A Thinking Environment

A Thinking Environment

About 18 months ago Rachel and I were given a book – Time to Think, by Nancy Kline – which Rachel read almost immediately, whilst I’ve only just found time to read it. Yes, I am very aware of the irony.

Firstly, let me say the book-giver was spot on (so thanks); what Kline writes about are many of the principles we’ve stumbled upon during our time in South Africa. How Kline goes further is by providing a framework for what we’ve discovered that‘s made me think its transferable to chairing meetings, coaching, leading teams, marriage, mentoring, parenting and even how we do church on Sundays.

I can’t do the whole book justice here, but some of its themes resonate with our belief that rather than focusing on poverty mission is about recognising and releasing everyone’s potential. Kline explains how:

“The most valuable thing we can offer each other is  the framework in which to think for ourselves. The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first. The quality of our thinking depends on the way we treat each other while we are thinking.”

Kline believes, as Rachel and I do, that people already have all that they require to solve their own problems – their way. Our role as leaders becomes creating space that generates independent thinking. Attention, equality, appreciation, encouragement and diversity are just some of what people need to experience in order to, “…think for themselves with rigour, imagination, courage and grace” (Kline). That’s certainly been our experience at Soul Action.  ZS had this to say about Soul Action’s training:

“Where else would you find such a diverse gathering of people discussing – as equals – what matters to our communities; I’ve learnt so much today!”

Kline explains how the most productive meetings begin by asking everyone to take turns to share what’s going well or, if there’s been a presentation, to say what was useful. We often ask this, along with questions like “What have you heard that is new?” Afterwards Kline suggests asking people what they want to think about, or “What would you like this session to achieve?” I remember asking this before speaking to a church on a Sunday recently, and then having to tweak what I’d prepared – risky but most rewarding! Before general discussion, Kline feels its fruitful to go around the room to allow individuals to share their thoughts on whatever question has been posed. Listening without interruption is key – since I can’t write a sentence without interrupting my own thoughts this will require practice for me! Even when it seems a person has nothing else to say they should still be asked, “Is there anything more you want to say?” or “Does anything else come to mind?“

The next step introduces what Kline calls “Incisive Questions.” I haven’t heard of this before, but I can already imagine it being helpful in our contexts.

“What’s being assumed that’s limiting thinking on this issue and might be stopping [what needs to be achieved]? If we assumed something more freeing, what new ideas might we have?”

Kline advises splitting into ‘Thinking Pairs’ to consider this and, after feedback, suggests drawing meetings to a close by writing down the question: “If you knew that [freeing assumption], how would you [goal of the session]?” along with peoples initial thoughts.

I don’t often review books; but I can’t help but apply this one. I haven’t stopped thinking (or slept well) since!

time to thinkTime To Think: Listening To Ignite The Human Mind Nancy Kline. Price : £7.99

Time to Think is woven elegantly with theory, practical sessions, and with results from its use in leadership, in organizational change and in coaching, in team development and in the building of business and personal relationships of stunning quality and depth.


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