Thinking for a Change

I thought I would take a break from all of the technical blogs and write about my favorite book of all time. I am a huge John Maxwell fan. I have read nearly all of his books. In 2003, he released a book called, “Thinking for a Change: 11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life and Work”. I devoured this book and since reading it in 2003, I make it a point to re-read it every year.

Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

In 2003, when I first read this book, I was working for a company that was in trouble. In a period of 18 months, the business went from $2 billion in revenue to $500 million. We had cut our workforce by nearly 60% and were facing another round of cuts. I had taken the position with this company to lead a team of six people doing SAP Basis and SAP Security work. I had already seen 4 of the 6 people let go and I was facing losing the other two. I knew I had to act quickly to reduce cost, but I didn’t know how.

Thinking for a Change walks you through 11 ways to look at problems and address them. They are:

1.      Acquire the Wisdom of Big-Picture Thinking

2.      Unleash the Power of Focused Thinking

3.      Discover the Joy of Creative Thinking

4.      Recognize the Importance of Realistic Thinking

5.      Release the Power of Strategic Thinking

6.      Feel the Energy of Possibility Thinking

7.      Embrace the Lessons of Reflective Thinking

8.      Question the Acceptance of Popular Thinking

9.      Encourage the Participation of Shared Thinking

10.   Experience the Satisfaction of Unselfish Thinking

11.   Enjoy the Return of Bottom-Line Thinking

As I read this book, I started to spend some serious time employing these techniques to my situation. I believe I had the “Importance of Realistic Thinking” down pat. If I didn’t find other ways to cut cost, they would continue to cut people. I did begin with Big-Picture thinking, trying to see the big picture and how I can leverage this to show the value of my remaining people to the long term success of the company. If I could show how we could cut costs in other areas without cutting people, then I was hopeful that I could save my two remaining employees.

As the big picture crystalized in my mind, I then turned to focused thinking. Where were the areas that would return the biggest bang for our buck. I knew this would be hardware, but I faced a huge problem, our hardware was in year one of a three year lease. As I focused on this, I realized that while my business unit was doing poorly, other business units were experiencing growth. I contacted the corporate IT department and asked them if they were planning to acquire any new hardware. They were and they were looking to lease the exact servers that I already had. I approached our CIO with the idea to reduce our hardware and by doing so; we would save $1 million. He presented me with a challenge. He told me I could move forward with my plan, but I had to maintain the current performance levels while reducing the hardware.

The next technique I used was the “Energy of Possibility Thinking”. I grabbed my one remaining Basis Administrator and we locked ourselves in a meeting room and began to run through all of the possible ways we could reduce the hardware but maintain current performance levels. At the end of the first day, we had some ideas, but nothing concrete.

A couple of days later he stopped by to pitch an idea he had. While his idea was good, it wouldn’t quite get us to where we needed to go, but it generated an idea for me. We got back in the conference room and starting tweaking both of our ideas and conceived a plan that we both thought would work. The great thing was that if this worked, it increased our savings to $1.2 million. When John Maxwell described this as the “Energy” of Possibility Thinking, he nailed it. We were both very pumped and excited about the possibilities our joint thinking had brought forth.

Next we needed to try “The Power of Strategic Thinking”. We couldn’t just yank all of the systems and software out and hope for the best. We needed to be strategic and we needed a very solid plan. We put together a phased plan that we would remove portions of the hardware everyone weekend for six weeks. This would give us the ability to determine if performance was being impeded before moving on to the next hardware reduction. The CIO liked this idea and we began moving forward with it. Six weeks later, $1.2 million of equipment had been removed and the end users never realized anything had happened. It was an overwhelming success and it saved those two jobs for another 18 months before the business took another hit and we had to reduce our staff again.

While we did not use every technique, we used a few of them. Over the years I have used all of them. “Question the Acceptance of Popular Thinking” has been a key one for me over the years. It helped lead us at my previous employer to accomplish what many had said was impossible. Our project had failed twice because of integration issues. By challenging the accepted path for integration, we got the team members to consider other possible ways of deploying integration. Eventually we changed directions which enable us to be successful. I have used this principle personally to help make sure I have not fallen into traps because of faulty thinking or beliefs.

“Embrace the Lessons of Reflective Thinking” is very important. Whether your project was a complete success or a complete failure you need to reflect on it to determine what you did right and what could have been done differently. It helps you learn from mistakes and solidify positive practices.

These thinking techniques can be applied to your professional or personal life. The book is full of quotes and examples. If you like to read and would like to read a book that might inspire you to a new level of thinking, then this book might be for you. I leave you with this quote from Mahatma Gandhi,

“A man is but the product of his thoughts, what he thinks, he becomes.”