Key Takeaways from 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward Burger Michael Starbird

Framework & Tools for Effective Thinking

I want to begin this review with a powerful quote by Lord Buddha, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we Think”. This quote has always stuck with me and guided me to seek light even in the darkest days. Therefore, with this review, I would like to present you with some tools and frameworks that can help solve complex problems or overcome any challenges you face in life and embrace actions!

Hey There! Warm wishes to you and your loved one on the Onam! This year let’s try to make ourselves courageous enough to do one thing out of our comfort zones and let the magic begin. Well, one of my resolutions is to develop myself and train my mind to think and act positively! I am Parul and today I am bringing one of the most essential reads if you desire to achieve more in life! Many of us think, once we are done with our formal schooling or have achieved a degree our education is over, if only that can be true. This book celebrates the reality that our education is never over and learning is a continuous process. Yet, we might not have our teachers and professors to guide and counsel us always. As I ponder what can we do when we no longer have the support of our professors to guide our way through the complex hairy problems. Well, what I found is that this book gives us specific action items that can help us become our own Socrates and how to get more out of what we are! The book Five Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward Burger & Michael Starbird is a classic read that includes the importance of deep understanding and how can thoughts propel innovation. The core message from the book is that wherever you are in the spectrum of understanding there is always a deeper level you can go! For instance, even the greatest minds can think deeper, or a student at its basic level needs to challenge oneself to discover greater understanding instead of being satisfied by a superficial level of understanding. Besides this, what I liked most about the book is that it talks about the power of failing! To be honest, there aren’t many people in the world that talk about failing however, failure and improvement are the fundamental aspects for any breakthrough to take place. This book provides one with insights on how to fail that can further inspire innovation, epiphany perhaps Ahh moment! This book goes a level deeper to keep me hooked as it nudges me to come out of my comfort zone! Let’s say you put yourself in a position where you train yourself to constantly think of questions. This can help us to see things that we would otherwise miss. All of a sudden, we are going deeper as we force our self to say “Wow, What can I ask here” or “What is the core message”. These questions can help make the invisible visible!

Author Edward Burger & Michael Starbird says extraordinary people like Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, etc are just ordinary people who are thinking differently! Brilliant innovators and businessman create their own victory by practicing habits of thinking that inevitably carry them step by step to work of greatness. Essentially, there are 5 thinking habits that are explained in this book which if practiced will consistently lead you to breakthrough ideas. The authors have made 4 of these 5 thinking habits memorable by relating the to 4 classical elements. These elements were once believed to be the essence of nature and matter – Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. When face with a complex challenge at work or in business or even at school you can incorporate these elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water into your thinking to find innovative solutions in order to be more effective.

First Element – Earth

To the harness the element of Earth in our thinking we need to break the problem into its core components. As it is rightly said, understanding the root cause and not working on symptoms! For instance, comprehending what are the underlying factors that are causing problems as well as seek to understand each of those components deeply. This can help one to analyze any problem better. I have learned one thing from the book that I should get in the habit of asking myself what are the subcomponent of the problem I am facing. Indeed, I need to know more about the real cause rather than working on symptoms. Secondly, we need to create a mind map for every problem such that it breaks the problem into different knowledge areas one needs to study. For instance, this COVID era has taught us not to look for quick fixes! Another example I would like to give is the problem with procrastination or waiting for right time to do things which eventually resulted in making the action item pending for the longest time. How do this book help me approach this problem differently. Well, for starters, now I record my behavior and when do I procrastinate the most. Being a new mom, I want to rest when Anaisha dozes off and procrastinate especially in mornings. This instead used to make me stressed at the end of the day! I first created a mind map of the different factors that lead to procrastination like distractions, lack of motivation, or feeling of overwhelm, and then aim for a deeper understanding of each of these factors. When I embraced Earth thinking I was able to gain a rock-solid understanding of the underlying factors and core components that fueled my behaviour. This increased my odds of finding an effective solution for this problem. Moreover, this also helped me to develop the ability to solve more complex problems in the future. Indeed, not only was I able to understand my motivation but also I could channelize my actions to motivate others. 

 Second Element – Air

Author Edward Burger & Michael Starbird explains the importance of Air based thinking by explaining Einstein’s quest to solve many of life’s mysteries. As history reveals, Albert Einstein, famous scientist, innovators and physicians asked himself bunch of crazy questions that urged him to think out of the box. One of these questions were the What if I question. For instance, “What If” he was to ride a beam of light. Crazy right but forcing you to question to norm or convention! You see, Einstein adopted the perspective of someone who could move at the speed of light and doing so he realized that by moving at the speed of light the field of electromagnetic would appear stationary like a frozen wave.  Well, I know that might have tossed bit more into Physics we learnt in class! Nevertheless, even in that time there were other physical theories to belittle the assumption and state it wasn’t possible! But that didnt stop Einstein. He worked on these questions and developed the theory of Special Relativity, which has practically revolutionized the field of Physics as we know it. He embraced the element of Air in his thinking by coming up with a new perspective by posing the questions seeming out of thin air. On this note I would like to leave you with the quote, “One can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. However, one can tell whether a man is wise by his questions”. I believe, asking questions is essential to understand anything deeply as well as to organise our thinking. Therefore, one of the most critical types of question is “What if I”. I personally have learned that asking this question when facing a problem often reveals simple solutions to complex problems. For instance, like What If I were a child who knew nothing about this problem and wonder how would I approach the problem. I find that this question helps me to look at the problem like a complete beginner and test all my assumptions.

Another aspect of this can be “What if I were a Pro” which helps me to stop struggling so much and search for a more elegant solution. I believe it’s a great question when there is a feeling of overwhelmingness. For instance, successful entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos often ask what if he were to buy the products on Amazon. This question gets him to adopt Customers Point of View and notice points of friction in their purchase model which can be fixed to get more sales. To start leveraging the element of Air in your problem start asking “What if I” that can help you create new perspectives seemingly out of thin air!

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Third Element – Fire

Third element is Fire! This is explained using profound example of Thomas Edison and the invention of the lightbulb. I am sure we all know the story of Thomas Edison famously when trying to invent the light bulb. I would like to quote his words, “I haven’t failed, I have just found 1,000 ways that it won’t work”. Author Edward Burger & Michael Starbird build on this highkighting the big difference between failing and failing productively. Failing, assuming the worst, and quitting isn’t useful! However, failing and then asking yourself what specifically went wrong and how can I do it better is one of the most effective ways to gain insights and illuminate the path forward. For instance, before my math exam my mom ensured she gives me a practice test before the big exam. Then she used to zoom my silly mistakes, errors and find those questions that puzzeled my understanding. This was the sceret why I scored 100 on 100 in my board exams (Mathematics Class X and XII) and even in engineering. Therefore, I highly recommend to embrace the element of Fire in your thinking by searching for ways you can test yourself. Give yourself space to make several mistakes and then learn from them because paradoxically mistakes lead to success!

Fourth Element – Water

When you think of water, what comes to your mind – a Ripple or a Tsunami. Well, both are powerful in their own ways. A Tsunami doesn’t start out as a giant wave rather it starts in the form of ripples in the water and then these small waves builds until it becomes a powerful Tsunami. Therefore, development of Tsunami is an iterative process so are the great accomplishments. In this book, the authors explain this with the example of John F. Kennedy and his vision to conquer the space. On May 25th, in the year 1961, JFK set the goal to land a man on the moon but on May 26th National Space Council didn’t suit up an astronaut instead their first goal was simply to hit the moon with a rocket. After 3 years of steady progress NASA successfully smashed Rangers 7 into the moon. It took 15 major iterations before NASA could launch Apollo 11 and successfully land a man on the moon. The best authors in the world will tell you that their first draft is completely crap but they always find something small like some paragraphs they could build from gradually. With this gradual improvement on what’s working they turn their first draft into a best seller over the course of many revisions any breakthrough solutions will be the result of a rough idea an okay idea made better through iterations like an author improves his or her draft. When faced with a problem embrace the element of water by aiming to make a tint amount of progress at the beginning like a small ripple in the water, then gradually build on it to create a powerful Tsunami

Fifth Element – Quintessential Element

All four elements discussed above like the Earth, Air, Fire, and Water are tangible elements but the fifth element is the element that makes the other elements possible. It is called the quintessential element. The author explains in the ancient Greek philosophy the quintessential elements was the unchanging materials from which extraordinary realm was made.

When you think of the quintessential element think of a rising Phoenix is a symbol of transformation and change. All the other 4 elements won’t do much good unless you are willing to change your thinking. I am who I am and can’t change the way I am. While effective thinkers think I am constantly evolving and I am a lifelong learner. Embrace the quintessential element by believing you can change your thoughts and habits! In the end when facing difficult problem leverage these 5 elements – Element of Earth by breaking a problem down and gaining a rock-solid understanding of its fundamental components and underlying factors. Then leverage the element of air by asking What if I can start adopting a new perspective. Leverage the element of fire by taking small risks and embracing mistakes. Leverage the element of water by building breakthroughs and keeping the flow of ideas to evolve into a better version of oneself. Lastly adopting an attitude of change and the identity of lifelong learner to leverage the quintessential element.

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