The Thinking Environment

The Thinking Environment is a set of practices built upon the work of Nancy Kline. I have been learning and practising these approaches since 1996.

Thinking environment practitioners believe that the quality of all that we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.  In the workplace, in class, in the family…in our social, emotional and professional lives we are continuously busy, often on many channels. Taking time to think is considered an indulgence, most often by ourselves. Unless we live exceptionally sustainable lives, or circumstance forces us into a period of contemplation, our culture frowns on thinking time.

So decisions are made after endless debate but somehow without proper consideration, because all is noise and the playing out of power agendas. Life often seems reactionary, particularly in over-scrutinised, top-down situations. The last two decades of my working life have been spent in adult and community education, where there are fewer and fewer creative “spaces to dance”. Workplaces and classrooms are often built for speed; keep people engaged through the demands of whatever paperwork means in that context and they won’t get distracted or misbehave. Thinking Environments cut through the chatter. They can either be culture-deep or they can provide a few focused moments to overcome untrue limiting assumptions and power on.

Facilitating a thinking environment means holding ten components (values) in place using simple frameworks, rigorously applied.  When the components of place, appreciation, attention, ease, diversity, information, equality, encouragement, feelings and incisive questions are all held place, with rigour and commitment, you are in a Thinking Environment. This may be as a group doing Thinking Rounds or the group coaching process, Time to Think Council; it may be one-to-one in a Thinking Partnership coaching session; or in pairs as a Dialogue or Timed Talk. There is a Thinking Environment application for every situation where clear thinking is required.

It is as simple as this; and yet the paradox of the Thinking Environment is that it is so radical, so counter-cultural, that even the central activity of generative attention rarely occurs naturally in communication. For many, the chance to speak their voice will be a new and perhaps difficult experience, given epidemics of obedience in workplaces, driven by austerity and fear. Agency has been chased out of professional repertoires and in many organisations only the boldest dare think for themselves.

Like any mindful practice, the discipline has to be learned. Skilled facilitation not only achieves plenty on the day (we bring the processes, you bring the content), it leaves behind the early practice of a liberating discipline that has real potential to make lasting culture change.
Daley, M., Orr, K. and Petrie, J. (2015). Further Education and the Twelve Dancing Princesses. London. Trentham Books.

Kline, N. (2008). The Thinking Environment. Public Lecture.  The Northern College. 29.4.08.

Kline, N. (2009). More Time to Think. Burley-in-Wharfedale. Fisher King.

Time to Think