Summary: 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger, Michael Starbird
Summary: 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger, Michael Starbird

Summary: 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger, Michael Starbird

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5 Elements of Effective Thinking


  1. Understand Deeply
  2. Make mistakes
  3. Raise questions
  4. Follow the flow of ideas
  5. Change
Element #1 Understand Deeply

Don’t face complex issues head-on; first understand simple ideas deeply.

Be brutally honest about what you know and don’t know.

Don’t say ‘I will change my opinion right now.’

Instead say ‘For the next day, I’ll pretend my opinions are the opposite of what I normally believe, even though I believe it’s non-sense, and see where these beliefs will take me.’

Then see what’s missing. Identify the gaps, fill them in.


If you can’t write a coherent description of the topic or are struggling with the big picture to connect the ideas, then act.

Can you explain each and everyone of them fully and in-depth?

Element #2 Make Mistakes

Fail to succeed. Intentionally get it wrong to inevitably get it even more right.

They show you which way to turn next and ignite your imagination.


You may not know how to do it right but you can certainly do it wrong.

Don’t stare at the blank screen. Take a problem you’re facing. Quickly type the idea. Don’t hesitate the ideas you don’t know or quite right. No one except you will read what you write.

Your idea will be disorganized in any way.

Congratulations. Excellent Start! You have a base to right your wong.

You may not feel that writing down bad ideas is worthwhile, but one thing is certain.

Anyone at anytime can write a truly awful story. But it’s not the end.

Now focus on 2 features.

1. What’s right?

2. And what’s wrong?

Before you start anything, assume you’re going to fail at it 9 times in a row, but on the 10th you’ll win. This reframes your mind into thinking you’re making forward progress.

Element #3 Raise Questions

What’s the real question? Working on wrong ones can waste a lifetime.

Ideas are in the air – the right questions will bring them out and help you see connections.


When we stop pretending we know more than we do, we start asking a lot of 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?…

Element #4 Follow the Flow of Ideas

Ideas don’t just pop out of thin air, they’re built upon millions of other ideas over decades.

Look back to where ideas came from, then look ahead to discover where those may lead.

Allow work to grow and evolve through iteratively identifying and improving on previous drafts and missteps.

Give credit to failure (3M most lucrative product, the ‘post-it’ note was given birth from a failed invention ‘super-weak adhesive’)

Most people think Henry Ford created the car industry and assembly as we know it today.

But the truth is he just didn’t come up with the idea of production line in 1 day. He was building on the idea of another awesome guy, Ransom Olds (founder of Oldsmobile).


Next time you’ve to write something, just get it on paper. Write shitty tough drafts. Now you have a base from which you can follow the flow of ideas and improve.

Element #5 Change

Change is the universal constant that allows you to get the most out of living and learning.

Guessing what’s next anchors what’s there.

To better master a subject, after you’ve been introduced to a new concept look beyond the new concept and guess what will come next.

One of the most hardening reality of human thoughts is all new ideas we have are in fact the tiny variations of what we had before.


Change takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight. So, start now.

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