“The greatest gift we can offer each other is the framework in which to think for ourselves,”


says Liz Gooster in her review of Nancy Kline’s Time to Think. Kline’s book centres around creating an environment in which people are enabled and empowered to think for themselves, which Kline coins ‘the Thinking Environment’. This empowerment is central to the solutions LRMG deliver. Amanda Madgwick, managing executive of the Management Consulting business unit, which drives LRMG’s performance solutions, says that Kline’s focus on creating a Thinking Environment is relevant not only for LRMG, but also in its clients’ environments: “Clients are asking us to create a culture of innovation, service and/or performance. This can only happen if we extend the invitation to people and then empower them to think for themselves.”

“This means that knowledge must be resident and created by everyone in the organisation in order to take an organisation to the next level, as opposed to knowledge being vested in a ‘talented few’,” argues Madgwick.

“A good example of this is our new team member, who, young and eager to learn, continually reminds us to explain to him why we do what we do, not just what we do. He asks us to show him what we’re doing, not just tell him. This shift in thinking enables an environment that allows him to think for himself,” says Madgwick.

“Not only that, but we’re invited to re-think the way we do things and re-analyse them for ourselves in the process of reframing our processes for him. And this serves as a fertile backdrop for change, innovation and benchmark performance.”

What’s also important is a growth mindset, where “this invitation to think for themselves implies that it’s ok to fail, that mistakes are opportunities to think some more and learn.”

Apart from a growth mindset and constantly taking a step back from what it is you do to re-think it, there are several ways in which to create a Thinking Environment. But firstly, what are the benefits of a Thinking Environment, where everyone is empowered to think for themselves? Benefits include greater talent bench strength, as indicated by Madgwick, as well as better meetings, more trusted leadership and better relationships (Gooster).

In Time to Think, Nancy Kline outlines 10 components of a Thinking Environment:

  1. Attention – “listening to ignite the human mind” (Kline). Attention is about listening to others with respect, genuine interest and without interrupting them. This has the powerful effect of releasing ideas and insights from the person speaking. As Kline says, “the quality of a person’s attention determines the other people’s thinking.” Listening of this calibre “effectively means unlearning much of our professional training. It means not interrupting, not interposing our own conclusions, not judging. It also involves stripping away, or at least setting aside, our own ego, to focus on the person we’re listening to, giving them the attention, ease and encouragement they need to think freely” (Gooster). “Attention is thus an act of creation” (Kline) and is the key to a Thinking Environment. According to Madgwick, attention is the element so sorely lacking in most environments today: “Why do we find it so difficult to pay attention when we engage? How can we even begin to think that we are contributing if we are on our cellphones/laptops/tablets, which is such an epidemic in our client environments? Attention is about ‘being there’, meaning, pay full attention, apply mindful listening, and pack away your tech.”
  2. Equality – “Even in a hierarchy people can be equal as thinkers” (Kline). Equality is about acknowledging each other as thinking peers, giving equal attention and time to speak, and keeping agreements and boundaries.
  3. Ease – “Ease creates, urgency destroys” (Kline). Ease centres on the freedom from that internal and external state of rush, and it creates the best conditions for thinking. The Thinking Environment prefers quality to rush-driven quantity.
  4. Appreciation – “The human mind works best in the presence of appreciation” (Kline). We are taught that being critical of ideas is a sign of astuteness, but it is a balance between critical thinking and being appreciative of thinking that allows people to think at their best.
  5. Encouragement – “To be ‘better than’ is not necessarily to be ‘good’” (Kline). An environment that focuses on competition between colleagues produces only comparative success, not necessarily the best idea. The Thinking Environment replaces internal competition with “a wholehearted, unthreatened search for good ideas” (Kline).
  6. Feelings – “Unexpressed feelings can inhibit good thinking” (Kline). Society tells us that feelings hamper reason. However, it is the unexpressed feeling that hampers good thinking and if we welcome clearing the air in a Thinking Environment, good thinking will resume.
  7. Information – “Withholding or denying information results in intellectual vandalism. Facing what you have been denying leads to better thinking” (Kline). Thinking is based on information, and if the information is faulty, our thinking is faulty. The Thinking Environment emphasises questioning the information in order to dismantle denial over the soundness of the information we begin with.
  8. Diversity – “The greater the diversity of the group, and the greater the welcoming of diverse points of view, the greater the chance of accurate, cutting-edge thinking” (Kline). Thinking that is not diverse and that does not come from a diverse group, cannot succeed in a diverse reality.
  9. Incisive questions – “A wellspring of good ideas lies just beneath an untrue limiting assumption. An Incisive Question will remove it, freeing the mind to think afresh (Kline). A Thinking Environment emphasises an awareness of the assumptions that underlie everything we do. Incisive questions generate independent thinking.
  10. Place – “creating a physical environment that says back to people, ‘You matter’” (Kline). People think better when the place reflects their value. “Place is a silent form of appreciation” (Kline).

For more on the Thinking Environment, Nancy Kline’s Time to Think and More Time to Think are available at a bookdealer near you.