Time to Think

This is the title of a book by Nancy Kline. The subtitle is "Listening to ignite the human mind". ISBN 0 7063 7745 1.

One of her big themes is the way people can solve their own problems and come up with brilliant ideas if they're in the right environment. Then the book goes on to set out several aspects of what that environment is, including the idea of what she calls a "thinking session".

A Thinking Session is a particular structure and context for having conversations, whereby one person thinks out loud & another listens. It's pretty simple but very effective.

Mostly it's about listening - the kind of listening that provides a space for thinking. As NK says, good listening isn't complicated, it's just rare.

The topic for a thinking sesh can be anything - e.g.
- Anywhere you're feeling stuck / bothered
- Anywhere you want to create something new
- Things you think you ought to deal with but don't want to

It can be a big topic like "Where am I at in my life" down to much more specific things like "What kind of holiday do I want?" or "What do I need to say in this letter?" or "How do I get started on my accounts?". Or even "What colour do I want to paint the bathroom" :-)

In practice...

I currently have four regular "Thinking partners". None of them happens to be in the same town as me, so we have our sessions on the phone. We take turns from date to date to be thinker and listener. (It's also possible to do half time each way at the same session, but we chose not to do it that way. Part of our reasoning for that was so that if the thinker gets inspired or unstuck they can go straight off and do stuff.)

In terms of time, I have different arrangements with each person, depending on what works for both of us. The session length varies from 30 mins to an hour, and the usual gap between sessions varies from a week to a month. Personally I tend to prefer longer sessions, so you can really get stuck into a subject. But shorter ones are useful too, and easier for busy people to schedule. Our tradition is that the thinker makes the phone call, so that we're also taking turns with the phone bill.

You can do the thinking session format with anyone who knows the principles of it, regardless of common background. However, personally I find it makes a big difference to me how much sense I have of being understood. So in practice I've only invited people of whom I have a sense that they can "get" my world. This also often means there's an enjoyable cross-fertilisation between similar issues that we might both have, and might each raise at different times.

Themes that have recurred for me, and also sometimes for my thinking partners, include
- Time management, choosing what to take on, etc.
- How to organise a particular project (especially if it's got a bit out of control or stuck)
- Questions of outness, visibility and identity

There's also a difference between people who give off a vibe of being full of their own opinions about my "stuff", and people who are genuinely fascinated by what I'm thinking about and how I'm thinking about it. This difference in attitude can partly be learned, which is part of what NK talks about in the book. But it's also a criterion I use for inviting people. I like to pick people who are already "naturally curious rather than opinionated".

Interesting angles & underlying ideas

One of the underlying ideas is the power of accessing "what you don't know that you know". So it has something in common with dreamwork & things of that ilk. The book is a lot about: what are the conditions that allow people to access all the information and wisdom they already have?

To use a metaphor which I've been mulling over recently: Normally when people start to enquire (into what they want to create, or solving a problem), they don't dig down very far before they start putting the earth back into the hole. And a thinking session is like: you dig down further than the topsoil, into the earth that hasn't been disturbed before, so you find some treasure you didn't know was there.
Eventually you might hit a rock and get stuck, in which case the "Incisive Question" (an optional part of the Thinking Session format) lifts the rock temporarily out of the way, so you can dig deeper and find the stuff that was obscured by the rock.

Insights from other methods of enquiry can usually be incorporated into the thinking sesh, because the initial part where you speak is "free form". For instance, if you already do dreamwork, you may sometimes include speaking about your dreams & dream insights. Or whatever.

Find out more

I'm not going to reproduce the structure of the Thinking Session here, 'cause I'm not going to infringe the author's copyright. If you're too skint (English term for not having much cash) to buy the book, I'd recommend requesting it from your local library - that way, it might end up on the library shelves for the benefit of other people after you. It's a good read and quite inspiring i.m.o., so it's unlikely to be wasted time even if you decide that the idea of thinking partnerships doesn't appeal to you.

Nancy Kline has a web site at www.timetothink.com.