Putting yourself in the right place to think
Becoming a good thinker isn’t overly complicated. It’s a discipline. If you do the six things I have outlined, you will set yourself up for a lifestyle of better thinking. But what do you do to come up with specific ideas on a day-to-day basis? I want to teach you the process that I’ve used to discover and develop good thoughts. It’s certainly not the only one that works, but it has worked well for me.
1. Find a Place to Think Your Thoughts
If you go to your designated place to think expecting to generate good thoughts, then eventually you will come up with some. Where is the best place to think? Everybody’s different. Some people think best in the shower. Others, like my friend, like to go to a park. For me, the best places to think are in my car, on planes, and in the spa. Ideas come to me in other places as well, such as when I’m in bed. (I keep a special lighted writing pad on my nightstand for such times.) I believe I often get thoughts because I make it a habit to frequently go to my thinking places. If you want to consistently generate ideas, you need to do the same thing. Find a place where you can think, and plan to capture your thoughts on paper so that you don’t lose them. When I found a place to think my thoughts, my thoughts found a place in me.
2. Find a Place to Shape Your Thoughts
Rarely do ideas come fully formed and completely worked out. Most of the time, they need to be shaped until they have substance. As my friend Dan Reiland says, they have to “stand the test of clarity and questioning.” During the shaping time, you want to hold an idea up to strong scrutiny. Many times a thought that seemed outstanding late at night looks pretty silly in the light of day. Ask questions about your ideas. Fine-tune them. One of the best ways to do that is to put your thoughts in writing. Professor, college president, and U.S. senator S. I. Hayakawa wrote, “Learning to write is learning to think. You don’t know anything clearly unless you can state it in writing.” As you shape your thoughts, you find out whether an idea has potential. You learn what you have. You also learn some things about yourself. The shaping time thrills me because it embodies: Humor: The thoughts that don’t work often provide comic relief. Humility: The moments when I connect with God awe me. Excitement: I love to play out an idea mentally. (I call it “futuring” creativity: In these moments I am unhampered by reality. Fulfillment: God made me for this process; it uses my greatest gifts and gives me joy. Honesty: As I turn over an idea in my mind, I discover my true motives. Passion: When you shape a thought, you find out what you believe and what counts. Change: Most of the changes I have made in my life resulted from thorough thinking on a subject. You can shape your thoughts almost anywhere. Just find a place that works for you, where you will be able to write things down, focus your attention without interruptions, and ask questions about your ideas.
3. Find a Place to Stretch Your Thoughts
If you come upon great thoughts and spend time mentally shaping them, don’t think you’re done and can stop there. If you do, you will miss some of the most valuable aspects of the thinking process. You miss bringing others in and expanding ideas to their greatest potential. Earlier in my life, I have to admit, I was often guilty of this error. I wanted to take an idea from a seed thought to a solution before sharing it with anyone, even the people it would most impact. I did this both at work and at home. But over the years, I have learned that you can go much farther with a team than you can go alone. I’ve found a kind of formula that can help you stretch your thoughts. It says, The Right Thought plus the Right People in the Right Environment at the Right Time for the Right Reason = the Right Result. This combination is hard to beat. Like every person, every thought has the potential to become something great. When you find a place to stretch your thoughts, you find that potential.
4. Find a Place to Land Your Thoughts
Author C. D. Jackson observes that “great ideas need landing gear as well as wings.” Any idea that remains only an idea doesn’t make a great impact. The real power of an idea comes when it goes from abstraction to application. Think about Einstein’s theory of relativity. When he published his theories in 1905 and 1916, they were merely profound ideas. Their real power came with the development of the nuclear reactor in 1942 and the nuclear bomb in 1945. When scientists developed and implemented Einstein’s ideas, the whole world changed. Likewise, if you want your thoughts to make an impact, you need to land them with others so that they can someday be implemented. As you plan for the application phase of the thinking process, land your ideas first with Yourself: Landing an idea with yourself will give you integrity. People will buy into an idea only after they buy into the leader who communicates it. Before teaching any lesson, I ask myself three questions: “Do I believe it? Do I live it? Do I believe others should live it?” If I can’t answer yes to all three questions, then I haven’t landed it. Key Players: Let’s face it, no idea will fly if the influencers don’t embrace it. After all, they are the people who carry thoughts from idea to implementation. Those Most Affected: Landing thoughts with the people on the firing line will give you great insight. Those closest to changes that occur as a result of a new idea can give you a “reality read.” And that’s important, because sometimes even when you’ve diligently completed the process of creating a thought, shaping it, and stretching it with other good thinkers, you can still miss the mark.
5. Find a Place to Fly Your Thoughts
French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1927, asserted that a person should “think like a man of action—act like a man of thought.” What good is thinking if it has no application in real life? Thinking divorced from actions cannot be productive. Learning how to master the process of thinking well leads you to productive thinking. If you can develop the discipline of good thinking and turn it into a lifetime habit, then you will be successful and productive all of your life. Once you’ve created, shaped, stretched, and landed your thoughts, then flying them can be fun and easy.