Edward Burger and Michael Starbird
“Thinking is good, enthuses this book by two distinguished teachers of mathematics. You might think you’re being creative or having intuitions or conducting a romance or whatever, but it’s all thinking, right? And you can learn to think better! So you can, and the advice herein, which includes many practical tenets of ‘critical thinking’, will surely be useful to many a schoolchild or business leader.”
-Steven Poole, Guardian
We can improve our lives in all areas just by improving the way we think. The 5 elements of effective thinking are to put simply, better-thinking habits. The 1st element is to do with striving for rock-solid understanding (earth), the 2nd element -making mistakes in order to gain insights (fire). The third element (air) is about constantly asking challenging questions, whilst the 4th element entails observing the flow of ideas (water). Finally, the 5th element involves embracing change through lifelong learning as well as an improvement (quintessential element).
Extraordinary people are just ordinary people who are thinking differently—and that could be you. Ordinary”-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read
Ground your thinking; Understand things deeply
“Understand deeply” is great advice, but what does it really mean? The truth is that most of us never understand anything deeply. After not doing well on a test, students often tell us, “I knew it, but I couldn’t explain it … ” to which we respond, “If you can’t explain it, you don’t know it.”-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read
Return to the basics ever so often. Think of a subject area that you think you know a lot about or are trying to master and write about it. If you can’t write a coherent description of the topic or are struggling with the big picture to connect the ideas, then take action. Consult external sources, studying the material and adding to what you wrote initially. Every time you work on the basics of a subject, you deepen your understanding of the topic.
“The simple and familiar hold the secrets of the complex and unknown.”-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read
Periodically go back and refine your knowledge and understanding of the fundamental concepts. Going over the basics once just does not cut it. It may also appear to you that returning to the basics is a step backwards. However, by truly strengthening the foundations of your understanding can you progress into greater depths on a chosen field.
Choose depth over vagueness, when learning something new. If you are learning the piano, then instead of memorizing finger movements – understand the structure of the piece. In addition, you can study the chord progressions or even try to distinguish between notes by ear.
“Deep work on simple, basic ideas helps to build true virtuosity—not just in music but in everything.”-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read
Admit what is uncertain. Admitting your own uncertainties is a powerful first step to gaining a solid understanding. If you have gaps in your knowledge or understanding of a subject: Admit it to yourself first, then work on filling those gaps.
Igniting Insights through Mistakes; Fail to Succeed
“The typical attitude that mistakes should be avoided is patently wrong and has several detrimental consequences. The mindset that mistakes are poisonous often freezes us into inaction. If we have a healthier attitude that failure is a potent teacher… then we find ourselves liberated to move forward…”-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read
Fail 9 times, succeed on the 10th. When attempting a daunting task, try this. Think to yourself that in order to resolve this issue, you need to fail 9 times, but on the tenth attempt you will be successful. By shifting your mindset in this manner, your energy diverts towards solving the task creatively rather than on fear of failing. Moreover, once you do fail, remind yourself that you are 10% done!
“Mistakes are positive elements of quintessential thinking and failure is an important part of the foundation upon which to build success.”-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read
Don’t stare at a blank paper. Choose an issue or problem that you wish to solve, then start jotting down ideas on how you can solve it. The aim is to note down your stream of thoughts however bad, unorganized, inaccurate it may appear. That’s a start. Once you have formulated a bad first draft, focus on what’s wrong and improve it whilst uncovering the ideas that might be worth expanding further. By doing this, you are responding to a work that is already there rather than procrastinating in front of a blank screen.
“One of the challenges of life is to be open-minded about new ideas and new possibilities.”-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read
Generate questions out of thin air; Be your own Socrates.
“Constantly formulating and raising questions is a mind-opening habit that forces you to have a deeper engagement with the world and a different inner experience.”-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read
Build a habit of asking questions. By doing so, you gain a better understanding of the nature of a problem.
Don’t build on vagueness or ambiguity, build on clarity. When you’re unsure about the basic things, admit it to yourself and ask a question. Confident leaders don’t shy away from asking the ‘stupid’ or ‘basic’ questions.
“As you learn more, the fundamentals become at once simpler but also subtler, deeper, more nuanced, and more meaningful.”-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read
Re-frame questions. Instead of asking how can I ace my exam? Ask: how do I engage myself more with the course materials? Could I write a detailed outline for this course? Could I teach this course? What concepts do I have to focus on to deepen my understanding?
Ask Meta-Questions. Sometimes, we can reach better solutions by merely asking a better question. The main concept behind meta questions is: to question your own questions so as to improve them. For instance, the next time you are stuck in traffic, instead of asking yourself “how can I fix this?” a better question would be – “Since I’m going to be waiting here for an indefinite period, how can I spend the time more productively?”
“Successful people regularly focus on the core purpose of their profession or life. True experts continually deepen their mastery of the basics. Trumpeting”-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read
See the flow of ideas. Look back, Look forward.
“To understand current ideas through flow, first find easier elements that lead to what you want to understand. Then build bridges from those easier elements to the ideas you wish to master. To generate new ideas through flow, first, modify an existing idea within its own context and then apply that same idea in different settings. Then you can construct extensions, refinements, and variations.”-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read
Look back and observe the flow of ideas. A look back makes understanding advanced topics easier. Look back to see how you came about to where you are now in a given field. By understanding the basics and the flow of ideas can lead to clarity on the next steps which eventually leads to mastery.
“Search for evidence and don’t be satisfied until you know the why.”-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read
Extend ideas. Select an idea from any domain such as work or from your personal life (you do not have to be the one who came up with the idea). The goal is to engage with it and expand on it. Don’t wonder whether or not you can expand on the idea, you can. Your objective is to find it.
THE QUINTESSENTIAL ELEMENT
Engaging Change; Transforming Yourself
“Element 5 builds on the previous 4 elements and is about practicing effective thinking so that you be a lifelong learner and are always striving for improvement.”-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read
Adopt a habit of continuous improvement. Whether using any of the four elements or by any other methods. If you’re the type of person who embraces change, then you are liberated from worry about weaknesses or defects, because you can adapt and improve.
“The unchanging element is change.”-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read
Do it differently. In order to become more skillful in any task, try thinking in terms of ‘what you do’ rather than ‘how well you do it.’ Similarly, instead of thinking ‘Do it better,’ think – ‘Do it differently.’
Mastery is a continuum. It’s not that all the puzzles fall into place in the 10,000th hour of practice but rather from the accumulated flow of incremental progress.
“A wondrously romantic belief is that brilliant students are born brilliant and brilliant thinkers magically produce brilliant ideas: A+, the star student aces the exam; click, Edison invents the light bulb. Liftoff, the Wright brothers soar into the sky. Abracadabra, J. K. Rowling apparates Harry Potter. Yea, the Founding Fathers resolve the Bill of Rights; whoosh, Ralph Lauren turns heads on fashion’s runways. Eureka, Einstein teases his hair and relativity falls out.-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read
We can all marvel at these fanciful visions of leaps of genius, but it should not fool us into believing that they’re reality. Brilliant students and brilliant innovators create their own victories by practicing habits of thinking that inevitably carry them step-by-step to works of greatness.
“First just try to hit the moon … walking on its surface is for another day.”-The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, Edward Burger – Book Summary by Make Me Read