Discover the Power of Independent Thinking

By: Rebecca Timmins
Operations Director
Emery Little

Eight years ago, I was frazzled. I was the person with the answers … so people asked. I had little time or space in my working day to breathe and nip to the loo, let alone think! I was indispensable, and took pride in that.

My decision making was reactive firefighting rather than considered response. My family got a frazzled mum at the end of each day.  And I was wracked with guilt – not feeling like I was doing anything particularly well.

Around that time, I started working with a Business Coach who had already been spending some time with our MD. He asked me, “So … Operations Manager … what does that mean then?  What do you do?”

I described to him, my love for supporting others to develop, and watching them grow.  I described how I trained and developed.  I described how it left me exhausted.  I described how I seemed to be the one who held it all together, but that often I wasn’t nearly as held together as I seemed.

The Business Coach told me off! 

“You’ve got Wyatt Earp syndrome!”

“You what, Dave?”

“You’re like Wyatt Earp at the O.K. Corral. Shooting from the hip, firing problems out of the air. No wonder you’re frazzled. You’re managing your team, you’re not leading them. You need to start to build their capacity to solve things for themselves or this won’t change. And while you’ve got no time to stop and really think, you won’t be giving them good, considered answers anyway. So their thinking is probably better than yours!”


Anyway, Dave introduced me to a book. Time to Think by Nancy Kline. For just a taster of why that book blew me away, I highly recommend watching this short video

I began to discover the power of Independent Thinking. It’s been quite a ride!

What I have found in the years since, is that Nancy’s work, the applications of the principles of a Thinking Environment, have given me the tools to genuinely build the capacity within the team around me to solve things for themselves. These tools have made me a far more effective, conscious leader. 

They have, in short, stopped us wasting the incredible human minds that we recruited (including my own) by creating an environment within which truly independent thinking can thrive. 

So, what is a Thinking Environment anyway? 

The Thinking Environment is a set of ten components.  Ten ways of being with each other, which combine to create the conditions within which the Human Mind thinks at its very best. 

They are: attention,equality, ease, appreciation, encouragement, feelings, information, diversity, incisive questions and place.

These components originally emerged from Nancy’s work with the children that she taught.  Observing what conditions were present, when those children were thinking independently, at their best. The research has continued and been distilled and evolved over the last 40 years. The Time to Think community is a wonderfully humble, progressive, open and inquisitive one!

For more information on the Ten Components and how they are defined, follow this

A key premise of a Thinking Environment is that:

The quality of everything that we do, depends on the quality of the Thinking that we do first.

Take a moment to think about that. Does it ring true for you?

At Emery Little, we are currently working through a project to evolve our investment proposition. After a particularly “everything on the table” meeting that we had recently, we observed that actually, if we had thought this well about it the first time around, the “everything” would not be nearly so messy!

Underlying this premise, is an observation, that:

The quality of our thinking depends on how we are treated when we are thinking.

Google found evidence in Project Aristotle, their three year study to determine what makes teams really high performing, that Psychological Safety is the Number One factor in determining the highest performing teams. How people treat each other, and feel in each others’ presence is vital if you want your team to perform. 

Here is a short video about that if you’re interested.

What can we do as leaders, to improve conditions, and increase psychological safety? In order to:

  • To improve the quality of our own Thinking, and that of our teams. 
  • To ultimately, improve the quality of our decision making, meetings, planning, execution …
  • To improve just about everything actually!

For me, consistent application of the components and applications of a Thinking Environment has been the key.

I’m going to share one with you. It’s a way in which you can increase the presence of all ten components, pretty simply.

Think in Rounds

If you try just one thing after reading this, make it Rounds. They are a game changer, if you really want to get the best thinking from those great people you worked so hard to recruit! Rounds work beautifully even in a virtual setting. Just create yourself a virtual table and away you go!

First, think in questions

A question is much more conducive to great thinking than a stale bullet point! Then, ask your question, decide whether to go clockwise or anticlockwise, and ask for a volunteer to kick you off. 

Make the opening question and easy one

This gets people sharing something positive and personal. “What has made you smile recently?” is one of our favourites. 

Then get more challenging

Pick a subject you want to explore, and ask a question about it. 

  • “How do we think we could increase the kinds of leads that we really want?”
  • “What do we think we could do to improve efficiencies in our Admin team?”
  • “What are we assuming that stops us …?”
Encourage everyone to take roughly equal turns

Ask everyone to pay their best, respectful attention to the person whose turn it is. That’s it.  Simple huh? But watch it work. 

I really encourage you to try this approach

Consistently show how interested you are in everyone’s thoughts, insights and ideas. Make sure you really listen to them, and they to each other, and those brilliant minds will astound you. 

I, of course, am still a work in progress. The day I forget that, is the day I stop seeking to learn more, and I hope that never happens! Often, I revert back to feeling the need to solve everything.  But the Thinking Environment is always what I return to.

And finally,

Nancy’s latest book is called something rather wonderful: The Promise that Changes Everything: I Won’t Interrupt You.  It is a promise that we have adopted across our entire business. 

If you would like to find out more, please do get in touch

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