10 Essential Components to Make You Think at Your Best

focus, thinking

It’s “Time to Think”

It’s said that we remember where we were when significant events took place and, by large, this is true.   I remember standing at the bottom of the stairs in my parents’ hallway when the shattering news struck the world about Princess Diana.  I’ll never forget that.  I can also clearly visualise huddling around the computer with some colleagues when the devastating images of 9/11 began to emerge.  I will never forget that either.

However, I don’t remember where I was or who introduced me to Nancy Kline’s book called “Time to Think”, which opened my eyes and my world to the “Thinking Environment”.  No matter how hard I try, I just can’t recall where I was and this frustrates me a little.  Although my meeting with the Thinking Environment was nothing like those other world-shattering events, it was a significant turning point in my life and I hope it will be the same for you too.

I do, however, remember the first time I read “Time to Think”. Hungrily, I devoured every page, intrigued to explore “what makes us think at our best”. I was fascinated.  This in itself was quite striking for a non-academic like me - I just could not put the book down.   Instinctively, I knew that I had to find out more.  Much more. 

The Thinking Environment

That’s how my journey with the Thinking Environment began.  A journey which has unleashed my creativity, built my confidence, uncovered my courage and has helped me carve a path to a much happier and more fulfilling way of life, professionally and personally.

Nancy is an American Author and Coach who has dedicated her life to helping people and organisations learn how to do their very best thinking. Her work is truly transformational. I vividly remember my first meeting with Nancy on a beautiful, river barge at Streatley-on-Thames and her introductory words “the quality of everything we do or decide depends on the quality of the thinking we do first”. So, it follows, that if we can learn how to improve the quality of everyone’s thinking, then the quality of our actions and outcomes will improve too.  Great for business.  Great for people.  Great for life.


But, what is it that helps people think at their best?

We have noticed that the single, most important factor in whether people can think well for themselves is how the people who are with them treat them.

In other words, our behaviour influences the thinking of the people we are with and vice versa.  Imagine meetings when no one gets interrupted or cut off mid-stream; imagine everyone respecting each other, no matter what their position in an organisation. Imagine encouraging your team to think creatively, boldly and adventurously and observing people being enthusiastically interested in each other’s thoughts.  

Now imagine everyone encouraging each other and feeling confident and safe enough to say what they really, really think. Imagine harvesting everyone’s ideas and the potential impact of this on business performance.  Do you think that this way of being could exist, that it’s within reach or is this something “airy-fairy” and beyond our wildest dreams?

The 10 components of a Thinking Environment

Thanks to Nancy’s lifetime work, there is a way for Leaders to nurture environments like this. 10 behaviours or components which when blended together, help to create an environment which is free from competition and urgency, where good ideas flourish, where people engage willingly, where teams bond and connect, possibly for the first time ever and where everyone is given the space and time to think and contribute to the development and success of the business.   

So far, we have observed that these 10 components seem to have the most powerful effect in igniting the best, independent thinking in people.  Independent thinking that magically cuts through waste, makes people feel valued and helps to find solutions efficiently.  We call this the 10 components of a Thinking Environment:

1. Appreciation

People respond well to receiving sincere and specific appreciation about their personal qualities and strengths.  We have noticed that the mind works best in the presence of genuine appreciation.

Aim for a ratio of 5:1 in terms of appreciation to criticism and you will begin to notice a difference in the people around you.  Look for opportunities in appraisals, meetings and day-to-day interactions to tell people what you specifically appreciate about them.

2. Attention

Giving focused, uninterrupted attention to someone generates good thinking.  Constant, attentive eye contact, without distraction, encourages people to keep thinking well. This is becoming increasingly important in our digital device age where our attention is constantly being diverted away from people to mobile phones and other devices, which bluntly intrude and interrupt someone’s flow of thinking. When did you last pay attention to someone without looking at your “digital device”; without thinking about something else; without interrupting them to “have your say” or without walking away before they’d finished speaking?  When did you last listen to “ignite” rather than listen to” reply”?

3. Diversity

In a Thinking Environment, we welcome and thrive on individual differences and encourage diverse thoughts and ideas.  Imagine the pool of different opportunities that could be around you right now.  Imagine the difference you could make when you know how to fish in this pool of creativity and develop the ideas to fruition.

4. Ease

Being free from urgency, amongst a general feeling of ease, encourages people to take their time and follow their thoughts to conclusion.  Being free from the urgency of wanting to interrupt someone else because you know that you will get your turn to speak is liberating.  On the flip side, knowing that you won’t be interrupted relaxes and sets us free to be creative. 

5. Equality

There is no hierarchy or status in a Thinking Environment.  Everyone is given equal time and equal turns to express their thoughts, without fear of ridicule, judgment or criticism.  Competition is reduced and sometimes even removed and a good sense of teamwork is created, always with the intention of producing the best ideas collectively.

encouragement, thinking environment

6. Encouragement

Holding the space for someone and being totally interested in what someone will say, encourages people to enter new thought territory and think beyond the usual.  Being fascinated by what someone will think next, encourages people to boldly push past boundaries and discover new ideas and possibilities that they’d never had the opportunity to explore before.

7. Feelings

People feel safe and are given time and space to express their feelings appropriately in a Thinking Environment.  Expression of feelings helps restore people’s ability to think well for themselves.  Emotions and feelings can block ideas and good thinking – a Thinking Environment bravely acknowledges and embraces this.

8. Information

Providing complete and accurate information enhances people’s potential to do their very best thinking.  This is not the same as giving advice, but providing factual information, in the interest of helping someone do their own independent thinking.

9. Place

Providing a warm, comfortable physical environment that communicates to people that “they are important and they matter” is a key component for creating a good Thinking Environment.  People need to be physically comfortable so that they can think freely and are not distracted by any form of physical discomfort or visual or noise distraction.

10. Incisive Questions

We’ve observed that the majority of blocks in people’s (and organizations’) thinking are caused by false, limiting assumptions.  “Ancient deposits in our minds that that block its flow.  Hard-core and dangerous” says Nancy Kline. Carefully crafted incisive questions will remove limiting assumptions and free the mind to see the world and possibilities in a new light.  We call it liberating.  It is liberating.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

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Lynne Philp Inspire Limited (10 reviews ) Business Coach

Would you love to be more successful? A client recently described me as “a fearless advocate of other people’s success”. I love helping and encouraging people to be and do their very best. I promise to inspire, I guarant... Read more