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How Successful People Think Workbook

How Successful People Think Workbook

by John C. Maxwell


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Gather successful people from all walks of life — what would they have in common? The way they think! Now you can think as they do and revolutionize your work and life!

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. You'll find out how to tap into your creative potential, develop shared ideas, and derive lessons from the past to better understand the future. With these eleven keys to more effective thinking, you'll clearly see the path to personal success.

The 11 keys to successful thinking include:
  • Big-Picture Thinking - seeing the world beyond your own needs and how that leads to great ideas
  • Focused Thinking - removing mental clutter and distractions to realize your full potential
  • Creative Thinking - thinking in unique ways and making breakthroughs
  • Shared Thinking - working with others to compound results
  • Reflective Thinking - looking at the past to gain a better understanding of the future.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781599953915
Publisher: Center Street
Publication date: 06/02/2011
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 418,568
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

John C. Maxwell is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than twenty-four million books in fifty languages. Often called America's #1 leadership authority, Maxwell was identified as the most popular leadership expert in the world by Inc. magazine in 2014. And he has been voted the top leadership professional six years in a row on

He is the founder of The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, and EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than five million leaders in 180 countries. Each year Maxwell speaks to Fortune 500 companies, presidents of nations, and many of the world's top business leaders. He can be followed at For more information about him visit Maxwell lives in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.

Read an Excerpt

How Successful People Think Workbook

By Maxwell, John C.

Center Street

Copyright © 2011 Maxwell, John C.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781599953915


Cultivate Big-Picture Thinking

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.

David Schwartz

Writer Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Many an object is not seen, though it falls within the range of our visual ray, because it does not come within the range of our intellectual ray” (emphasis mine). Human beings are in the habit of seeing their own world first. However, big-picture thinkers realize there is a world out there besides their own, and they make an effort to get outside of themselves and see other people’s worlds through their eyes. It’s hard to see the picture when you’re inside the frame.

French essayist Michel Eyquem de Montaigne wrote, “The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them; a man may live long yet live very little.” Becoming a big-picture thinker can help you to live with wholeness, to live a very fulfilling life. People who see the big picture expand their experience because they expand their world. As a result, they are able to accomplish more than narrow-minded people. And they experience fewer unwanted surprises, too, because in any given situation they are more likely to see the many components involved: issues, people, relationships, timing, and values. They are also, therefore, usually more tolerant of other people and their thinking.


An Egyptian librarian heard that the sun could be seen shining at the bottom of a well in the town of Syene on the longest day of the year. He was a big-picture thinker, so it started him thinking. He surmised that if it made a reflection in a well, the sun must be directly overhead. And if the sun were directly overhead, then it would cast no shadows from upright columns or posts. Yet on the longest day of the year in the city of Alexandria, where he lived, he observed that straight columns did cast shadows.

He decided to travel the eight hundred kilometers to Syene himself to verify that what he had heard was true. On the longest day of the year, he looked into the well and saw the sun reflected. And sure enough, at midday, posts in Syene cast no shadows.

He reflected on that. After a while, he began to see a bigger picture of what these seemingly unconnected facts meant. Surprisingly, it went against what nearly everyone believed at the time. You see, the librarian’s name was Eratosthenes, and he lived more than twenty-two hundred years ago.

As the director of the greatest library in the world (the library of Alexandria in Egypt was said to possess hundreds of thousands of scrolls), Eratosthenes was at the intellectual capital of the world for his time. In the third century BC, nearly every scholar in Alexandria and around the world believed that the earth was flat. But Eratosthenes reasoned that if the sun’s light came down straight and the earth was flat, then there would be no shadows in both Alexandria and Syene. If there were shadows in one location but not the other, then there could be only one logical explanation. The surface of the earth must be curved. In other words, the world must be a sphere.

That was a pretty impressive mental leap, although it seems perfectly logical to us today. After all, we’ve seen pictures of our planet from space. But Eratosthenes made that big-picture connection by using everyday facts and putting them together. What’s even more impressive is that he took it a step further. He actually calculated the size of the earth! Using basic trigonometry, he measured the angle of the shadows and calculated that it was approximately 7.12 degrees. That’s about one-fiftieth of a circle. And he reasoned that if the distance between Syene (modern-day Aswan) and Alexandria was 800 kilometers, then the earth must be around 40,000 kilometers in circumference (50 × 800 kilometers). He wasn’t far off; the actual circumference of the earth through the poles is 40,008 kilometers. Not bad for a guy who had nothing but his brain and a big-picture mind-set to figure the whole thing out!


In the actions of Eratosthenes, you can see the truth of a statement made many centuries later by German statesman Konrad Adenauer: “We all live under the same sky, but we don’t all have the same horizon.” As you consider the story of the librarian of Alexandria, answer these questions:

1. Why do you think Eratosthenes was able to make the connection about the earth while thousands of others missed it? What qualities do you think big-picture thinkers usually possess? List them here. ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ 2. Who in your personal acquaintance best exemplifies big-picture thinking? What has this person done to cultivate it? Do you think his or her ability is a function of experience, vision, education, training, temperament, or something else? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ 3. Do you see any similarities between the big-picture thinker you know personally and Eratosthenes? Explain. ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ 4. Who in your acquaintance seems to be incapable of big-picture thinking? What is that person’s background, education, training, and temperament? If you were to compare this person to the big-picture thinker you know, how would you describe their differences? What can you learn from the contrast between the two? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________


The most successful people in life focus on and work within their strengths, and many of them are fairly narrow when it comes to talent and abilities. However, there are very few successful people who lack the ability to see the big picture. It’s very difficult for someone who loses perspective to be successful because one needs to see the big picture in order to make good decisions. In addition, the ability to see the big picture also has several specific benefits:

1. Big-Picture Thinking Allows You to Lead

You can find many big-picture thinkers who aren’t leaders, but you will find few leaders who are not big-picture thinkers. Leaders must be able to do many important things for their people:

  • See the vision before their people do. They also see more of it. This allows them to…

  • Size up situations, taking into account many variables. Leaders who see the big picture discern possibilities as well as problems and can then form a foundation to build the vision. Once leaders have done that, they can…

  • Sketch a picture of where the team is going, including any potential challenges or obstacles. The goal of leaders shouldn’t be merely to make their people feel good, but to help them be good and accomplish the dream. The vision, shown accurately, will allow leaders to…

  • Show how the future connects with the past to make the journey more meaningful. When leaders recognize this need for connection and bridge it, then they can…

  • Seize the moment when the timing is right. In leadership, when you move is as important as what you do. As Winston Churchill said, “There comes a special moment in everyone’s life, a moment for which that person was born…. When he seizes it… it is his finest hour.”

Leaders who are constantly looking at the whole picture have the best chance of succeeding in any endeavor.

Where do you typically fit when it comes to vision in an organization? Visionary—the person who senses or develops the vision for the organization Vision Carrier—someone who helps communicate the vision to the organization Early Adopter—someone who receives the vision and immediately embraces it Middle Adopter—someone who needs time to understand and accept the vision Late Adopter—someone who needs the validity of the vision proven before adapting Critic—someone who would rather fight than follow If you are a middle adopter, late adopter, or critic, you need to work on your ability to see the big picture.

2. Big-Picture Thinking Keeps You on Target

Thomas Fuller, chaplain to Charles II of England, observed, “He that is everywhere is nowhere.” To get things done, you need focus. However, to get the right things done, you also need to consider the big picture. Only by putting your daily activities in the context of the big picture will you be able to stay on target. As Alvin Toffler says, “You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”

What process do you have in place in your life to keep you focused? Do you have a constant touchstone or reference point that you can use to make sure you are doing the right things and not just keeping busy with unimportant activity? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ Some people use core values, a mission statement, a set of goals, or a picture to help them remember the big picture. What can you use? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________

3. Big-Picture Thinking Allows You to See What Others See

One of the most important skills you can develop in human relations is the ability to see things from the other person’s point of view. It’s one of the keys to working with clients, satisfying customers, maintaining a marriage, rearing children, helping those who are less fortunate, etc. All human interactions are enhanced by the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes.

How good are you at seeing things from others’ perspective. Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Now ask three trusted friends, family members, or colleagues to rate you by the same scale. Name Rating ________________________ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ________________________ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ________________________ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 If their numbers and yours differ by more than one, then your self-perception is off. If your numbers are lower than 6, this is an area where you need to work to improve.

4. Big-Picture Thinking Promotes Teamwork

If you participate in any kind of team activity, then you know how important it is that team members see the whole picture, not just their own part. When a person doesn’t know how his work fits with that of his teammates, then the whole team is in trouble. The better the grasp team members have of the big picture, the greater their potential to work together as a team.

In your profession, how does your role fit in with the larger purpose of the organization? How does it fit in your industry? Why are the other people who are part of the process also important? (If you can’t describe their importance—or, worse yet, you fail to see it—then your lack of big-picture thinking will limit your professional progress.) ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________

5. Big-Picture Thinking Keeps You from Being Caught Up in the Mundane

Let’s face it: some aspects of everyday life are absolutely necessary but thoroughly uninteresting. Big-picture thinkers don’t let the grind get to them, because they don’t lose sight of the all-important overview. They know that the person who forgets the ultimate is a slave to the immediate.

Do mundane activities that you must accomplish get you down? How can you use big-picture thinking and a sense of purpose or mission to keep you from becoming discouraged? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________

6. Big-Picture Thinking Helps You to Chart Uncharted Territory

Have you ever heard the expression, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”? That phrase undoubtedly was coined by someone who had trouble seeing the big picture. The world was built by people who “crossed bridges” in their minds long before anyone else did. The only way to break new ground or move into uncharted territory is to look beyond the immediate and see the big picture.

How much time do you spend thinking about future goals, innovative ideas, new methods of doing things, improving the organization, and the like? Do you believe that is your responsibility, or have you allowed others to assume that role? Why? How can you use big-picture thinking to help you focus on taking new territory professionally? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________


We can only change, grow, and improve in areas where we acknowledge that we need to improve. Think very honestly about yourself when it comes to big-picture thinking. How much do you need to improve in this area? What might change in your life if you were to start thinking from a big-picture perspective? How would that impact you professionally? Relationally? Financially? Spiritually? Spend some time reflecting and recording your thoughts here. ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________


If you desire to seize new opportunities and open new horizons, then you need to add big-picture thinking to your abilities. People do not become successful without that ability. To become a good thinker better able to see the big picture, keep in mind the following:

1. Don’t Strive for Certainty

Big-picture thinkers are comfortable with ambiguity. They don’t try to force every observation or piece of data into preformulated mental cubbyholes. They think broadly and can juggle many seemingly contradictory thoughts in their minds. If you want to cultivate the ability to think big picture, then you must get used to embracing and dealing with complex and diverse ideas.

2. Learn from Every Experience

Big-picture thinkers broaden their outlook by striving to learn from every experience. They don’t rest on their successes, they learn from them. More important, they learn from their failures. They can do that because they remain teachable.

Varied experiences—both positive and negative—help you see the big picture. The greater the variety of experience and success you have, the more potential to learn. If you desire to be a big-picture thinker, then get out there and try a lot of things, take a lot of chances, and take time to learn after every victory or defeat.

3. Gain Insight from a Variety of People

Big-picture thinkers learn from their experiences. But they also learn from experiences they don’t have. That is, they learn by receiving insight from others—from customers, employees, colleagues, and leaders.

If you desire to broaden your thinking and see more of the big picture, then seek out mentors and counselors to help you. But be wise in whom you ask for advice. Gaining insight from a variety of people doesn’t mean stopping anyone and everyone in hallways and grocery store lines and asking what they think about a given subject. Be selective. Talk to people who know and care about you, who know their field, and who bring experience deeper and broader than your own.

4. Give Yourself Permission to Expand Your World

If you want to be a big-picture thinker, you will have to go against the flow of the world. Society wants to keep people in boxes. Most people are married mentally to the status quo. They want what was, not what can be. They seek safety and simple answers. To think big picture, you need to give yourself permission to go a different way, to break new ground, to find new worlds to conquer. And when your world does get bigger, you need to celebrate. Never forget there is more out there in the world than what you’ve experienced.

Keep learning, keep growing, and keep looking at the big picture! If you desire to be a good thinker, that’s what you need to do.


  1. Revisit the Vision: Good big-picture thinkers rarely lose sight of the vision and overall picture, and for that reason they don’t get caught up in too many details or side issues. So take some time to clarify the vision of your area of responsibility, your organization, and your industry or field. Take time to clarify the vision for your life and for your family.

    If you’ve spent time in the past discovering these things, then revisit them. Reflect on them. Write them out. Put the written vision, or something that symbolizes it, someplace where you will see it every day so that you don’t lose sight of it.

    If you’ve never clarified these issues, spend your time discovering and articulating them. Then keep them in front of you.

  2. Broaden Your Experience: Big-picture thinkers bring into play knowledge from a variety of areas. How can you broaden yours? Pick something to learn this year that takes you out of your comfort zone and gives you experiences far different from anything you’ve done before. If it turns out to be something you really enjoy and benefit from, continue in it after a year. If not, pick something new and give it a year. In ten years, you should have such a broad range of experience that you add value to your organization in terms of your perspective.

  3. Gain Insight from Others: Find a mentor in your field whose experience and wisdom exceeds yours, and ask to meet with him or her on a regular basis. However long the meeting is, spend three to five times as much time preparing beforehand. In other words, if you will meet for an hour, spend three to five hours preparing: do research to know the person’s strengths, carefully consider what questions to ask, etc. And after you meet, create an action plan to implement what you’ve learned. Also, be sure the next time you meet to explain how you’ve applied what you were told during the previous meeting.

  4. 4. Integrate the Parts of Your World: Most industries or professions require various skill sets, departments, or factions to work together. For example, for someone to be successful as a state representative, he or she would need to understand not only how to campaign for office and fulfill the duties of the office, but also how the house of representatives interacts with the state senate, the executive branch, and the judiciary.

    Take some time to learn how all of the various departments or functions in your field interact with one another, how they function when working well together, where the hang-ups and pitfalls lie, etc. Expertise informs big-picture thinking.


Thinking with the big picture in mind often means seeing situations from an entirely different perspective. Conflict is a great training ground for this.

  1. Name one conflict that you either witnessed or took part in recently.




  2. Argue for the side that you disagree with, listing three valid reasons for their perspective and beliefs.

    • ____________________________________________________

    • ____________________________________________________

    • ____________________________________________________

  3. Pretend that you do agree with that side of the argument. What life experiences, priorities, and values would cause you to believe the way you do?


  1. Do you identify with the story of Eratosthenes, or was it too different from your own life experience? What might have been a better case study?

  2. Do you think a person can be successful without practicing big-picture thinking? Explain.

  3. What role does big-picture thinking play in leadership?

  4. In what areas of your life do you practice big-picture thinking effectively? In what areas do you sometimes find it a challenge?

  5. What do you find to be the greatest challenge or obstacle to big-picture thinking?

  6. If you become better at big-picture thinking, what impact will it have on your life?

  7. What must you do to become a better big-picture thinker? How must you change?

  8. Do you intend to implement any of the suggestions in the action plan? If so, which ones? If not, what actions would you consider more helpful? How will you implement them?


Engage in Focused Thinking

He did each thing as if he did nothing else.

Spoken Of Novelist Charles Dickens

Sociologist Robert Lynd observed that “knowledge is power only if man knows what facts not to bother with.” Focused thinking removes distractions and mental clutter so that you can concentrate on an issue and think with clarity.

No matter whether your goal is to increase your level of play, sharpen your business plan, improve your bottom line, develop your subordinates, or solve personal problems, you need to focus. Of course, it’s not always easy; you can’t focus on everything that you might like to. But the earlier you learn to give up some things in order to focus on what has the greatest impact, the sooner you can dedicate yourself to excellence in what matters most.


Most people spend lots of time drawing and coloring with crayons when they are kids. One source says that children in the United States will, on average, wear down 730 crayons by the time they are ten years old. That’s a lot of creative energy! Think back to your childhood. Can you picture the kind of crayons you used? In your mind you can probably picture the crayons and even the shape and color of the box—a yellow box with green letters. You can probably even imagine what they smell like. And what’s the brand name on that box? In all likelihood, it’s Crayola.

After all, Crayola is the most popular and recognized brand of crayons in the world. Every year, Binney & Smith, the company that makes Crayola products, manufactures nearly three billion crayons at a rate of twelve million a day. That’s enough crayons to circle the globe six times!

The company was founded by Joseph Binney in 1864 as the Peekskill Chemical Works. In 1885, the founder’s son, Edwin, and his cousin, C. Harold Smith, became partners and changed the company’s name to Binney & Smith. Up to the turn of the century, the company’s main products were items such as red pigments for barn paint and carbon black used in making lampblack or automobile tires. Their primary method of product development was simple: ask their customers what their needs were and then develop products in the laboratory to meet those needs.

In 1900, the company began making slate pencils for the educational market, and they found that teachers were happy to tell company representatives what they desired. When teachers complained about poor chalk, Binney & Smith produced a superior, dustless variety. When teachers complained that they couldn’t buy a decent American crayon (the best were imported from Europe and very expensive), the company developed the Crayola. The product was introduced to the market in 1903 as a box of eight colors that cost a nickel.

Once they found their niche in the children’s market, Crayola became incredibly focused. For more than a hundred years, they have manufactured superior art supplies for children. Today they dominate that market—even in the face of the electronic revolution. In The Five Faces of Genius, Annette Moser-Wellman assessed the company by saying,

The biggest threat to Crayola’s business has been the entry of computer games for kids. Instead of drawing and coloring, kids are tempted by interactive CDs and more. Instead of trying to dominate computer games, Crayola has chosen to flourish within their limitations. They do children’s art products better than anyone.

Binney & Smith could have lost focus in an attempt to chase new markets and diversify themselves. That was what toy manufacturer Coleco did. The company started out in leather goods in the 1950s and then switched to plastics. In the late 1960s, they were the world’s largest manufacturer of aboveground swimming pools. They had found their niche. Yet in the 1970s and 1980s, they chased after the computer game market and then low-end computers. (You may remember ColecoVision.) Then they tried to capitalize on Cabbage Patch dolls. It ultimately drove them into bankruptcy.

It would have been easy for Binney & Smith to chase after other successes, but they didn’t do that. The company has remained focused. And as long as it does, it will continue to excel and to sell more crayons and children’s art supplies than any other company in the world.


Spend some time thinking about Binney & Smith’s story and answer the following questions:

1. On the surface, listening to all the needs of your customers could appear to make a company less focused rather than more focused. How does one know what information to take to heart and what to dismiss? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ 2. At some point the leaders at Binney & Smith had to decide to narrow their focus and concentrate on a particular group of products. What criteria do you think they used? What criteria do you use in your own field or profession? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ 3. What differences do you see in the way Binney & Smith and Coleco approached innovation? What made one successful while the other floundered? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ 4. Based on your knowledge of Crayola products, how focused do you think they have remained? How has that impacted their effectiveness? (If your knowledge is limited, then visit a store or website that sells children’s art supplies.) ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ 5. How focused are you in your profession or industry? How has it impacted your effectiveness? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________


Just as focus is important in developing products for a company, it is also important in developing ideas for an individual. Focused thinking can do several things for you:

1. Focused Thinking Harnesses Energy Toward a Desired Goal

In his book Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It, marketing consultant Al Ries gives a tremendous illustration:

The sun is a powerful source of energy. Every hour the sun washes the earth with billions of kilowatts of energy. Yet with a hat and some sunscreen you can bathe in the light of the sun for hours at a time with few ill effects.

A laser is a weak source of energy. A laser takes a few watts of energy and focuses them in a coherent stream of light. But with a laser you can drill a hole in a diamond or wipe out a cancer.

Focus can bring energy and power to almost anything, whether it’s physical or mental. If you’re learning how to pitch a baseball and you want to develop a good curveball, then focused thinking while practicing will improve your technique. If you need to refine the manufacturing process of your product, focused thinking will help you develop the best method. If you want to solve a difficult mathematics problem, sustaining focused thinking helps you break through to the solution. Philosopher Bertrand Russell asserted, “To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficult achievement.” The greater the difficulty of a problem or issue, the more focused-thinking time will be necessary to solve it.

How effective are you typically when it comes to focused thinking? Is it generally a strength or a weakness for you? Why? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________

2. Focused Thinking Gives Ideas Time to Develop

One of my favorite things to do is to surface and develop ideas. I often bring my creative team together for brainstorming and creative thinking. When we first get together, we try to be exhaustive in our thinking in order to generate as many ideas as possible. That has great value because the birthing of a potential breakthrough is often the result of sharing a lot of good ideas.

But to take ideas to the next level, you need to shift from being expansive in your thinking to being selective. Over the years, I have discovered that a good idea can become a great idea when it is given focus time. It’s true that focusing on an idea for a long time can be very frustrating. I’ve often spent days focusing on a thought and trying to develop it, only to find that I could not improve the idea. But sometimes my perseverance in focused thinking pays off. That brings me great joy. And when focused thinking is at its best, not only does the idea grow, but so do I!

How much time do you dedicate to focused thinking on a regular basis—daily or weekly? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________

3. Focused Thinking Brings Clarity to the Target

Focused thinking removes distractions and mental clutter so that you can concentrate on an issue and think with clarity. That’s crucial, because if you don’t know what the target is, how will you ever hit it?

A favorite hobby of mine is playing golf. It’s a wonderfully challenging game. I like it because the objectives are so clear. Professor William Mobley of the University of South Carolina made the following observation about golf:

One of the most important things about golf is the presence of clear goals. You see the pins, you know the par—it’s neither too easy nor unattainable, you know your average score, and there are competitive goals—competitive with par, with yourself and others. These goals give you something to shoot at. In work, as in golf, goals motivate.

One time on the golf course, I followed a golfer who neglected to put the pin back in the hole after he putted. Because I could not see my target, I couldn’t focus properly. My focus quickly turned to frustration—and to poor play. Because my target was unclear, my focus was diminished. To be a good golfer, a person needs to focus. The same is true in thinking. Focus helps you to know the goal—and to achieve it.

The ability to focus often depends on knowing yourself and what you need. What helps you to become more focused—what conditions, what activities? What inhibits your ability to think with focus? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________

4. Focused Thinking Will Take You to the Next Level

No one achieves greatness by becoming a generalist. You don’t hone a skill by diluting your attention to its development. The only way to get to the next level is to focus. No matter whether your goal is to increase your level of play, sharpen your business plan, improve your bottom line, develop your subordinates, or solve personal problems, you need to focus. Author Harry A. Overstreet observed, “The immature mind hops from one thing to another; the mature mind seeks to follow through.”

In The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck includes a telling story about himself and his personal ineptitude when it came to fixing things. He said that anytime he attempted to make minor repairs or put anything together, the result was always confusion, failure, and frustration. Then one day on a walk, he saw a neighbor repairing a lawn mower. Peck told the man, “Boy, I sure admire you. I’ve never been able to fix those kind of things or do anything like that.”

“That’s because you don’t take the time,” the neighbor answered. After reflecting on the man’s statement, Peck decided to test whether it was true. The next time he was faced with a mechanical challenge, he took his time and focused his attention on the problem. Much to his surprise, at age thirty-seven, he was finally able to succeed.

After that, he says that he knew that he was not “cursed or genetically defective or otherwise incapacitated or impotent.” If he wanted to go to the next level in that area of his life, he could do it if he was willing to focus on it. But instead, he now makes a conscious choice to focus his attention on his profession: psychiatry.

What area of your life is in the greatest need of your focused thinking? Why?


We can only change, grow, and improve in areas where we acknowledge that we need to improve. Think very honestly about yourself when it comes to focused thinking. How much do you need to improve in this area? What might change in your life if you were to start thinking in a more focused way? How would that impact you professionally? Relationally? Financially? Spiritually? Spend some time reflecting and recording your thoughts here. ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________


Does every area of your life deserve dedicated, focused thinking time? Of course, the answer is no. Be selective, not exhaustive, in your focused thinking. And once you have a handle on what you should think about, you must decide how to better focus on it. Here are five suggestions to help you with the process:

1. Remove Distractions

I’ve found that I need blocks of time to think without interruption. So when necessary, I make myself unavailable and go off to my “thinking place.” As a leader, however, I am aware that I need to remain accessible to others and to withdraw from them to think.

But since one lets us connect with people and know their needs, and the other lets us think of ways to add value to them, we need to value and give attention to both.

2. Make Time for Focused Thinking

Once you have a place to think, you need the time to think. Years ago I realized that my best thinking time occurs in the morning. So whenever possible, I reserve my mornings for thinking and writing. One way to gain time for focused thinking is to impose upon yourself a rule that one company implemented. Don’t allow yourself to look at e-mail until after 10 a.m. Instead, focus your energies on your number one priority. Put time wasters on hold so that you can create thinking time for yourself.

3. Keep Items of Focus Before You

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great transcendental thinker, believed, “Concentration is the secret of strength in politics, in war, in trade, in short, in all management of human affairs.” To benefit from that concentration, keep important items in front of you. Ask a colleague or assistant to keep bringing them up. Or keep a file or a page where you see it every day as you work. That strategy has successfully helped me for thirty years to stimulate and sharpen ideas.

4. Set Goals

I believe goals are important. The mind will not focus until it has clear objectives. But the purpose of goals is to focus your attention and give you direction, not to identify a final destination. As you think about your goals, note that they should be

  • Clear enough to be kept in focus

  • Close enough to be achieved

  • Helpful enough to change lives

Be sure to write down your goals. And if you really want to make sure they’re focused, take the advice of David Belasco, who says, “If you can’t write your idea on the back of my business card, you don’t have a clear idea.”

5. Question Your Progress

Ask yourself, “Am I seeing a return for my investment of focused thinking time? Is what I am doing getting me closer to my goals? Am I headed in a direction that helps me to fulfill my commitments, maintain my priorities, and realize my dreams?”


  1. Set Aside Dedicated Thinking Time: You will not have focused thinking time unless you intentionally create it. Using your calendar, set aside a block of time every day for thinking. Ideally, it should fall in your most productive time of day. Schedule it and then protect it as you would any other important appointment.

  2. Create Space for Focused Thinking: One of the greatest enemies of focused thinking is distraction. Create an environment for good thinking. Find a place where you won’t be interrupted, distracted, or tempted—by people, your phone, the computer, social media, television, etc. (Yes, it is possible! But you may have to fight for it.) Then spend your scheduled time in that setting. Stick with it. It may take you many sessions before you are capable of settling down and thinking in a focused way.

  3. Identify Your Area of Focus: If you have great focus, but it is concentrated on the wrong things, you will not reach your potential. What are your dreams? What are your talents? What resources do you have at your disposal? What sense of calling do you have on your life? Spend some of your thinking time focused on working through those questions and clarify your goals so that you know where to place your focus.

  4. Focus on Pivotal Decisions: Our lives are most affected, for good or bad, by just a few key decisions. Focused thinking can help you work through those decisions. Anytime you recognize that an issue or a decision is important, dedicate some focused thinking time for it to give you clarity.


Look at your calendar for the coming week and find a free hour. Mark that as your thinking time. Write it on your calendar, show you’re out-of-office or unavailable.

When that time comes, leave behind your phone, your MP3 player, your PDA, your computer, and any other item that can cause distraction. Bring only a pen and a small notebook to jot down your ideas.

Go to your thinking place. If you don’t have one, find one. You might find it in your yard, at the local branch of your library, in a public park, in a room in your house, a quiet coffee shop, or even just walking near your office. Use this time to focus your thoughts on one specific problem that needs solving, or a good idea that needs developing.


  1. Can you think of an example of a highly focused individual or company that has achieved great success? What was it about their focus that made them successful?

  2. Whom do you admire more: people who are highly skilled at one thing or multitalented people who seem capable of tackling nearly anything?

  3. How do you think that admiration affects your attitude toward focused thinking?

  4. Are you someone who naturally focuses on one thing at a time or someone who tends to jump continually from idea to idea or project to project?

  5. Can you give an example of how focused thinking has helped you accomplish a task or solve a problem in the past?

  6. What is your greatest obstacle when it comes to focused thinking?

  7. What are you willing to do to improve in this area?

  8. Are there things others can do to help you become a better focused thinker?


Excerpted from How Successful People Think Workbook by Maxwell, John C. Copyright © 2011 by Maxwell, John C.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction l

1 Cultivate Big-Picture Thinking 15

2 Engage in Focused Thinking 32

3 Harness Creative Thinking 48

4 Employ Realistic Thinking 63

5 Utilize Strategic Thinking 80

6 Explore Possibility Thinking 98

7 Learn From Reflective Thinking 116

8 Question Popular Thinking 132

9 Benefit from Shared Thinking 149

10 Practice Unselfish Thinking 168

11 Rely on Bottom-Line Thinking 185

Notes 201

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