being satisfied with mental laziness can thus lead to (collective) human disasters.
  3. Any wealth (at all levels, so not just financial) finds its origin in your thinking. The wisest people in history have affirmed it one way or another. As far as “patrimonial” wealth is concerned, Napoleon Hill – the author of “Think and Grow Rich” (in French: “Pensez et Devenez Rich”) made it clear: “More gold has been mined from the brains of men than has ever been taken from the earth.” It would be wise to follow the advice of this man, who for over 20 years dedicated his life to studying thousands of successful people and who even had the opportunity to personally meet – and sometimes become friends with – some of the most powerful figures of his time (including famous artists, entrepreneurs, and inventors, as well as presidents of the United States, to whom he became an adviser). If you want to receive a PDF report containing 8 of the most powerful secrets revealed by Napoleon Hill as well as other free giveaways, read this article to the end.
  4. Improving the way you think doesn’t just happen. It is not automatic, and it is not easy. As John C. Maxwell puts it: “The only people who find ‘thinking’ easy are usually those who don’t do it.” Albert Einstein, who was certainly one of the greatest “thinkers” of all time, also said something similar when he said: “Thinking is hard work, and that is why so few people do it.” However, considering all the benefits that a “better way of thinking” can bring you, it would be a shame not to make the necessary effort. It could help change your life as well as the whole world. It is not Einstein’s extraordinary accomplishments that will “say” otherwise.

“A person who knows how will always have a job, but the person who knows why will always be his boss.” John C. Maxwell, How Successful People Think

B. The general approach to becoming a “better thinker”.

While improving the way you think is not an easy task, it should also be a lasting habit. You do not become a better thinker by taking a single, one-off action or reflection. Clearer and more effective thinking is achieved by committing to continuous and long-term progress in this regard.

There are 11 thinking approaches that you can improve on day after day. We will examine them in the second part of this review. But for now, here are 6 actions to be carried out and attitudes to adopt, which, in a general way, will tend to improve your way of thinking and reflecting.

  1. Expose yourself to new information. So read books (or book reviews J), listen to audios, watch videos, attend seminars, etc. And when something intrigues you, write it down.
  2. Expose yourself to good thinkers. Spend time with the right people, people who can help you evolve. As John C. Maxwell says: “If you want to be a brilliant thinker, surround yourself with brilliant people.” Jim Rohn put it this way: “you are the average of the 5 people with whom you spend the most time.” So, choose your entourage well, and do not doubt the influence that they will have on you, your life, and your way of thinking.
  3. Choose good thoughts. On a regular basis, put yourself in a position to be able to think effectively (choose places and times that are calm and without distraction). Make it a priority. Do like Dan Cathy, president of a large American company, who decided to include in his agenda various periods of reflection: (a) half a day every two weeks; (b) one full day each month; (c) 2 or 3 full days each year. These periods of reflection allow him to get out of his (sometimes stressful) daily grind, to take a step back and to gain perspective, while remembering what is truly important. Or as Stephen Covey said, put priorities first.
  4. Act on your best thoughts. Ideas are often volatile. You need to put them into action quickly before they “expire”.
  5. Allow your positive emotions to bring you other good thoughts. You cannot wait until you feel good enough to consider doing something. So, John C. Maxwell’s advice is this: start practicing the process of thinking and improving your thoughts now. Then, when these (and their implementation) have offered you some success, savor these moments and the positive emotions resulting from them and ride the wave of this positive mental energy. It will certainly trigger other excellent thoughts within you.
  6. Repeat these actions and make them into habits. Often a single good thought will not be enough to create your dream life. Sometimes it happens that people have a great idea that benefits them. But if they stop there and just live off this one idea, they risk spending their lives fighting in their attempt to protect and promote it. However, good thoughts and ideas will continue to flow into your life if you continually practice improving your thought process and your way of thinking. Then, you won’t have to worry about someone copying your idea or competing with you.

C. The ideal process for developing big-picture thinking.

If you apply the 6 recommendations described above and make them into a habit, you will evolve your thinking exponentially. It is, however, just as important to learn the different steps that will allow you to produce quality thoughts, to select them, to optimize them, to make them grow and to allow you to make them a reality. This is necessary so that your thoughts can be of use to the world, and not just merely seductive theoretical ideas. John C. Maxwell has developed a 5-step process for this.

  1. Reflect on your thoughts and write them down. Pick a location that works for you so that you can generate useful thoughts and reflections. What is the ideal place? It will be different for each person. Some people produce their best thoughts in the shower, others while strolling in a park or a forest, others in their car, others in a hot tub, etc. Find the place that best suits your thinking, go there regularly, and write down your thoughts and ideas so you do not forget or lose them. A good suggestion would also be to keep a notepad and pencil by your bed so you can write down any good ideas you might have while falling asleep or when waking up. In addition, having a notebook and pencil with you at all times can be helpful in capturing your best thoughts (you can also use your cell phone’s “notes” function for this purpose).
  2. Shape your thoughts. Also, devote regular periods of your time to refine your thoughts. It is indeed rare that your thoughts and ideas come to you in an entirely complete and directly “implementable” form. Writing down your ideas and thinking about them is also a great way to clarify them and better understand if they actually have potential. So, don’t hesitate to question the relevance and validity of your thoughts and ideas.
  3. Stretch your thoughts. Jotting down and then shaping your thoughts is a good start. However, if you want to develop them into great ideas, there are a few more steps you need to take. The next is to expand your ideas. One of the best ways to do this is to share your ideas with other people (your team or your Master Mind), asking them to speak up in this regard and provide their input so that your ideas can “grow”. As John C. Maxwell says, “You can go a lot further with a team than you can if you go alone.”

“Ideas have a short lifespan. You must act accordingly before the expiration date.” John C. Maxwell, How Successful People Think

  1. Expose your thoughts. “The real power of an idea comes when it goes from abstraction to application.” John C. Maxwell illustrates his previous point with the example of Albert Einstein, whose theory of relativity was, at the time of its publication, merely profound ideas. These changed the face of the world, however, when scientists applied his theory to build nuclear reactors (or, more sadly, the atomic bomb). So, be sure to convince anyone potentially concerned of the validity of your idea: (a) persuade yourself first. People will only believe your idea if you totally believe it yourself; (b) make sure you convince the key players (influencers), those who take on your idea and support it; (c) get those who will be most “affected” by your idea excited (typically potential consumers of your product, “targets” in your market or niche).
  2. Implement your thoughts. “Thinking divorced from actions cannot be productive” (John C. Maxwell). Your thoughts will only be of value if they can have real world applications. So, after you have developed, shaped, stretched, and exposed your ideas, don’t forget the most important step, the one that will give substance to your thoughts: making them a reality and carrying them out so that they can benefit the world.

No matter your education, your intelligence quotient, your social level, your past, your health, the state of your finances…in fact, whatever your circumstances, you can learn to improve your way of thinking. You just have (1) to forge the 6 good habits stated above, (2) to respect the 5 steps described above, then (3) to apply them to each of the 11 types of fundamental ways of thinking presented in the second part of this review.

Part 2: The 11 Fundamental Types of Thinking

Photo Credit – Davide Restivo

Chapter 1: “Big-Picture” Thinking

The theory

There are two facets to “big-picture” thinking: (1) knowing how to gain perspective in order to see a situation as a whole; (2) allow yourself to have ambitious thoughts and big dreams.

As John C. Maxwell says, this type of thinking “gives you perspective. It’s like enlarging the frame of an image and in doing so broadening not only your vision, but also what you are capable of achieving.”

People with this “big-picture” thinking ability have developed 4 main habits: (1) They are continually learning new things; (2) they ask questions and listen carefully to others, especially the responses of people who can teach them a lot; (3) they expand their vision, trying to put themselves in other people’s shoes, and see the world from their perspective; (4) they live fully and accomplish more than narrow-minded people.

There are at least 6 reasons why you would definitely want to learn to broaden the perspective of your thoughts and reflections:

  1. It will help if you want to become a leader in your market or in your business. John C. Maxwell points out that you may find “many ‘big-picture’ thinkers who are not leaders, but you will find few leaders who are not also ‘big-picture’ thinkers.”
  2. It helps you stay focused on your goal. “It is only when you include your daily activities in the larger context [of your end goal] that you will be able to stay focused on your target.” (John C. Maxwell) Or, as Alvin Toffler would put it, “you have to think about the ‘big things’ while you do the ‘little things’, so that all the ‘little things’ go in the right direction.”
  3. It helps you see what other people see. I have already stressed the importance of knowing how to look at a situation from the perspective of others. Put yourself in their shoes. It is not easy, but it is certainly a quality that can be of great use to you.
  4. It contributes to teamwork. The more your team members understand the larger perspective, the more easily they will cooperate effectively to achieve your business end goal.
  5. It allows you to withdraw from the mundane world of the daily grind to focus on what is important. As John C. Maxwell elegantly puts it: “the person who forgets the ultimate goal is a slave to what is immediate.”
  6. It helps you explore uncharted territory. By broadening your perspective, you will be able to discover new horizons and become innovative.

The practice

There are several ways to broaden your perspective. Here are two habits you can develop for this purpose:

(1) Learn from each of your experiences. Do not become complacent and do not be satisfied with your success. Learn from your success, so you can replicate it (in other circumstances). Do the same with your failures. The latter are only negative if you get nothing positive out of them. However, if you learn from them, they can help you to progress and grow.

(2) Try out many different experiences. The more you are exposed to new situations, the more you will learn and grow. So, do not just do the same thing all the time.

Learning from your experiences (positive and negative/successes and failures) and testing new activities are thus two fundamental keys that will allow you to broaden your horizons and develop “big-picture” thinking as well as to think “big”.

Do not forget the words of David Schwartz, the author of “The Magic of Thinking Big” (which was the subject of a previous review on the blog which you can access by clicking here): “Where success is concerned, people are not measured in inches, or pounds, or college degrees, or family background; they are measured by the size of their thinking.”

Chapter 2: Focused Thinking

The theory

Focused thinking allows you to avoid distractions and to focus clearly on what is important. This type of thinking has 4 advantages: (1) it gives you energy to achieve your goal; (2) it allows you to develop your ideas: “I discovered that a good idea can become a great idea when you devote time to it.” (John C. Maxwell); (3) it brings you clarity, allowing you to focus on your goal, making it much more likely to be achieved; (4) it enables you to surpass your current level of achievement and mastery.

The practice

You may be wondering which areas to focus on. If so, you are correct. It is not possible to excel everywhere. So, be selective. Choose the areas you want to develop and on which you are going to exercise your focused thinking. The following suggestions may help you make your choice:

(1) Identify your priorities. These can relate to areas that appeal to you, those where you have great skills or those that promise you an interesting return on investment. Whatever your main criteria for determining your priority, do it. And if necessary, use Pareto’s law, choosing the 20% of causes (sectors, domains, activities) which bring you 80% of the results (pleasure, money, etc.).

(2) Discover your natural talents. If necessary, take one or more personality tests. (Note: some are excellent, while others are mediocre. Like Olivier Roland, I consider that the one that the “Strengths Finder 2.0” book provides is one of the most precise and revealing. If the subject interests you, read the review that is devoted to this book (and to its test) on the blog).

(3) Define your dreams. As John C. Maxwell aptly explains, “If you want to achieve great things, you need great dreams. If you are not sure about your dreams, use your focused thinking time to discover them.” And when you’ve discovered and defined your dream, then it’s time to make it a reality (and not question it over and over again or put it off until later).

Three additional tips for getting the best out of focused thinking: (1) remove all distractions; (2) set time slots for yourself to think about a particular topic; (3) avoid multitasking at the same time. Indeed, “multitasking” tends, according to studies, to reduce your productivity by about 40%.

Chapter 3: Creative Thinking

The theory

Annette Moser-Wellman, author of “The Five Faces of Genius” underlined the fundamental importance of creativity: “The most valuable resource that you bring to your work and to your firm is your creativity (…). It’s your ideas that count.”

Creative thinking should not be confused with original thinking. They can in fact be simple new associations of existing thoughts, without necessarily each one representing in itself a groundbreaking and completely revolutionary innovation.

Creative thinkers have a few common characteristics:

  1. They value ideas.
  2. They explore the various options and like to use their imagination. In fact, Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
  3. Creative thinkers accept uncertainties and ambiguities.
  4. They celebrate originality and their slightly “bizarre” side, or in any case their tendency to wander off the beaten track.
  5. Creative thinkers manage to find relationships and links between various elements which, at first glance, seem totally disconnected.
  6. They do not fear failure. As John C. Maxwell says, “Creativity requires a willingness to look stupid.”

He gives five good reasons for you to develop your creative thinking:

  1. It brings value to all things and activities (whatever your field).
  2. It evolves and accumulates through your use. As Maya Angelou noted: “You cannot exhaust your creativity. The more you use it, the more you have.”
  3. Creative thinking tends to draw people to you and your ideas. People indeed admire creativity.
  4. It helps you learn more. “It almost seems too obvious to say, but if you are constantly and actively seeking new ideas, you will [always learn more].”
  5. Creative thinking challenges the status quo, and therefore improves your environment and, on a larger scale, the world.

FURTHER READING ON CREATIVITY: In The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp explores methods of developing creativity.

The practice

Here are two actions that will enable you to find or develop your creative thinking:

(1) Remove anything that destroys your creativity. Certain behaviors and attitudes prevent your creativity from flourishing. This is the case with many negative sentences that many people repeat in their heads (all day long) or are even sometimes repeated by other people around them (personal or professional).

For example: “you are not a creative person”; “Follow the rules”; “Don’t ask questions”; “We have to toe the line”; “Be serious “; “It is not logical or practical”; “It is not feasible”, etc. (note: being myself a creative person, the simple fact of writing these sentences is difficult for me, as I find them so wrong, limiting and negative).

(2) Ask the right questions. Sir Anthony Jay once said: “The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a creative mind to spot wrong questions.” The wrong questions are those which extinguish the flame of creative thought and tend to lead us down the same paths that have always been taken. In other words, it results in nothing new or better, and therefore no progress. On the contrary, ask yourself the right questions.

For example: “Why should it be done this way ultimately?”; “What is the real cause of this problem?”; “What does that remind me of?”; “Who has a different perspective on the subject?”

Chapter 4: Realistic Thinking

The theory

(Note: This is not a natural way of thinking for me. I rather like to think about what is possible to achieve without setting myself limits, but on the contrary by freely using my creativity. John C. Maxwell has the same natural tendency. He nevertheless admitted the merits of realistic thinking, in parallel with other types of thinking. These different forms of thinking are, in other words, not contradictory, but complementary).

“Reality is the difference between what we would like and what is.” (John C. Maxwell)

Realistic thinking can bring you a lot of benefits:

  1. It minimizes the risk of setbacks, by prompting you to create plans to overcome catastrophic scenarios.
  2. It forces you to face reality and therefore to create a “realistic” and concrete action plan to achieve your goal.
  3. Realistic thinking is a catalyst for change, because looking reality in the eye can reveal the need to make a change in your way of doing or being (e.g., rethink your strategy to better sell your products).
  4. It offers you security and confidence in yourself and in the future. The presence of back-up plans in the event of negative occurrences reassures you and guarantees you a certain peace of mind.
  5. Realistic thinking tends to reinforce the confidence that your employees have in you (a leader who knows where he is going and knows how to anticipate the risks that may come along the way).
  6. Realistic thinking guarantees you a solid foundation, since you are not basing yourself on what you would like, but on what is.
  7. It brings stability in the midst of uncertain circumstances, providing you with a safety cushion in the event that things go wrong.
  8. Finally, realistic thinking makes it easier for you to achieve your goals. Indeed, “if you do not take a realistic look at your dream – and what it will take to accomplish it – you will never achieve it.” (John C. Maxwell)

The practice

You can implement your realistic thinking and recognize the need for such reality-based thinking by observing in particular the following two practical suggestions:

(1) Appreciate the truth. John Maxwell confesses that he only succeeded in developing true realistic thinking when he really began to appreciate reality. He therefore had to learn to face the truth and to take some pleasure in it (or at least to feel grateful to have all the relevant facts available). Most people find it very difficult to do this. They prefer to resort to burying their heads in the sand and pretending nothing happened…this observation was made by Winston Churchill: “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing has happened.” But knowing the truth is a great power, even if it is not always pleasant. So, take John C. Maxwell’s advice and develop the courage to face reality. In short, as he says: “the truth will set you free – but first it will make you angry.”

(2) Consider the “pros” and “cons” of each situation and solution being considered. The facts should be looked at objectively and from different perspectives. Don’t just look at what works for you, but dig into all the relevant aspects of the problem. Be careful, however, not to oversimplify your analysis: the best solution is not necessarily the one with the most “for”, respectively the least “against”. It is also necessary to weigh the relative influence and importance of each positive, respectively negative element of the solutions envisaged.

Chapter 5: Strategic Thinking

The theory

Strategic thinking is not only useful in a military context or for the optimal management of a company. It can be used in all aspects of your life.

Most people do not do any planning at all, or they do it in a very limited way. While it is not uncommon for people to make a to-do list for the same day, their “strategic” thinking usually does not go much further.

If you want to truly be in control of your life, you are going to need to plan in more depth and detail. Here’s John Maxwell’s advice: At the start of each month, devote half a day to planning your schedule for the next 40 days (which at the start of the next month will give you 10 “spare” days to plan out for the new month). Determine precisely what you are going to do during the month (the author goes into such detail that he knows exactly in advance what he will do each day of the month, and even almost hour by hour).

Strategic thinking will help you to plan, to become more productive, and therefore to achieve your goals more easily. There are other reasons for strategic thinking:

(1) it simplifies that which is complex. Indeed, it makes it possible to subdivide into achievable tasks long and complex objectives and problems (which, taken as a whole, may therefore seem impossible to achieve, or in any case, are discouraging);

(2) it prompts you to ask yourself the right questions, such as: “What should I do next?” ; “Who is responsible for this?” ; “What are our planned expenses and how are we going to pay them?” ; “How can we improve the quality of our services or be more productive?” ;

(3) strategic thinking gets you to find the appropriate solutions. There is no single solution that can solve every problem;

(4) it prepares you to face uncertainty (about the future), thus increasing your chances of success;

(5) it reduces your margin for error and aligns your actions with your goals;

(6) it gives you the power to influence others. Your employees are more likely to follow you if they feel you know where you are going.

“Instead of trying to be great, be a part of something greater than yourself.” John C. Maxwell, How Successful People Think

The practice

Two actions to develop your strategic thinking:

(1) Don’t “tackle” a big problem or goal directly. First, break it down into more achievable sub-goals. Then, continue to break down those sub-goals (and so on) into easy-to-do tasks that you can add to your to-do lists (daily, weekly, and monthly). As Miguel de Cervantes said: “a man who is prepared has already won half the battle.”

(2) Always ask “why” before asking “how”. Ask yourself if the problem/goal is truly important. What would the consequences be if you did not solve/achieve it? What if you did? These questions will help you determine how much attention and resources you will be devoting to it.

Chapter 6: “Exploring Possibility” Thinking

The theory

People who practice this type of thinking are able to accomplish things that seemed extraordinarily difficult, or even improbable, if not impossible to achieve.

There are many reasons to explore possibilities in this way: (1) it expands your concrete possibilities and opens up opportunities for you. As John C. Maxwell says: “If you believe that you can achieve something difficult – and succeed in doing it – many doors will open for you.” He gives the example of George Lucas (the director of the Star Wars films) who, although many people told him it was impossible, managed to achieve revolutionary special effects (for the time). This gave him many other opportunities (e.g., offering high-priced special effects services to other directors).

There are other benefits to possibility thinking:

  1. Possibility thinking attracts other people to you who do not limit themselves to seeing only “what is” or to focusing exclusively on “the state of the current limits of what is considered possible” by the general population or even by the experts.
  2. It inspires the people around you and those who meet you.
  3. Possibility thinking allows you to have big dreams (and therefore potentially to make them a reality).
  4. It puts you in a position to rise above mediocrity.
  5. It will give you energy.
  6. Possibility thinking helps you to persevere. On the contrary, if you don’t really believe that you can achieve an ambitious goal/a big dream, then you might give it a try, but it won’t be very useful to you, because you have already lost (having given up in your head) before you even start.

The practice

Two tips for learning to practice possibility thinking:

(1) Challenge the status quo. As the author puts it, “Growth means change. Change requires challenging the status quo. If you want to enjoy greater possibilities, you cannot settle for what you have now. When you become a possibility thinker, you will be faced with many people who will want you to give up your dreams and embrace the status quo. Those who achieve [great things in their lives] refuse to accept the status quo.”

(2) Be inspired by the men and women who have accomplished great things. Find people whose accomplishments inspire you and whom you admire, then study their journeys. Read their biography. It will certainly allow you to begin to think in the way that was described so well by George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and say, ‘why?’. For my part, I dream of things that never existed and I say, ‘why not?’”.

Chapter 7: Reflective Thinking

The theory

Even though the frenetic pace of our society is not conducive to reflective thinking, the latter remains nonetheless fundamental. It allows you to examine certain events in your past – whether successes or failures – in order to draw useful lessons from them, and thus determine the behaviors that, in the future, you will repeat or those you are going to abstain from. Five specific reasons should motivate you to practice reflective thinking:

(1) it gives you some perspective. As a result, you can evaluate your experience, but also appreciate more sincerely the positive events which you have experienced;

(2) it adds emotional integrity to your thoughts, allowing you to distance yourself from highly emotionally charged experiences (whether positive or negative). But then follow the advice of US President George Washington, who urges you not to stir up the past unnecessarily: “We ought not to look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experiences”;

(3) reflective thinking also increases your confidence in your decisions. As John C. Maxwell explains, “when you have thought about a problem, then you don’t have to repeat every step of the decision-making process when you are faced with the same problem again”;

(4) it clarifies your general situation. Indeed, when you practice reflective thinking, it is possible for you to classify your ideas and experiences more precisely within the framework of a more global context, and therefore to better understand them and their impact;

(5) finally, reflective thinking allows you to turn an experience into something that is of value to you. As John C. Maxwell points out, “Experience alone does not add value to a life. It is not necessarily the experience itself that is valuable; it is [instead] the insight [and lessons] that people gain because of their experience [that brings them value]. Reflective thinking [thus] turns experience into insight [and valuable lessons].”

The practice

Two actions to practice reflective thinking:

(1) Look at and analyze your calendar “after the fact”. “Most people use their calendar as a planning tool, and it [indeed] is, but few people use it as a tool for reflection.” So, use your calendar to review what you have accomplished, where you have been, who you have met, etc. And ask yourself if you have used your time wisely and productively, especially considering your goals and priorities. This will allow you to see if you are making progress and heading towards achieving your ultimate goals.

(2) Ask the right questions. The better your questions, the more valuable your time spent reflecting can add to your life. Here are some examples of good questions to ask yourself as you review what you have done: “What have I learned today that will allow me to grow and improve?”; “Did I add value to others today? If yes, to whom?”; “Have I shown my love and affection to those who are dear to me?”.

Chapter 8: Popular Thinking

The theory

Popular thinking is sometimes intrusive and difficult to avoid. As John Maynard Keynes said, “the difficulty is not so much to develop new ideas as it is to escape old ones.” Popular thinking tends to limit you in various ways. Dare to question this type of thinking. This courage may make you unpopular with some people, but it will provide you with various benefits, including the following:

(1) learning to think independently, although this is not always easy, and maybe even learning to think “altogether”. Kevin Myers got it, he who said, “the problem with popular thinking is that it doesn’t require you to think at all.”;

(2) avoiding a mistaken vision and false hopes. Popular thinking at various times has been as follows: “the Earth is flat”; “Surgical instruments do not need to be clean”; “Women should not have the right to vote.” These three assertions seem totally ridiculous to us today. Likewise, many things which are accepted by popular thinking these days will certainly be considered absurd in the future. So, do not be a sheep, and think for yourself;

(3) adapting to changes more quickly. Popular thinking indeed likes the status quo and resists innovation;

(4) achieving great things. Popular thinking only brings average results and, therefore, if you want to achieve great things, you will have to free yourself from it.

The practice

Here are two ways to extricate yourself from popular thinking:

(1) Think before you act. Many people – indeed most people – follow others almost automatically and without thinking. Don’t be one of those people. “If you want to be successful, you need to think about what’s best, not what’s popular. Challenging popular thinking requires accepting the possibility of being unpopular and stepping outside the norm.” (John. C. Maxwell)

(2) Appreciate those who think differently from you. If you really want to escape popular thinking, spend time with people from different walks of life, social backgrounds, educational levels, work experiences, etc. As the author explains, “You’ll think like the people you spend the most time with. If you spend your time with people who think differently, you are more likely to be able to challenge popular thinking and discover new territory.”

“You are today what your thoughts have brought you. Your will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.” John C. Maxwell, How Successful People Think

Chapter 9: Shared Thinking

How Successful People Think

The theory

As Ken Blanchard so aptly put it, “none of us [individually] is as intelligent as all of us [together].” People who think optimally, and especially good leaders, generally understand the power of shared thinking.

Here are 6 benefits of shared thinking:

  1. It is faster than individual thinking. “Collaborating with others is like finding yourself a shortcut.” (John C. Maxwell). For example, you learn a new skill more quickly if someone with experience teaches you it than if, as a self-learner, you try to learn it on your own.
  2. Shared thinking is more innovative than individual thinking. The most innovative results are very often obtained following a collaboration of various people, a harmonious cooperation of the efforts of the latter.
  3. Shared thinking is often more “mature”. It is not possible to have all the skills alone, but such richness can be obtained when various people with complementary skills come together.
  4. Shared thought is more powerful. “Two heads are better than one – when they think in the same direction.” What is amazing is that the power of shared thinking is not just the addition of two brains. There is also a synergistic effect. This is what Napoleon Hill called the Master Mind (sometimes referred to in French as the “collective brain”), in his book “Think and Grow Rich”. If you would like to find out more about Napoleon Hill, you can check out our article about him.
  5. Shared thinking provides a greater return on investment than individual thinking.
  6. Shared thinking gives you a better chance to benefit from great thought. As John C Maxwell says, “I believe every great idea starts with three or four good ideas. And most of the good ideas come from shared thinking.”

The practice

Leaders tend to use shared thinking intuitively, asking themselves in each case, “Who do I know who can help me on this?”, but you can develop these types of thoughts by resorting to the following two actions:

(1) Do not obsess over competition, but rather think in terms of cooperation. “A person who values cooperation wants to complement other people’s ideas, not compete with them. If someone asks you to share ideas, focus on how to help that person and the team, not how to put yourself forward.”

(2) Pick the right people. For your brainstorming sessions, do not choose your partners based on your personal affinities or just because they are your friends. Choose the “right” people, those who can bring a real “plus” to the process, especially those who are eager to make your idea happen and improve your idea, who appreciate the strengths and talents of other team members, who place the interest of the group and the project before their own interest, and finally, those who have experience and expertise on the subject discussed.

Chapter 10: Unselfish Thinking

How Successful People Think

The theory

It may seem counterintuitive to some, but unselfish thinking can go a long way in many different aspects: (1) this type of thinking fulfills you “spiritually”. As Charles H. Burr said “those who take are usually not happy; those who give are”; (2) unselfish thinking adds value to the lives of others; (3) it promotes the development of other virtues, such as gratitude, love and patience; (4) it increases your quality of life because it helps you to appreciate your life more and to better understand fundamental human values; (5) it includes you in something greater than yourself. “Instead of trying to be a ‘great’ person, be part of something greater than yourself” (John C. Maxwell); (6) finally, unselfish thinking creates a legacy for humanity. “When you think unselfishly and invest in others, you gain the opportunity to create a legacy that will outlive you.” (John C. Maxwell).

The practice

There are two things you can do to help you think more selflessly:

(1) Expose yourself to situations where other people are in need. No matter how unselfish you are (volunteering, donating, etc.) what matters is that you learn to give (your time, energy and/or money) to others and cultivate the habit of thinking like someone unselfish.

(2) Donate anonymously. If you make donations in the hope of receiving public recognition, this will be your counterpart, and therefore the benefit you will derive from it. However, “there are spiritual, mental and emotional benefits that only those who give anonymously receive.” (John C. Maxwell).

Chapter 11: “Bottom-line” Thinking

How Successful People Think

The theory

Many companies believe that the bottom line is to create as much money as possible. That is not correct. The purpose of all “great” companies – in any case those that truly improve the world – is their intrinsic and fundamental mission.

(Note: for example, my mission is to help as many people as possible to achieve their dreams and to create a fulfilling and balanced life. I do this by revealing the most powerful secrets of success. If you also want to improve the world, please tell me, and share with me, on the web page indicated above, what your vision for a better world looks like. As I often say: “Together everything is possible”).

Keeping the bottom line in mind has many benefits : (1) it increases your clarity, including letting you know if your daily activities are aligned with your larger goal; (2) it allows you to measure your progress and determine if your results are good; (3) it facilitates the decision-making process, with each choice being part of a broader perspective, the latter offering better direction and greater consistency; (4) it helps motivate everyone because by staying focused on the bottom line, you increase your chances of achieving it, yet any success is good for morale; (5) finally, it increases your chances of success. “Look at any company with lasting success and you will find leaders there who know what the bottom line [of their company] is.” (John C. Maxwell).

The practice

Two actions can encourage this type of thinking:

(1) Identify what your bottom line is. It seems obvious, but if you don’t know exactly what your bottom line is, it is unlikely that you will achieve it, and it is also unlikely that you can focus your thoughts on it. When determining your bottom line, be as specific as possible. Ask yourself what the essence of your core purpose is. Put aside any emotion or detail that might confuse or unnecessarily complicate your thinking. Calm yourself down and ask yourself, “What am I really trying to accomplish?”

(2) Create a strategic plan to achieve the bottom line. When you realize what you really want to achieve, developing a strategic plan is essential. Otherwise, your end goal would just be a great idea that would have little chance of coming to fruition. Identify the essential key elements of your goal. When each of these is done, then (if your strategic plan is well designed and appropriate) you will have achieved your end goal. If not, this tells you that your strategic plan was wrong. Last tip: Once you have figured out your strategy, stick to it. So, do not change it (unless it turns out to be clearly unsuitable).

Conclusion on “How Successful People Think”:

“How Successful People Think” is one of those rare books that makes you think: “If only all the authors had so much experience to share and such a strong desire to help their readers!”

In fact, it is a book that is “small in size”, but “large in content”. In less than 200 pages, John C. Maxwell has achieved the feat of presenting a relatively comprehensive overview of the various ways of thinking that lead to success. As we know, it is possible to say very little with a lot of pages, or on the contrary, to say a lot with very few pages. How Successful People Think belongs to the second category. This is the reason why this review is relatively long.

Not only is the density of information per page significant, but another pleasing detail is that the author is not remiss to suggest many actions allowing the reader to apply his advice and therefore to master the 11 types of thinking that characterize exceptional men and women. In my review, I pointed out some ways to improve each of the 11 axes of optimal thinking. The reader who is seriously interested in evolving his global thinking capability – or even only some aspects of his thinking – will be well advised to acquire the book and take note of the relevant parts of it. The application of the many exercises proposed by the author will then make the serious student an extraordinary thinker, who will not only get the admiration of others, but also will surprise himself with his intellectual acuity.

Is How Successful People Think free from flaws? No, of course not. So, although I consider it to be a book that clearly stands out, I will not give it the maximum rating (however, it got close), for three reasons:

First, the book is not as quick as a read as you might imagine from its format. In fact, given its density, it’s too easy to skip over something important. In other words, in order to get the most out of this book, it should be read very carefully…and over and over. This is not a flaw in itself, but it makes it less accessible to the busy reader.

Second, while the structure of the book is excellent overall, there is some repetition. Perhaps this is John Maxwell’s intention to emphasize points he considers essential, or perhaps this is his way of making the book less dense. At any rate, this makes for a slight flaw that I had to point out.

Finally, although the author managed to say a lot in a few pages, there are no miracles. With barely 160 pages (including table of contents, notes and appendices, etc.), it is difficult to deal in depth with an issue as complex as human thought (leading to success). John Maxwell certainly provided a relatively comprehensive overview, but more examples and a more detailed account of certain aspects would have brought greater clarity and, potentially, could have made How Successful People Think an absolute reference on the subject.

These three flaws are minor, and I consider this overall to be one of the very best books I’ve read (and I’m a rather insatiable reader, especially when it comes to personal development books). I therefore highly recommend it to all people, especially those with the desire to become a (more effective) leader, to create their business, to refine their way of thinking or, quite simply, to progress and become a better and brighter person.

If you want to learn not only how to improve your thinking, but also all the other important aspects of your existence (health, finances, human relations, spirituality), to create a fulfilling, harmonious, happy, and balanced life for yourself, to finally discover the best secrets and the most powerful tools to achieve your goals, it’s all possible. I invite you to visit my blog “Secrets du Succès” (‘Secrets of Success’) for more information on the subject.

To conclude this review, here is a summary of the strong and weak points of John C. Maxwell’s work.

Strong points of How Successful People Think:

  • Density (a lot of information within few pages)
  • Relatively comprehensive overview of the topic
  • John Maxwell’s extensive experience (he is very successful himself and owns 3 companies)
  • Pedagogical approach
  • Many suggestions for action in order to progress
  • Book’s practical format (small, so easy to take everywhere with you)

Weak points of How Successful People Think:

  • Perhaps too dense (therefore requires very careful reading, even going through it several times)
  • Some repetitiveness
  • More details and examples would have been welcomed at times

My rating : How Successful People Think How Successful People Think How Successful People ThinkHow Successful People ThinkHow Successful People ThinkHow Successful People ThinkHow Successful People ThinkHow Successful People ThinkHow Successful People Think

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