Liminal Thinking

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

- Liminal Thinking, page 36

The Big Idea

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

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.

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Insight #2

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.

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Dave Gray

Dave Gray is the Founder of XPLANE, the visual thinking company, and a Partner in the Dachis Group, a social business consultancy. Dave’s time is spent researching, sketching and writing on innovation, design, systems thinking, and creativity in business, as well as speaking, coaching and delivering workshops to educators, corporate clients and the public.

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