Master the art of "productive thinking"
They understand that thinking is a discipline.
If you want to be better at it, you've got to work at it, says Maxwell. Consider scheduling time to think. For example, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner schedules 30- to 90-minute blocks of "nothing" into his calendar for personal time, coaching, and reflection, and Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich sits down at the end of every year to reflect on past progress and write down initiatives for the future.
They figure out where to focus their energy.
Maxwell recommends using the 80/20 rule. Devote 80% of your energy to the most important 20% of your activities. Remember that you can't be everywhere, know everyone, and do everything. And avoid multitasking, which can cost you 40% efficiency.
They expose themselves to different ideas and types of people.
They're also selective about spending most of their time with people who challenge them, he writes.
They don't just have an idea; they follow through with it.
"Ideas have a short shelf life," says Maxwell. "You must act on them before the expiration date."
They understand that thoughts need time to develop.
Remember the last time you had a brilliant idea at 2 a.m., but it sounded sort of ridiculous when you woke up the next morning?
Thoughts need to be "shaped until they have substance" and need to stand the test of "clarity and questioning," he says. Don't just settle on the first thing that comes to mind.
They collaborate with other smart people.
Thinking with others yields higher returns, Maxwell writes. It's like giving yourself a shortcut. That's why brainstorming sessions can be so effective.
They reject popular thinking (which often means not thinking at all).
Too many people act, hoping that others have thought things through first, he says.
To reject popular thinking you must be OK with feeling uncomfortable. As Malcolm Gladwell has argued, some of the most successful entrepreneurs, including IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, have disagreeable personalities, meaning they aren't concerned whether other people think they're nuts.
They plan ahead, while leaving room for spontaneity.
When you're strategic, you reduce your margin of error. Simply having vague ideas of where you are and what you want to accomplish will get you nowhere.
Maxwell's keys to being strategic:
1. Break the issue down.
2. Ask why the problem needs to be solved.
3. Identify the key issues.
4. Review your resources.
5. Put the right people in place.
Henry Ford once said, "Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into smaller parts."
They don't just think differently; they do different things.
Try new routes to work. Meet new people. Read books you might even consider boring. The key is exposure to new ideas and ways of life, he says.
They value other people's ideas as much as their own.
You can't think you're always right. Successful people know to give other concepts a chance. Apple founder Steve Jobs, for instance, started his career with a stubborn insistence that his way was best, write Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli in "Becoming Steve Jobs." In later years, Jobs became "confident enough to listen to his team as well as his own thoughts and to acknowledge the nature of the world around him."
They have an agenda.
For example, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg brings a notebook to every meeting and crosses agenda items off one by one, ripping pages out as they are addressed.
Further, Maxwell notes that smart thinkers plan out more than just their days; they take time to plan out their weeks, months, and long-term goals - and then they follow through.
They don't just react; they reflect.
Reflective thinking gives you perspective and confidence in your decision-making skills.
If you're not reflecting, it's holding you back more than you think. As Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living."
They don't indulge in negative self-talk.
Successful people don't see limitations; they see possibilities. They think in terms of "I will" and "I can."
Former baseball star Sam Ewing once said that "nothing is so embarrassing as watching someone do something that you said could not be done."