Maxwell’s 11 Types of Thinking: How Broadening Your Range of Thought Leads to Prosperity

Many are not aware that multiple different types of thinking exist. The different types of thinking involve very different skill sets and can help you achieve very different results. By not acknowledging all the types of thinking, we may be limiting or restricting our perception. Recently, I’ve read “Today Matters” by motivational teacher and New York Times best-selling author, John Maxwell.  Maxwell details the 12 “Daily Disciplines” he believes all successful people practice, and “thinking” is one of the most important of these Daily Disciplines. The “Thinking” chapter outlines the 11 different types of thinking practiced by successful people. I would like to share what I’ve read on the importance of each type of thinking, and how these methods can be practiced in everyday life.

Engaging in various types of intentional thinking is directly correlated to success, especially for entrepreneurs and business owners. Many people take thinking for granted, and believe they cannot afford to set aside time solely for their thoughts. However, both the immediate and long-term benefits of doing so are unmistakable. Maxwell believes thinking deeply each day provides a competitive advantage and sets the stage for all your future interactions.

What are Maxwell’s 11 Types of Thinking?

1. Big Picture Thinking

The ability to think beyond yourself and your world in order to process ideas with a more holistic perspective” – Maxwell.

Maxwell states that Big Picture Thinking entails looking beyond the horizon in a manner that results in more comprehensive and conscious decisions. Out in the universe, there are things much larger than ourselves and our concerns. It is easy to get caught up in our own bubble. However, you must remain aware of how you fit into the macrocosm. It is important to understand your niche and the role you play, both locally and globally.

2. Focused Thinking

“The ability to think with clarity on issues by removing distractions and mental clutter from your mind” – Maxwell.

Maxwell posits that when your mind is scattered, it can be difficult to identify priorities and give them the concentration required. Focused thinking allows you to devote your full time, attention, and energy into one particular issue.

3. Creative Thinking

“The ability to break out of your “box” of limitations, with the goal of experiencing a breakthrough” – Maxwell.

Creative Thinking involves exploring innovative, non-apparent options and ideas. As Maxwell aptly states, “creative people do not fear failure.” He goes on to explain that they can find inspiration and encouragement from other Creative Thinkers. They propose and envision unconventional ideas and solutions to problems that may have stumped others. Creative Thinking is not just for artists; anyone can be creative if they open up themselves to the mindset. Maxwell advises that visiting a new place or trying a new activity can help foster creativity.

4. Realistic Thinking

The ability to build a solid foundation on facts to think with certainty” – Maxwell.

Although it is a great quality to be naturally optimistic, Maxwell explains how optimists may sometimes have trouble with being realistic. He goes on to express that it’s important to ground yourself, establish what you know, and even prepare for worst-case scenarios. Don’t ignore the inevitable, and don’t spend too much time on “what-ifs.” Acknowledge the cards you’ve been dealt, and how it is likely you will be able to proceed forward.

5. Strategic Thinking

“The ability to implement plans that give you direction for today and increase your potential for tomorrow” – Maxwell.

Strategic Thinkers are those who make things happen. They provide a pathway, from an idea’s inception to that idea finally coming to fruition. Maxwell elaborates that these are people who are able to evaluate pros and cons, create a plan or a timeline, and decide upon the most efficient steps to meet goals.

6. Possibility Thinking

“The ability to unleash your enthusiasm to find solutions for even seemingly impossible situations” – Maxwell.

People often limit themselves when they write off certain ideas as “too crazy” to actually happen. Maxwell believes many of the world’s most successful people would never have made it if they were not willing to allow themselves to dream big.

7. Reflective Thinking

“The ability to revisit the past in order to gain a true perspective and think with understanding” – Maxwell.

Reflecting on your experiences allows you to gain knowledge and wisdom. Maxwell reminds us that you must reflect on a mistake in order to learn from it. Understand why the mistake happened, and how you can prevent the same mistake from happening in the future. In addition, you should reflect on all of the positive things in your life for which you are thankful. Reflective Thinking allows you to slow down and re-group before moving on to the next priority.

8. Questioning Popular Thinking

“The ability to reject the limitations of common thinking, in order to accomplish uncommon results” – Maxwell.

Maxwell argues that just because a concept is widely accepted does not mean it is the only idea available, and it certainly does not make it the best. Many ideas have been in place for so long and are so prevalent that no one has even bothered to consider their relevance or merit. Maxwell advises us not to hold any assumptions, and do not be afraid to challenge or propose alternatives to any manner of thinking.

9. Shared Thinking

“The ability to include the heads of others to help you think “over your head” and achieve compounding results” – Maxwell.

Maxwell stresses that the input of others is crucial to working on any team. Most problems are too sizable and too complex to tackle on your own. The unique experiences and perspectives of others can contribute greatly to the conversation and problem solving process.

10. Unselfish Thinking

The ability to consider others and their journey in order to think with collaboration” – Maxwell.

Out of the spirit of kindness and generosity, Maxwell feels we should always be aware of how your decisions affect others. Do not ask yourself what others owe you, but rather how you could be better serving others.

11. Bottom Line Thinking

The ability to focus on results in order to gain maximum return and reap the full potential of your thinking” – Maxwell.

Maxwell explains that Bottom Line Thinkers are able to make the biggest impact. Their decisions often have the largest, most widely felt effects.

Surround yourself with people who are strong in various areas of thinking, particularly ones that you may struggle with.

Of this list, you will recognize some areas of thinking you may use quite often, and other areas of thinking where you may encounter difficulty. All areas of thinking are necessary at some point or another, and are equally important. Maxwell points out that it’s a rare thinker who has skill in all 11 areas. It is ill advised and nearly impossible to master all 11 types of thinking. It is said that “smart people surround themselves with other smart people.” Where your own abilities may fall short, a trusted advisor could provide much needed insight. Also, Maxwell emphasizes spending time with other great thinkers can sharpen and hone your own thinking skills.

Be an active participant in your own thinking.

Thinking is a discipline that must be actively monitored and managed. How often have you agreed with someone else because it was easy to, or their idea simply sounded good? As Maxwell observed, “Poor thinkers are slaves to their surroundings.”  Often, we allow the situation or other people to influence our Thinking. While this is neither good nor bad, we need to constantly be aware of how our circumstances may be influencing our Thinking and decisions. Ultimately, it’s important to take responsibility for your own thinking and avoid blindly follow the suggestions of others without reasoning through the logic for yourself.

Practice intentional thinking on a routine basis.

Setting aside the time to think each day is an important discipline. Find regular thinking techniques that work best for you. For me personally, sitting alone with my dogs in the morning works best. To discover the place you think best, Maxwell advises you to “try out various different spots to do your thinking.” The location could range from a quiet, remote beach, to an artsy café, to even a bustling town square. Another Maxwell tip is to “find the time of day when your thinking is clearest.” Some people are most alert in the mornings; others are night owls. Maxwell also suggests you “try different processes and practices that stimulate your thinking,” such as “playing music, or putting together a puzzle.” Getting active is also a great way to stimulate thinking; I love to take long walks out by the lake near our office.

Record your thoughts, and take the initiative to put your thoughts into action quickly.

Maxwell aptly states that “when you have a great idea but don’t do anything about it, then you don’t reap the advantages it may bring.” Ideas have a short half-life.  The more time that passes after the idea strikes, the less energy the idea gives off.  You may forget specifics of the idea, or lose the passion to act on it.  However, with this being said, sometimes complex ideas need time to mature. It may be of value to re-visit and continue to build upon an idea that has occurred to you in the past. In addition, don’t let your great ideas get away from you. Maxwell expresses “If you don’t write down your ideas, there is a great danger you will lose them.” Just as I take the time to document and memorialize important meetings, I record my thoughts by writing them down in a journal.

Cherish your thinking time, and look forward to it each day.

Reviewing and embracing Maxwell’s 11 types of thinking ensures you are capitalizing on your brain’s fullest power and potential. Anyone can achieve success if they truly set their minds to it.