The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking

  • Personal Development
  • Ashto = /10
  • Jonesy = /10
The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking

What You Will Learn from The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking

This week, Jonesy and Ashto adopt creative strategies to develop their mental strength and capacity from The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking. Written by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird, this book presents practical methods that offer innovative solutions to difficult challenges in your life. Drawn from compelling examples from every walk of life, this book is a suitable guide for anyone who wants to reach their fullest potential.

Embracing the elements of effective thinking will inevitably lead you to your quintessential self. Not only will you discover new ways of looking at yourself, but The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking will also reveal hidden opportunities in your life.

Discover the Five Elements of Effective Thinking

Thinking is the root of success in academics, business, leadership, relationships, and all other aspects of life. Improving any task requires effective thinking, which involves coming up with more imaginative ideas, solving complicated problems, discovering new ways to solve them, becoming aware of hidden possibilities, and taking action. The methods for effective thinking are fundamentally the same in all areas of life and can be taught and learned by anyone. This book discusses the habits of thinking that can make a difference in someone’s performance in any area of life. No leaps or flashes or sparks are involved. A few simple strategies of thought can lead to effective learning, understanding, and innovation.

There are just 5 simple learnable strategies of thinking that can make you more effective in the classroom, the boardroom, or the living room. and the authors have packaged these into the 5 basic elements once believed by the ancients to be the building blocks of all nature and matter:

  • Earth,
  • Fire,
  • Air,
  • Water,
  • plus the Quintessential Element.


1. Earth (Understanding Deeply)

Many people spend their entire careers confidently (and erroneously) thinking they know more and deserve more than their yearly evaluations, salaries, and success seems to reflect. Understanding is not a yes-or-no proposition – it’s not an on/off switch

Clearing the clutter to seek the essential

Where’s Waldo? is a popular children’s book series with pages filled with hundreds of cartoon figures. One character, Waldo, stands out with his red-and-white striped shirt and glasses. Finding Waldo is difficult because of the clutter, but that’s what makes it fun and challenging for kids. If the other characters were removed, it would be easy to find Waldo, but also less interesting. The challenge comes from the clutter.

Clearing clutter from your desk can reveal not only the things you’re looking for but also the essence of a situation that was previously hidden. Many real questions are surrounded and obscured by history, context, and adornments. But complex issues can be simplified by focusing on the central themes within the cloud of interacting influences. By ignoring peripheral distractions, you can turn your attention to what’s really going on and clarify your understanding. This can lead to new ideas and insights.

Deeper is better

To truly understand something, you need to focus on its basic principles and ideas. This creates a strong foundation for further learning. Being unbiased and recognizing what’s missing helps you identify the limits of your knowledge, explore new possibilities, and solve complex problems. Whether it’s in the physical world, society, academics, personal relationships, business, or even sports, examining the simple and familiar is a crucial first step for learning, thinking, creating, and problem-solving. When we have a deep understanding, we are standing on solid ground.


2. Fire (Fail to Succeed)

Failure should not be seen as a bad thing. Mistakes are a natural part of the learning process, and avoiding them can lead to inaction. Instead, we should embrace failure as a powerful teacher and an essential step on the path to success. Creative achievements often come from learning from a series of missteps. By making mistakes, we can identify what went wrong and focus on finding solutions. Failure is a critical part of effective learning, teaching, and problem-solving, and can ultimately lead to success. Once you’re open to the positive potential of failure, failing productively involves two basic steps: creating the mistake and then exploiting the mistake.

Finding the right question to the wrong answer

Sometimes a failed attempt at solving one problem can unexpectedly lead to a creative solution for a completely different problem. In other words, the mistakes you make while trying to solve one problem might have unintended positive consequences for a different project.

In 1970, scientist Spencer Silver tried to create a stronger adhesive at a well-known glue manufacturer, 3M. However, his creation was a resounding failure. In fact, the bond was actually weaker than other 3M products of the day—it was so weak it could be stuck to objects and then easily lifted off them without a trace. Instead of being fired, 3M kept Silver on.

Four years later, when 3M scientist Arthur Fry was trying to devise a way of placing bookmarks in his hymnal so they would neither fall out nor damage the pages, he recalled his colleague’s weak mixture. Fry coated part of his bookmarks with Silver’s super weak adhesive and thus accidentally gave birth to one of 3M’s most lucrative products: the Post-it note. It all arose out of a failed attempt.

Two reactions to mistakes

Seeing a mistake as possibly a correct answer to a different question puts our thinking on its head. We look at a mistake not as a wrong answer, but instead as an opportunity to ask, “What is the question to which this is a correct answer?” So when you see or make a mistake, you have at least two actions to take:

  • Let the mistake lead you to a better attempt;
  • Ask whether the mistake is a correct answer to a different question.

Let’s be honest: failure can be frightening and uncomfortable—a true trial by fire. Thus it is with the element Fire that we associate the strategy of failing on the way to succeeding. Problems that require truly creative solutions are problems that you simply do not yet know how to solve.


3. Air (Ask Questions)

Asking questions is often seen as a negative thing, but it can actually lead to understanding and insight. Creating questions, even if they go unanswered, is a valuable step toward understanding. Creating questions is just as important, if not more important than answering them because it helps focus your attention on the right issues. Constantly asking challenging questions is a habit that can help reveal hidden assumptions, avoid bias, identify errors, and consider alternatives. Asking questions can help guide you toward deeper understanding and creative problem-solving.

How answers can lead to questions

Asking questions is valuable in any situation, not just when you don’t know the answer. Even when you do know the answer, asking “What if…?” can lead to deeper understanding. The habit of constantly asking questions helps you challenge the status quo and identify what needs creating.

Leaders should not be afraid to ask basic questions, even if they feel embarrassed for not knowing the answers. It’s better to admit ignorance and ask questions than to pretend to know more than you do. Asking basic questions can actually make you appear smarter and lead to greater knowledge and success in the long run.

Try to get in the habit of asking how the issue looks from various viewpoints. Frame questions in different ways. Asking the right questions can be very effective for learning and understanding. By using simple techniques, we can create questions that stimulate our curiosity and lead to valuable insights. Questions give us a breath of inspiration and insight; which is why we associate the art of questioning with the element of Air.


4. Water (Go with The Flow)

A lightbulb is often used as a symbol for a great idea, but it’s not completely accurate. Ideas are not created in a vacuum; they are built on past ideas. Successful innovators like Alexander Graham Bell, Claude Monet, Charles Darwin, J.K. Rowling, and Steve Jobs understand that every new idea is connected to the past and leads to the future.

Successful learners and innovators use the flow of ideas like the element of Water. Each advance leads to even greater advances. A small solution can lead to a larger one. To understand current ideas, start with easier elements and build bridges to the ideas you want to master. To generate new ideas, modify existing ideas within their context, apply them in different settings, and construct extensions, refinements, and variations.

Understanding current ideas through the flow of ideas

To truly understand a concept, discover how it naturally evolves from simpler thoughts. Recognising that the present reality is a moment in a continuing evolution makes your understanding fit into a more coherent structure.

Calculus changed the world, but not immediately. Over the past 300 years, it has been applied to many areas such as mechanics, fluid flow, and economics. Calculus is a versatile idea that can be pushed to new limits. The first calculus article was only 6 pages long, but today’s calculus textbook has over 1,300 pages with many examples, variations, and applications. The textbook introduces two fundamental ideas, and the remaining 1,294 pages consist of examples, variations, and applications—all arising from following the consequences of just two fundamental ideas.

As you are learning a topic, ask yourself what previous knowledge and what strategy for extending previous ideas make the new idea clear, intuitive, and a natural extension.

“Under Construction” is the norm

Life is made up of many important things that constantly change, like family, friends, education, career, and possessions. However, it’s not realistic to expect everything to always be in perfect finish and running smoothly. In reality, the normal state is one in which some features of life and learning are problematic and need attention. Acknowledge that reality and try to identify opportunities for improvement and growth. Be open to change and view the flow of ideas as a tool for understanding and innovation. Don’t just focus on creating one big idea that solves everything, but instead focus on taking small steps to climb higher and achieve things beyond your imagination.

5. Quintessential Element (Change / Transformation)

The fifth element of effective learning and thinking is the simplest and yet most difficult. The goal of the preceding four techniques is to change you into someone who thinks and learns better. The fifth element is the change itself.
The fifth element of effective thinking is the habit of constructive change, which is crucial but can be challenging. It is like the missing piece of a puzzle that completes the picture. While the first four elements provide you with tools and techniques to think, learn, and create better, the fifth element encourages you to actually apply them and make positive changes in your life. To do this, you need to adopt a mindset of improvement and not be afraid to change any part of yourself. By doing so, you liberate yourself from worrying about your weaknesses or defects, as you can always adapt and improve at any time.

Becoming the Quintessential You

By adopting the thinking techniques outlined in this book, you will develop mental strength and capacity, and you will become a more effective and creative thinker. This can also help you to better understand and define yourself, including your values, morals, ethics, and beliefs. As you embrace effective thinking, you will also move closer to your quintessential self.


Conclusion of The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking

No matter who you are, you can choose to have a positive outlook and enjoy the process of personal growth and discovery. The book suggests four habits of effective thinking: strive for understanding (Earth), learn from mistakes (Fire), ask challenging questions (Air), and consider the flow of ideas (Water). Remember that learning is a lifelong journey and we are always evolving. This is what quintessential living is all about.

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