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The Thinker’s Advantage: 5 Ways to Improve Your Thought Process

By Maxwell Leadership | August 22, 2023
The Thinker’s Advantage: 5 Ways to Improve Your Thought Process

This blog post has been adapted from Dr. John Maxwell’s personal productivity resource, Today Matters. John Maxwell has been one of the world’s foremost leadership and personal growth experts for more than 40 years, and this guidebook for success planning contains invaluable insights. You can pick up a copy here.

One night at dinner, a friend of John Kilcullen’s described something he overheard in a bookstore. A customer asked the clerk, “Do you have any simple books on Microsoft DOS—something like DOS for dummies?” It was only a passing comment, meant as a joke. But it stuck with Kilcullen. And he did something with it. He launched the “Dummies” books.

Some unknown consumer had a good idea, and it went nowhere. In fact, he probably didn’t even know his idea was a good one. But in the hands of a thinker, that good idea became a great idea. Then it became a bunch of great ideas. The “Dummies” books now encompass a product line of 370 titles in 31 languages with sales of more than 60 million copies.

A Thoughtful Difference

Inventor Thomas Edison once famously said, “Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.” Knowing the kind of value that proper thinking can create, it’s safe to say we want to be among the five percent!

If you want to develop your thinking skills, try these 5 techniques:


We can think anywhere we are, but having a designated place can inspire our best thinking. When it comes to what works, everybody’s different. Some people like to be connected to nature. Others want to be in the midst of—but removed from—activity. Pastor Andy aStanley likes to sit alone in a restaurant to think—he says he needs a little distraction. J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, wrote her early books while sitting in a café. Where you go doesn’t matter as long as it stimulates your thinking.

As important as finding the right place to think is carving out the time. Discover when during the day you are at your sharpest, and set aside a block of time each day just to think. Your thought process will benefit from the consistent investment of your best.


Everybody has a different way of approaching the process of thinking. Poet Rudyard Kipling had to have pure black ink for his pen before he could write. Philosopher Immanuel Kant used to stare out his window at a stone tower to think; when trees grew up threatening to block his view, he chopped them down. Composer Ludwig van Beethoven poured cold water over his head to refresh himself and stimulate his thinking. Poet Friedrich von Schiller’s thinking was stimulated by the smell of rotting apples, which he kept on his desk. Critic and lexicographer Samuel Johnson said that he needed a purring cat, an orange peel, and a cup of tea in order to write. Composer Gioacchino Rossini felt that he worked best in bed under the covers.

Some people need music; some think best sitting at a computer. Some work best writing longhand. Discover what inspires you and run with it.


If you don’t write down your ideas, there is a great danger you will lose them. In Bird by Bird, novelist Anne Lamott explains how she keeps from losing her best ideas:

I have index cards and pens all over the house—by the bed, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, by the phones, and I have them in the glove compartment of my car. I carry one with me in my back pocket when I take my dog for a walk. . . . I used to think that if something was important enough, I’d remember it until I got home, where I could simply write it down in my notebook. . . . But then I wouldn’t. . . . [Writing down your ideas right away is] not cheating. It doesn’t say anything about your character.


When you have a great idea but don’t do anything with it, then you don’t reap the advantage it brings. Dave Goetz, founder of, says, “For me, when an idea hits me, it strikes fire, almost like God speaking. I know that sounds heretical, but there it is. The more time that passes after the idea strikes, the less heat it gives off. I forget parts of it, it doesn’t seem as great. Ideas have a short half-life.”

Have you ever had an idea for a product or service and a few months or years later seen someone else with the same idea take it to market? Author Alfred Montapert said, “Every time a person puts an idea across, he finds ten people who thought about it before he did—but they only thought about it.” Ideas, put into action, give an advantage.


It’s true that the more thinking you do, the better you become at it. But you can quickly improve your thinking if you do the following on a daily basis:

  • Focus on the positive. Thinking alone won’t guarantee success. You need to think about the right things. Negative thinking and worry actually hinder the thinking process rather than improve it. Focus on the positive, and your thinking will move in a positive direction.”
  • Gather good input. We become like what we are exposed to over time. The more we seek out and consider wise counsel, the better our own thinking becomes.
  • Spend time with good thinkers. If you were to interview a group of top executives in any profession, you would find that well over half had the benefit of being mentored at some time in their careers. If you spend time with good thinkers, you will find that the exposure sharpens your thinking.

Do you know how successful people improve their thinking?

For starters, they put themselves into an environment of growth and leadership. That’s why some of the most successful thinkers will be gathered together in Atlanta, Georgia on Friday, October 6th for Live2Lead. You too can join John Maxwell, Marcus Buckingham, Kendra Scott, and Ryan Leak for a half day conference that will improve your ability to lead yourself and others. Just go to and choose your method of attendance.

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