Getting Beyond Limited Thinking for Great Results

This post examines getting beyong limited thinking for great results and was inspired by the keynote I delivered at the National Biodiesel Board’s annual meeting last month ( Just like limited thinking can get you in trouble on Valentine’s Day with the one you love, limited thinking can be a problem for focus and lead to the wrong results.

Some may say limited thinking is a good thing: it provides focus and focus is needed to achieve results. The Vocal Coach on my ‘Vocalization for Sopranos’ CD says ‘practice is permanent.’ That is, if you practice good technique, then you will perform well. However, if you practice bad technique, then you will perform badly. Anyone who has played golf understands this principle better than they probably are willing to admit. I say focus is permanent. If you focus on the wrong things, there may be unintended consequences and you won’t get the results you want. The key is to focus on the right things. How do you do that? Broaden your thinking as much as possible BEFORE you decide what to focus on. You can guess at the main causes of limited thinking.

First, limited thinking comes from being too busy. Getting out of the trap of limited thinking takes time and work and if you are too busy you have neither. Stephen R. Covey calls this the ‘Quadrant II, problem.

Covey Colorful Plain Quadrants

Stephen R. Covey’s Four Quadrants


(Image from

You have to address the Quadrant I activities which is where the urgent and important tasks live. Many of us spend too much time in Quadrant III where the urgent but not important activities live. God help those in Quadrant IV where the non-urgent and non-important activities are. Quadrant II is where the non-urgent but important activities live. These are the activities that can have the most profound impact on results and performance. We need to spend less time in Quadrant III and more time in Quadrant II. This is a time-management challenge.

The second cause is being satisfied with the so-called ‘status quo.’ Why rock the boat when everything is going fine? This is apathy when someone asks why create work for no reason. However, there really is no such thing as status quo. Think about it, if an employee does the same thing this year as they did last year, will their performance rating be the same? If your organization does the same thing you did last year, will your market share stay the same? No because the competition doesn’t stand still and neither does the market.

Competition in business

The third reason for limited thinking is the inherently flawed nature of human thinking. Below is a list of 33 different types of faulty thinking ( and I am sure there are more! I’ll bet you or someone you have encountered has experienced each of these types of faulty thinking at one time or another.

Examples of faulty thinking:

  • False Dichotomy: an inaccurate choice (black or white versus black or non-black).
  • Intrinsic Duality: trying to select one characteristic when both are present.
  • Fundamental Attribution Error: incorrectly attributing an action or intent to a person.
  • Ego-Centric Bias: fallacy of incorrectly thinking that everything people say or do is a reaction to you.
  • Intentional Stance: assuming intent can be reliably inferred from behavior.
  • Pattern Discernment: pointing out a pattern when there is none or picking out the wrong pattern
  • Catastrophizing: anticipating an unreasonable disaster based on a small problem.
  • Control Fallacies: mistaking what you can change for what you cannot change.
  • Fallacy of Change: believing that you can change other peoples’ nature, personality, deeply ingrained habits, or strongly held beliefs.
  • Fallacy of Fairness: mistaking your sense of justice for a measure of fairness that should be used by others.
  • Outward Causes: having an inappropriate external locus of control (thinking it is not your fault when you do share in or are responsible for the blame).
  • Blaming: being too quick to hold others responsible for your pain or to hold yourself accountable unjustifiably for the failure of others.
  • Disproportionate Responsibility: looking for one cause when there often are multiple causes.
  • Counterfactual Thinking: applying a set of values or beliefs that are not appropriate for a situation given the evidence.
  • Magical Thinking: letting optimism exceed the bounds of reality (e.g., the rules of physics, economics, and etc. don’t apply to you).
  • Ignorance: choosing to ignore or dismiss relevant information or to stay unaware or to hold a narrow worldview.
  • Exposure Effect: tending to prefer objects you have seen before even if for such a short time that you don’t remember it (affect or our subjective feeling about something comes before memory).
  • Suggestive Context: drawing conclusions quickly with insufficient checking when the context in which information is presented is familiar or compelling.
  • Sunk Cost Fallacy: considering the value of sunk costs in determining future actions even though future actions cannot reverse past losses.
  • Reification: treating an abstraction as if it represents a concrete event or physical entity (alternatively you can use an operational definition of the abstract concept).
  • Being Right: being in denial as the result of stubborn pride even after valid evidence has been presented that you are not right.
  • Emotional Reasoning: involving our heart too much in a decision without enough head involved for sound judgment.
  • Heaven’s Reward Fallacy: making sacrifices because we believe we will be rewarded rather than because we want to take the action based on intrinsic motivation.
  • Optimism: believing that everything will turn out fine so unquestioningly that we are detached from the cold harsh truths of reality.
  • Accepting Repetition as Evidence: failing to recognize that repetition does not substitute for evidence.
  • Assumptions, Opinions, Rumors Become Fact: letting your viewpoint or your logic turn assumptions, opinions, or rumors into facts.
  • Just World Theory: believing that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.
  • Asch Effect: changing your opinion in response to group pressure or in order to conform to the majority opinion of a group.
  • Bias: attributing positive motives to people within a group (especially yourself) and negative motives to people outside the group (especially those considered “enemies”).
  • Global Labeling: generalizing one or two qualities of a stereotype that does not represent a group or type of person to a group or person.
  • Stereotypes: drawing incorrect conclusions from this feature of human memory when an attribute associated with a group is incorrectly applied to an individual or situation (e.g., applying a common attribute of birds, the ability to fly, to a kiwi or penguin).
  • Cognitive Dissonance: revising your thoughts to relieve the tension between thoughts and behavior inconsistent with those thoughts (e.g., smoking is good for my health).
  • Confabulation: making up a plausible story to account for surprising events or behavior or gaps in memory.

All types of limited or faulty thinking reduce possibility. The solution to limited thinking is, of course, broadening your thinking which is something you really can’t do alone. Focus, in and of itself, is not the problem. Focusing on the wrong things is the problem. Broadening your thinking, on a regular basis, helps you to find the right things to focus on for prosperity.

The proven ways to broaden your thinking involve others. For example, one way to practice broadened thinking is asking the right questions. Asking the right questions not only helps in working together, but good questions can direct our efforts in worthwhile directions, generate new knowledge, get information towards a worthwhile purpose, educate, solve problems, and lead to a new discovery. In short, questions are a way to provide something new and useful to us. New and useful is the definition of creativity. The overall purpose of questions, therefore, is to catalyze creativity ( Another way to practice broadened thinking is to change your perspective. For example, look at unrelated, adjacent industries to explore opportunities for synergy or innovation or force connections with other things like trends or mega challenges. Climate change is one mega challenge and others include water quality, water quantity, waste management, food waste, air quality, ecosystem health, land availability, land quality, and so on. A third way to practice broadened thinking is to collaborate with subject-matter experts from other fields. Broadening your thinking can happen from asking what else should you should be thinking about and seeking people knowledgeable in those areas to explore.

Of course it is not enough to just engage subject matter experts. In order to truly broaden your thinking, you need to keep an open, non-judging mind when the subject-matter expert is speaking. One of Steve Covey’s ‘Seven Habits of Highly Successful People’ speaks to this called ‘seek first to understand and then to be understood’ ( You also need to establish a climate in which the subject matter experts feel safe and supported in contributing their expertise and where those who need the new perspective are practicing this habit of listening to understand.

The solution to limited thinking is broadened thinking which needs to be through others to help avoid the traps of faulty thinking. Collaboration is a way to minimize the impact of faulty or limited thinking on reducing alternatives that produce creative solutions and help resolve conflicts. Collaboration provides checks and balances through process and through the different perspectives present to guard against falling into the trap of faulty thinking.

If you would like to learn more about getting beyond limited thinking to great results through collaboration at your organization or for your project, then contact Valerie Patrick at Fulcrum Connection LLC (412-742-9675 or Ask about the first-time client offer.