Liminal Thinking

“Liminal Thinking is the art of creating change by understanding, shaping, and reframing beliefs.”

- Liminal Thinking, page 36

Have you ever had one of those moments of great inspiration, maybe in the shower or just as you’re waking up? Or perhaps you finally solve a problem that’s been plaguing you for weeks while out for a run? If you’ve ever had that sensation of your brain creating space unexpectedly to allow new ideas to form, and wish you could trigger the same ability on demand, you’ll want to read Dave Gray’s newest book, Liminal Thinking.

Gray, best-selling author of Gamestorming and The Connected Company, teaches us how to create breakthrough thinking by understanding how our current belief structure is holding us back, and provides practical lessons on how to change our mindset to allow new ideas to form.

Gray calls this breakthrough ability “Liminal Thinking”, which he defines as “a practice you can use to find and create new doorways to possibilities, doorways that are invisible to others.”

As Gray notes, certain types of work tend to be liminal in nature: teachers, counsellors, consultants, etc. — all working at the edges, whether in a classroom, family, or company, and all with the task of expanding the thinking of their audience beyond what they first thought possible. Anyone who works in a team or is part of a family has encountered situations where they wished they could help someone else be more open-minded. In today’s continually changing work environments, openness to change and having the ability to create new thinking is critical.

Let’s start by looking at what is at the heart of change thinking.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

New Thinking Comes Only When We Are Open To Changing Our Beliefs

"... beliefs are often the main things standing in the way of change"
- Liminal Thinking, page 25

Change thinking starts with a willingness to accept that a different outcome or reality is possible. This means being open to changing your viewpoint or beliefs about life as you know it, or the things you believe to be true, which is not easy for many of us. Gray emphasizes that new “doors of opportunity” are around us all the time, but they are invisible to people who aren’t looking for them or are unwilling to see them.

We often create boundaries, whether real or imaginary, to help us cope with change. We decide that our perceived ideas about “how things work here” are rigid, and keep us from being open to new ideas. It’s when we’re willing to push past these limits that we can create change. As Gray notes, “change happens at the boundaries of things: the boundary between the known and unknown, the familiar and the different, between the old way and the new way, the past and the future.”

Liminal Thinking is a type of “psychological agility” that allows you see and pursue opportunities, particularly where others might not. But first, we need to understand the beliefs shaping the boundaries that can hold us back.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Your Beliefs Aren’t Reality

"Beliefs are not reality. They are not facts. They are constructions. You construct your beliefs, even though for most people this is an unconscious process. By beliefs, I mean everything you know. "
- Liminal Thinking, page 44

While we may develop our belief system unconsciously, our beliefs restrict us from developing new ideas, regardless of intention and whether or not they are true. Once we can see these limits and consciously begin to rethink them, new ideas can emerge. Gray outlines six principles of Liminal Thinking which structure our belief system and can ultimately hold us back, even if these beliefs we hold dear are proven to be untrue.

Even the process of intentionally thinking about how your belief structure is built and maintained starts to change your thinking. As you question whether something you believe is based on truth or only your perception of truth, your mind becomes open to new possibilities.

Having this awareness of how beliefs are developed is also key as you consider how best to influence the thoughts of others. In situations where you need someone to be open-minded or be ready to share new ideas, you may first need to help them explore which areas of their current reality may no longer be true.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Changing Your Beliefs Takes Practice

"To change the world, you must be willing to change yourself."
- Liminal Thinking, page 200

It’s easy to say “they” don’t understand, or “they” will never change. As I tell the leaders I coach, the only person you can control in any situation is yourself. You need to be willing to do the work, and in turn, the skills you build become tools you can use for helping others change their thinking as well.

Gray provides a set of practices, such as bringing awareness of your lack of objectivity, asking new questions and gaining additional information, and disrupting your routines, as ways to open your mind to new possibilities and ways of thinking. Some of these practices take time, but are designed to change your thinking and become more open.

After reading this book, I tried a few of these exercises, and was amazed at the new things I noticed in my environment as a result. I spent two weeks disrupting my routines, and realized how much I was missing by moving through certain situations on autopilot. Simple things, like driving home a different way, or taking a new trail while mountain biking, created a new sense of energy and sparks of creativity I hadn’t expected.

This book pushed me to think carefully about the structure and routines that might be impacting my creativity, and find ways to use the exercises in Liminal Thinking in my change work with clients. I’m experimenting with the idea of adding pre-work to my strategy sessions to help the group be open to new ideas and create new opportunities for change and growth.

At a time when “life hack” articles and books for developing solid, consistently followed routines are at a high, Liminal Thinking emphasizes that mixing up your routine can actually be key to an expanded mindset that allows you to access breakthrough thinking.

Filled with Gray’s signature sketches, the ideas and activities in Liminal Thinking will help you create new windows of inspiration, without needing to go for a run.

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Alyssa Burkus

ABOUT Alyssa Burkus

As a consultant, I work with entrepreneurs and senior leaders through periods of significant change in their organizations, by delivering strategies, new programs, and coaching to build the workplace foundation they need to shift their company to new levels...
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