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The Five Elements of Effective Thinking

Five ways to make better decisions.

By Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird
16-minute read
Audio available
The Five Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird

With The Five Elements of Effective Thinking, you’ll learn how to think effectively and realize your full potential. Using as an organizing principle the four elements – earth, fire, air and water – the authors explain many techniques for improving the way in which we think. With the addition of a fifth element, change, they demonstrate how adopting the right attitude helps to bring about lasting, positive change.

  • Anyone who wants to improve their thinking processes
  • Anyone who wants to master a particular subject or skill
  • Anyone wanting to enact a substantial change in their life

Edward B. Burger is an educational and business consultant and president of Southwestern University in Texas. His teaching and scholarly works have earned him many honors in the United States as well as the biggest teaching award in the English-speaking world.

Michael Starbird is a distinguished teaching professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a business and educational consultant. He has been awarded with the highest American teaching award in his field, and his many books, lectures and workshops have reached large national audiences.

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The Five Elements of Effective Thinking

By Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
The Five Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird
Synopsis

With The Five Elements of Effective Thinking, you’ll learn how to think effectively and realize your full potential. Using as an organizing principle the four elements – earth, fire, air and water – the authors explain many techniques for improving the way in which we think. With the addition of a fifth element, change, they demonstrate how adopting the right attitude helps to bring about lasting, positive change.

Key idea 1 of 10

Earth: True mastery isn’t about doing difficult things, but about mastering the basics.

What’s the best way to develop a true understanding of something? Should you learn as much as possible about a subject, for instance?

Actually, no. The key to developing a true understanding of an issue is to master the basics. The basics make up the foundation of any skill or talent, the core of any expertise – just like the element Earth represents the solid ground underneath our feet.

Often a person who wants to become an expert – such as a student cramming for an important exam – will attempt to master as many complex theories or facts as she possibly can at once.

This isn’t the best strategy, however. True experts are instead concerned with continually and constantly perfecting the basics.

Virtuoso trumpet player Tony Plog once gave a masterclass for accomplished soloists, in which he requested that they play their most challenging, virtuosic piece. As you’d expect, they all played incredibly well.

In response, rather than offering advice and tips about how the performances could be improved, Plog asked the soloists to then perform a simple beginner’s exercise.

While they played the exercise well, none played impressively. Once they were finished, Plog himself performed the exercise, astonishing the group as to how virtuosic this “basic” piece was played.

What happened? Plog knew that mastery requires constant attention to and understanding of the basics, as it’s the basics that provide the foundation on which we can improve.

So when you’re faced with a challenging task, don’t tackle it headlong immediately. First, consider the basic elements of the task, and through this, you can attack each simpler element successfully.

Consider how the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) met the challenge of landing a man on the moon in the 1960s. The agency didn’t accomplish this goal by immediately shooting people into space; rather, they started with sending an unmanned rocket to the moon first.

Only once NASA had accomplished this basic step did they pursue and succeed in their goal of sending a man to the moon.

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