John C. Maxwell – “How Successful People Think” Part 2

While I prefer learning a subject by reading rather than watching a video because I can refer back to the material, I do like to be able to create a clear picture in my mind of what is going on. Thus I’m going to try to create a picture in order to clarify Maxwell’s types of thinking. I’m going to draw from my favorite subject here, military history, so bear with me.

For a moment, join me in stepping back to the first few centuries before Christ, into the boots of a Mediterranean-basin general. Imagine you are planning a campaign. In this process, you must address three levels of planning: objective, strategic, and tactical. The objective is the overall purpose of the campaign. The strategic level is how you accomplish the objective. The tactical is what you do on each battlefield. Before the campaign, you need to establish your objective and strategy. The objective should remain the same throughout the campaign (if the objective is off, a wise general would close out the campaign because the chance of failure is significant) while the strategy will likely evolve as you learn your opponent.

On the objective level, you must use big-picture thinking in order to understand why you are conducting this campaign and to determine if the end justifies the means. You also need bottom-line thinking to determine what qualifies as success and what determines failure, so you know when to cut your losses. You will also need realistic thinking to determine if you are even capable of carrying out this campaign (or, on a strategic and tactical level, whether your forces can carry through with your goals); this requires knowing your own and your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Finally, reflective thinking is necessary throughout the campaign, as you consider your successes and failures to determine how you can change what you are doing to accomplish your objectives.

Strategically, you will need possibility thinking to see beyond what everyone else (including your closest peers: your commanders) can imagine. The most successful commanders of history listened to their commanders, but knew when something they said was impossible could be achieved. The best example of this is Hannibal’s famous crossing of the Alps, something no one had ever considered before. But, as mentioned, you will need to take into account your commanders’ advice; this is where shared thinking comes into play. If you know how each officer thinks, this part will be easy.

Strategic thinking is self-explanatory in this context. It is, once again, based on knowing your opponent in order to strip his defenses and manipulate his weaknesses. Focused thinking is necessary to keep your strategy in alignment with your objectives. Distractions will cost you opportunities and give your opponent an advantage.

Finally, as you have created a vision for your campaign allowing you to operate with efficiency, control your enemy’s movements, and gain every advantage, you will be able to draw your opponent into strategic battles of your choice. Now creative thinking will be vital on this tactical level as you leverage all of your previous effort into defeating the enemy on a physical level. You will use it to make every piece of ground and element around you support your goals. You will use it to draw your enemy in and bring about capitulation. And in this moment all of the previously mentioned thinking styles will come to their fruition, and you will have become successful.

Hopefully putting Maxwell’s “thinking types” into this context has given you a clearer picture of the practical applications of them. Let me know in a comment if that makes sense!

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