How Successful People Think Summary and Review

by John C. Maxwell
  Has How Successful People Think by John C. Maxwell been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary. There is one thing that most successful people have in common: they are not afraid to carve out their own path and to think outside the box. But the journey on this unique path can sometimes be lonely. After all, humans are a sociable species. People need to feel that they belong somewhere, that they fit in, but the price of being socially accepted can consist of falling in the accepted patterns. Striking out on your own, questioning common notions, and going against the grain will probably not win you many friends. Yet imagine where we’d be without if all the brilliant people had kept their ideas to themselves, instead of sharing them with the world. When Copernicus claimed that the earth was not at the center of the universe, his contemporaries thought that he was mad. But he was brave enough, and maybe even a little mad, to stick to his guns and now, we are forever in his debt. It is safe to say that tenacity and creative thinking are essential when it comes to success. But, as John C. Maxwell shows, you don’t need to be Galileo or Einstein to have good ideas. In fact, creative thinking is a skill that can be learned by everyone – all it takes is a bit of practice and knowing the right techniques! Here are some of the most important things that you’ll discover throughout John C. Maxwell’s How Successful People Think book summary.
  • why you have better chances to succeed if you learn how to be more empathetic;
  • what Alfred Nobel did after reading his own obituary; and
  • what John Lennon and Paul McCartney can teach you about teamwork and collaboration.

HOW SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE THINK CHAPTER #1: People who see the big picture know how to empathize because they are constantly learning.

Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, always reminds his employees that building good relationships with clients can be more important than individual sales. But why is that? Because he knows that the key to achieving long term success is seeing the bigger picture and leaving the nitty-gritty aside. But how can we change the way we see things? By learning as much as we can. People who think big are always looking for learning opportunities. They enjoy visiting new places, meeting new people, and honing new skills. To achieve the right mindset, the author uses the following technique: he starts his day by checking his schedule. He then tries to find new learning opportunities based on his daily tasks. Once decides which of his daily activities will present the opportunity to learn something new, he mentally preps himself to be focused. In other words, he does everything in his power to be on high alert and receptive to everything that is going on around him. For example, when he had dinner with Dave Wannstedt, a National Football League (NFL) coach, he was well prepared. He knew that he had a great learning opportunity, so he used his time with the coach to ask as many questions as he could. When the dinner was over, Maxwell had a lot of brimming new insights. This is a great habit that anyone should take up: starting the day by looking over the itinerary or the schedule for a few minutes and asking oneself which of those tasks are most interesting and which of them present great opportunities to learn new things. It is always important to make an effort to see the bigger picture because this can give you an insight into how others see the world. In other words, this can make you more empathetic. And that’s great, especially when it comes to your relationships: whether it’s your partner, your clients, your friends, or even your children, empathizing with other people will help you understand their actions, their needs, and the things that they want to achieve. Ultimately, seeing the big picture helps you understand and learn things that are beyond your own narrow interests.

HOW SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE THINK CHAPTER #2: By doing your homework and by thinking realistically you can achieve clear targets.

What does the term ‘reality’ mean? Don’t worry, you won’t get a lecture on philosophy! In fact, the answer is quite simple: reality is the difference between how the world actually is and your own desires. If you want to achieve success in the real world, you need to start thinking realistically and to leave your daydreams behind. That means drawing up a game plan, setting goals, and putting you in a position to hit them. For instance, a businessman who does not have a realistic mindset will be full of hope and positivity about the company’s future. His attitude is great, but there’s a huge problem - he does not have a good strategy, which is an essential part of becoming successful. In the end, despite his great attitude, the hopeful businessman is a bad leader. The aim of realistic thinking is to promote leadership. That is owed to the fact that by accepting the way things really are, you are forced to define your goals and to formulate a strategy that will get you there. By thinking realistically, you can simplify things. Stripping away all the vague hopes and dreams and all the unnecessary details make you more efficient. But what if, at your core, you are an optimistic person, rather than a realistic one? Then, you need to start by getting to know the facts and by doing your homework. If you are a business leader and you are trying to figure out what your next move should be, ask yourself what you would do if your revenue suddenly dropped. Maybe a customer refused to pay for the services or maybe there were some issues with the local market. Spend time doing extra research for all possible scenarios because if you are basing your thinking on insufficient information, realistic or not, your efforts won’t amount to much. When you are doing this type of background work, it’s always good to clear your mind of all prejudices, preconceptions, and second-hand opinions. Try to get to know the facts yourself before making assumptions. It is important to remember that you are probably not the only person facing this particular situation. Therefore, your thinking doesn’t necessarily have to be original, but it is vital for it to be solid. You can learn many useful things by learning what other people have done when facing similar problems. As the author himself admits, some of the best strategies and ideas were thought up by others.

HOW SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE THINK CHAPTER #3: Embrace creative thinking and your options will increase.

Creative thinking is pure professional gold regardless of the line of work that you are in. Einstein was right when he said that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” He was right. It is far more important to come up with great ideas than to have a fancy job title. That said, creative thinking was like second nature to Einstein because he was a genius. That might not apply to everyone, but even so, there are strategies and techniques that you can use to boost your creativity. The first thing that you need to remember is that creative thinking does not necessarily mean having a lot of original ideas. You can think creatively by simply analyzing and taking a greater number of options into account. That is one of the things that creative people do: they do a lot of research and they take into account many different possibilities. That, in turn, will stimulate their imagination and get their creative juices flowing. So if you think you found a great idea, ask yourself what could be done to improve it. You can think of it as a fishing net - If you cast it further and wider, your chances to catch a lot of big fish improve. When searching for the best answer out of many, the best thinkers in the world will take all possible answers into account. What is the added bonus of this strategy? It helps them formulate backup plans in case the chosen solution doesn’t work out. Furthermore, creative thinking will make your ideas more appealing to other people. That shouldn’t come as a surprise since creativity is the fun side of your intelligence! People are naturally attracted to the fun but they admire and respect intelligence, so creative thinking is an irresistible combination. One example of a highly intelligent and creative person is Leonardo da Vinci. He had a brilliant mind and he knew how to have fun while using it. His interests and ideas were breathtakingly diverse: engineering, music, painting, he was the very Renaissance man. But just because da Vinci found amazing ways to express his creativity, that doesn’t mean that you design helicopters in your spare time and paint the Mona Lisa for a living. You need to allow yourself to explore your creative side and to set your mind free and you will immediately notice that this will intrigue and attract a lot of people.
To have the freedom to be creative, you must develop the work ethic to do extra research and see all the different posibilities. To find out more read this article.

HOW SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE THINK CHAPTER #4: Make yourself part of something bigger by thinking unselfishly.

Having a creative and open mindset increases your chances of success. But your entire life can be changed by yet another way of thinking: unselfish thinking. Your concept of success might change entirely by taking up this philosophy. It is a well-known fact that helping other people is a hugely rewarding activity. In fact, there are few things that give us a similar feeling of fulfillment and purpose. A good night’s sleep if pretty much guaranteed if you spend a whole day helping others. If you don’t believe us, maybe Alfred Nobel will convince you. He learned this the hard way. One day, Nobel was peacefully reading his newspaper when he found his own obituary. He was shocked at first, but he soon realized that it was a mistake. However, he found the whole situation to be quite illuminating. So what did his obituary say? The obituary focused on Nobel’s professional life and described how he invented dynamite - a creation that was responsible for many deaths. Nobel was extremely disheartened to learn that this was what the world associated his name with. Fueled by guilt, he decided to dedicate the rest of his life to bringing more positive contributions to the world and to supporting peace. Consequently, in 1895, the world honored him by creating the Nobel prize - an award that is given to remarkable people who had noteworthy achievements in their fields of work. This goes to show that even if you’ve spent a big part of your life pursuing a selfish goal, you can still turn things around. The best thing about having an unselfish mindset however, it that it enables you to become part of something bigger and more important than yourself. That’s exactly what Merck and Company, a pharmaceutical corporation showed in the 1980s. The company concluded that racking up ever-growing profits is not the most important thing in the world. As a result, they decided that they wanted to achieve something different. They established a goal that was more meaningful - to find a cure for river blindness. They succeeded and they even decided to offer the treatment for free. After all, when it comes to severe medical issues, the people who need the treatment most are usually the ones who can’t afford it. Unselfish thinking became the cornerstone of Merck and Company’s credo and from then on they promoted the idea that people are more important than profits. There’s an important lesson to learn from all this - Being part of something great is always a better goal than trying to be great yourself.

HOW SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE THINK CHAPTER #5: If you want to get the best outcomes, try to avoid popular thinking

It’s a common thing to get caught up in popular thinking and to simply accept and adopt other people’s ideas about the world. Many people fall into this trap from parents who raise their children based on old wives’ tales to business leaders who fall in line with the company’s traditions. People are not keen on thinking for themselves because it can be a risky business. If they stray too far from the herd, they might become less likable and might even lose their friends and allies. And besides, if everyone accepts something as true, then that’s how it must be, right? Well, not necessarily. People used to believe that the earth was the center of the universe before they were proved wrong. And even when they had proof, they still thought that those who questioned the idea were mad. Luckily, in the sixteenth century, along came the great astronomer Copernicus who used mathematics to prove that the earth is part of a solar system that revolves around the sun. It is not uncommon for conventional thinking to be downright deadly. Before the antiseptic procedures were invented by Joseph Lister, medical specialists were convinced that washing their medical instruments was a waste of time. As a natural instinct, humans feel safer when they are part of a group, but history shows us that the concept of safety in numbers is not always true. But what can we do to break our habit of relying on other people’s assumptions? A great place to start is by doing research and by learning how to come up with our own conclusions. Once we start considering what’s right rather than what’s popular, we are well on our way to success. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, most people were terrified and avoided visiting and flying to New York. But instead of doing what everyone else was doing, the author realized that the weeks following the attacks were perfect for visiting the city. Flights were extremely cheap, the city had great security, and because of low demand, theater tickets and hotels were also cheap. And the author was right, that was the perfect time to take a city break. So, despite the terrible tragedy, the author and his family flew to New York and they had a fantastic experience. Additionally, they saved a lot of money by avoiding the trap of popular thinking.

HOW SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE THINK CHAPTER #6: Collaborate with others as much as possible to boost your thinking process.

How would you go about picking up a new skill? Would you spend a lot of time and effort figuring it our by yourself or would you find someone who already knows the ins and outs and who could help you out? If you are more inclined to choose the first option, then you might want to reconsider. Whether you want to learn how to use a piece of software, how to golf, or how to make a complicated recipe, you will have better chances of success by learning from someone more experienced. Shared thinking trumps solo thinking every time as it is a well-known fac that collaboration is the mother and father of innovation. We know that this might sound a bit counterintuitive, especially since all the brilliant thinkers have always been portrayed as brooding loners. But that is not quite true. In reality, innovative breakthroughs are rarely achieved in a vacuum and they are generally the result of teamwork. There would never have been a Marie Curie without a Pierre or a John Lennon without a Paul McCartney. Even Einstein himself admitted that all of his achievements were founded on the work of other men. When people combine their ideas and their unique talents, their chances of getting incredible results are increased. However, adopting the right mindset is essential before we can start working alongside other people. But what mindset are we talking about? Well, according to Jeffrey J. Fox, the author of How to Become CEO, we have to be focused and to always have an open mind. We need to be able to recognize great ideas regardless of how likely or unlikely they seem. That, of course, means that we need to drop our preconceptions and prejudices and be open to actually listen to people. We never know where the next great idea might come from. We might even hear it from our children or from our taxi driver. The point is that in order to come across a great idea we must work on being more receptive. Adopting a mentality that embraces collaboration instead of competition is equally important. When our aim is to complete other people’s ideas, rather than oppose them. So on your next meeting, instead of focusing on getting ahead of your colleagues, try working alongside them towards achieving a greater goal.


What is the key message of John C. Maxwell’s How Successful People Think? In order to achieve success, we must change our attitude and mindset. We’ve all heard a lot about the benefits of thinking positively, but things are more complicated than that. We need to learn how to be less selfish and how to think collaboratively if we want to lead happy and fulfilled lives. Life is about more than just getting ahead, it is about asking what we can do for other people and with them. That means opening our mind to creative thinking and avoiding the popular opinion. Once we start doing that, we are on our way to success. Valuable advice: Instead of planning your day, plan your whole life. Most people focus on the day ahead and completely miss the big picture. They wake up, check their schedules and only focus on their daily tasks. Unfortunately, their long-terms plans rarely cross their mind. But in order to succeed, long-term planning is essential. So take the author’s example and start your month by reviewing your calendar. Think of the things that you would like to accomplish long-term and choose your objectives while also taking your family and friends into account. This perspective will help you do the things that really matter you will have more chances to succeed and to live a happy life.
Suggested further reading: If you liked this summary and you want to improve your work ethic and become more successful, check this article out.