Time to Think

A colleague and dear friend of mine gave me an excellent book the other day called “Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind” by Nancy Kline. I read it yesterday afternoon and I am strongly contemplating making this required reading for the entire company.

The author began the book’s introduction with a story about her mother, a woman who had a remarkable capacity for listening. She wrote:

This book is not about my mother. It is not even only about listening – not the way people usually do. It is, however, about what can happen if you listen expertly as she did, if you ennoble people with the depth of your attention and shake them to their roots by convincing them that they can think for themselves, if you take them into your heart, if you show them that who they are and what they think matter, profoundly.

Ms. Kline continues to describe the importance of creating a “Thinking Environment” where thinking for yourself is highly prized and encouraged. During her 15 years of research she identified 10 components of a Thinking Environment:

  1. Attention: listening with respect, interest and fascination
  2. Incisive questions: removing assumptions that limit ideas
  3. Equality: treating each other as thinking peers
  4. Appreciation: practicing a 5:1 ratio of appreciation to criticism
  5. Ease: offering freedom from rush or urgency
  6. Encouragement: moving beyond competition
  7. Feelings: allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking
  8. Information: providing a full and accurate picture of reality
  9. Place: creating a physical environment that says back to people, “You matter”
  10. Diversity: adding quality because of the differences between us

As the author notes, “Thinking for yourself is still a radical act.” I’ve often wondered why thinking for yourself is not a popular activity. Perhaps it is a vestigial tendency from the time before the Renaissance, where the individual was neither valued nor emphasized.

You would think that since the last three centuries of human progress were built on the idea that the individual mattered, the individual counted and the individual had a voice, the individual would exercise that right – beginning with the freedom to think freely – regularly. Strangely, though, children are taught through various means to learn to fit in rather than truly think for themselves and rare is the adult who overcomes the misgivings that most have about standing out in this way.

Two mentors in my past stood out for their ability to set things up for others to think for themselves: my high school French teacher, Mr. O’Donnell and my high school counselor, Mrs. Webster. Whenever I was in their presence I felt heard and generally understood. Never once did the pressures of life they were no doubt feeling from day-to-day get in the way of their concern to allow me to think for myself. When I was with them I thought big, I thought clearly and I felt challenged to grow.

There is an old saying “Teach a man to think that he thinks and he will love you. Teach a man to truly think and he will hate you.” Given the twists and turns of human consciousness and the desperate concern to maintain the status quo, creating an environment that encourages others to think for themselves, to know true inspiration, can be a dangerous business.

The human mind is wonderfully built, yet like most things that develop organically, it needs a medium with the right mix of nourishment, encouragement, parameters and activity to function to its highest potential. This is true, as the author notes, in the family, in politics, in our schools and in our love relationships.

The mind is a terrible thing to waste. If you find yourself too busy to take time from ‘doing’ to think, you are likely missing out on the the best part of living. Learning to think for yourself expands your horizons, catalyzes creativity, constrains to efficiency and makes the world a better place.

I highly recommend Ms. Kline’s book. The pace at which our world is changing requires those who can think for themselves.

You can and should be one of them!

12 thoughts on “Time to Think

  1. Pingback: Road Sign or Road Block? « Gregg Hake's Blog

  2. Colin

    The 5:1 ratio of appreciation to criticism really stood out to me. I had always been taught 2:1, but I can see how a 5:1 ratio would make you pick your criticisms more carefully, and their impact would be greater. The remainder of this list seems like a comprehensive way to foster an environment of success. I am very interested in reading this book! Thanks!


  3. N Kolya

    Those ten points were so well-rounded and diversified. Typically you don’t see some of the more emotional qualities (such as encouragement and appreciation) when learning how to think. We’re taught to analyze, regurgitate and color in the lines and don’t really believe that it’s safe to go beyond that. Thanks for your thoughts and the book recommendation – I look forward to learning much more in this regard.


  4. Brad

    This has been a great recent series of posts Gregg – you’ve inspired me to make “thinking” a habit and in areas that I may have overlooked in my daily “doing”.
    In today’s “10 components of thinking” number 9 stands out to me – Place: creating a physical environment that says back to people, “You matter” – I see that too often people struggle with knowing they matter, each of us does matter, we do make a difference….and if we can just create the space for that, like your teachers created for you – wow, what a difference that can make in someone’s life.
    Thanks again for the inspiration.


    1. The great thing about receiving such inspiration is that the natural compulsion is to turn around and share it with others. I appreciate your enthusiasm and look forward to hearing how the author’s suggestions work for you.


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