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The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  7,025 ratings  ·  529 reviews
The coauthors are mathematics professors. Burger teaches at Wiliams College; Starbird at The University of Texas at Austin. Here, they “reveal the hidden powers of deep understanding (earth), failure (fire), questions (air), the flow of ideas (water), and the quintessential element of change that brings all four elements together. By mastering and applying these practical ...more
Hardcover, 157 pages
Published August 26th 2012 by Princeton University Press
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Average rating 3.98  · 
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 ·  7,025 ratings  ·  529 reviews

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Oct 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found it insightful and important.

1. Understand basic ideas deeply

2. Learn from mistakes

3. Raise questions

4. Follow flow of ideas

5. Embrace change
Aug 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: You
So last year I finished reading The Six Thinking Hat…

and this year I read The Five Elements of Effective Thinking…

I guess Four more years are left to crack the code of the mind

Although the book is about the mind, it’s far from being theoretical. As Goethe once said: knowing is not enough; we must apply.. The book is worthless unless you repeatedly practice each of the 5 elements.
It’s basically a guide to develop certain habits. I found it useful as it reiterates some earlier knowledge and pr
Mathias Bear
Aug 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
To say that this book is life-changing would be premature, but it wouldn't be hyperbole. I have not read a book that challenged me so deeply on so many levels in years. I have never rightly considered how I think before. Why do I think the way I do? It is a good and effective way of thinking? Is my thinking "style" one that will aid me or hinder me as I pursue a more fulfilling life?

I have spent so much time thinking, searching, beating myself for answers to big questions Now, after reading this
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
A rather brief, yet inspired book which explains some of the most underrated methods of metacognition in the process of creation and learning.

I would reread and work my way through each and every point and try to implement them one by one, as though they may look rather simple, but they are fundamental and can improve one's life drastically.
I do not like the way the authors conducted the book. Though It was nicely structured and had great insights without any extra fuss, this book did not offe
Jun 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: business-books

1. Grounding Your Thinking
1. Understand simple things deeply
2. Clear the clutter - seek the essential
3. See what’s there
4. See what’s missing
5. Final Thoughts: Deeper thinking is better
3. Igniting Insights through Mistakes
1. Welcome accidental missteps-let errors be your guide
2. Finding the right question to the wrong answer
3. Failing by intent
4. Final Thoughts: A modified mind-set
5. Creating Questions out of Thin Air
1. How answers can lead to questions
2. Creating questions enliven
Darian Onaciu
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those rare books I wish I've read many years ago.

Why should you read this book?
It condenses a toolkit of five principles which you can use to learn anything. Yes, that does sound incredible but the author's arguments are scientifically sound thus very convincing. I shall put their methods to test as I am currently scratching the surface of a challenging domain: programming.
It's also a very short book so it eases its reread and applicability.

The authors are two mathematicians but d
Mario Tomic
Sep 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Finished reading this book recently, nothing really ground breaking but it's well put together in one single place so there is value into reading and reminding yourself of these concepts.

The 5 elements from the book are:
1. Understand Deeply, go for depth and make a rock solid base in anything you wanna achieve.
2. Make Mistakes, correct solutions rarely come from the first attempt so be persistent and assume your gonna make mistakes.
3. Raise Questions, be ready to challenge concepts and solutions
Sep 07, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would like to say "I already knew that" after reading this book, but that would not be true. Here is a distillation of some helpful tips on getting your mind right, acting on what you know, and never -ever- stop learning. ...more
Mariah Nelson
Feb 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This brief, highly readable book challenges readers on several fronts, and includes several good quotes:

Picasso: I begin with an idea then it becomes something else."
"A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are built for." Admiral Grace Murray Hopper
"In a chronically leaking boat, energy expended to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks." – Warren Buffett

The five elements:

1) Earth: Strive for Rock-Solid Understanding
2) Fire: Fail and learn from miss
Ahmed Adel Sharf Aldin
Dec 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
So insightful, extremely important, redicuously applicable
Javier Lorenzana
Jun 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: to-grow
One of the best learning-how-to-learn books that I’ve read. It’s simple, direct, and insightful. Heck, I might even read it again.

How this book impacts me in the long run is what really decide my rating. For now, I’d say it’s pretty good.

Key Takeaways
- the best insights come from mastery of the simple things
- stuck? fail intentionally then revise
- when in lecture, actively create questions
- see the big picture: how ideas flow and are linked
- always in beta
Jan 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
I quite liked this little book!

I stumbled upon it as I was searching for another book in the library - Thinking Fast and Slow. TFAS happened to be located in a section of the library that I think must be named non-fiction books designed to interest Blakely, as almost every book in that section I had either already read and liked, wanted to read, or sounded really interesting. The title for this book and it's small size intrigued me so I picked it up.

This book focuses on better ways to learn, cr
Teo 2050


Burger EB & Starbird M (2012) (03:09) Five Elements of Effective Thinking, The

Preface: Thinking Makes the Difference

Introduction: Elements of Effective Thinking, Learning, and Creating

1. Earth: Grounding Your Thinking: Understand Deeply
• Understand simple things deeply
• Clear the clutter—seek the essential
• See what's there
• See what's missing
• Final thoughts: Deeper is better

2. Fire: Igniting Insights through Mistakes: Fail to Succeed
• Welcome
Surya Kumar
Oct 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is so practical how to think by comparing with 5 earth elements.
1. Ground: Understand Deeply.
2. Fire: Make Mistakes.
3. Sky: Raise Questions.
4. Water: Follow the Flow of Ideas.
5. Change.
A must read for everyone to enhance the way of thinking.
David Hojah
Oct 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Amazing you have to read it many times :)
Alexandrite Chrysoberyl
Probably the most useful book I've listened to in a couple of months. ...more
kartik narayanan
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Read the full review at

Extraordinary people are just ordinary people who are thinking differently – and that could be you

What is the book about?
“The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking” is written by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird, both of whom are professors of mathematics, authors of many articles and books and recipients of multiple awards including excellence in teaching.

There are a couple of hypotheses that have gone into the motivation for ‘The 5 Elements of Eff
Dave B.
“The 5 elements of effective thinking” was a short 160+ pages. I was able to read the material in a day. The power of the text was in the fact that it was to the point and practical in nature. I have read several books related to critical thinking and Neuropsychology and this book provides a great summary of active thinking skills without an extra 500 pages of cognitive research history or case studies. I think linking key factors to critical thinking to classical concepts of natural elements wi ...more
Jun 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Although I found this book interesting, I did feel like it has been written multiple times before. I was taught these concepts in graduate school for my classes on leadership, so it truly was nothing new to me. However, it might be for the general public.

In reality, these books are a dime a dozen. I do think that they author, with his math background, brought in an interesting approach, but it is still the same concepts.
Sep 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
I don't know if the points in this little book will help me to think any better, but it gave me several ideas to teach better. ...more
Apr 20, 2020 rated it it was ok
The thought behind the five elements is great but there are too many unnecessary illustrations for these basic ideas.
Filipa Canelas
Nov 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thinking effectively entails a certain process and sequence of steps that can be learned and applied in a diversity of fields, which contrasts with the mindless carriage of thoughts. In one (twitter friendly) sentence: Effective thinking is what allows ordinary people to think in extraordinary ways.

The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking book lays an interesting foundation of those principles and suggests different applications in one's life. The 4 Classical are used to explain the first 4 principl
Rich Yavorsky
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
While "5E" is a quick read (~120p, pocket-sized hardcover), the book shows that good ideas come in small packages.

5E is a "mental fundamentals" book, and should be filed with the ranks of classic John Wooden or Augie Garrido guidance. Being in Austin, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture that co-author Prof. Starbird hosted at my company: Starbird clearly espouses the principles of this book in his 30+ year academic career, and shared his "elements" with our audience with enthusiasm and ple
What it is:
A pseudo-self-help book aimed at everyone but biased toward students about proven methods of thinking (though really 'learning' would have been the better word here)- mastering the fundamentals, making and becoming comfortable with making mistakes, questioning yourself and others, seeing the situation of your thoughts in the temporal flow of thinking, and practising the previous four methods.

Who should read it:
Students are the ideal audience for this, as there is a lot of excellent ad
Jul 29, 2018 rated it liked it
The 5 Elements of Effective thinking is not essentially a bad book. It just felt wrong that two university professors had limited most of their outlook on how a "student" can do more effective thinking rather than a graduated full-time employee.

I wrote the above because most of the examples and notions in the book are pointed towards students and I couldn't help but feel that this book was mostly written to address the authors' students or colleagues.

Anyhow the book offers 5 (or 4 main) insights
Xavier Shay
Dec 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Really practical, short, got much more out of it than I thought I would. In particular, the worked examples were really effective.

If you are a teacher or a manager, instead of asking, “Are there any questions?” assume there are, and say, “Talk to your neighbor for sixty seconds and write down two questions.”

For example, take a political, personal, business, academic, or other issue and create an extremely exaggerated perspective on the subject. If you are arguing one side of an issue (whether or
Nguyễn Thanh Huyền
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: problem-solving
This book does not only significantly inspire me to keep improving myself through learning but also offer tons of helpful strategies to support me. It is not hard to think effectively and become imaginative provided that right techniques are employed prudently. Best book about thinking and learning!
Jun 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars

A relatively short, yet very comprehensive, overview of applicable critical thinking skills written by two math professors, especially geared towards students while at university and then later in life. Great high school grad. gift idea.
Sue Hilger
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved this ... have recommended it to my brother and will purchase as gifts to my family's younger generation. Lots of helpful - albeit obvious - advice, yet told in a way that resonates AND in a way that you can incorporate into your daily life. ...more
Chanh Nguyen
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The key message in this book:

Extraordinary people are just ordinary people that think differently. By using the proven methods of effective thinking, that ordinary person that thinks differently could be you.

The five elements can help you on your path:
The Earth centering your ideas,
Fire inspiring your confidence,
Air clearing your thoughts,
Water helping your ideas flow from one inspiration to the next
Change – leading you to success.

Ex: Two men are walking in the forest when suddenly an angry
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“The simple and familiar hold the secrets of the complex and unknown.” 6 likes
“In everything you do, refine your skills and knowledge about fundamental concepts and simple cases. Once is never enough. As you revisit fundamentals, you will find new insights. It may appear that returning to basics is a step backward and requires additional time and effort; however, by building on firm foundations you will soon see your true abilities soar higher and faster.” 5 likes
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