Curriculum

How the Five Classical Elements Can Help You Think More Effectively

By Catherine A. Cardno — September 11, 2012 2 min read
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Guest blogger Briana Boyington contributed this post.

Anyone can think like a genius. At least that’s what Edward B. Burger, a mathematics professor at Williams College in Massachusetts, and Michael Starbird, a distinguished teaching professor at the University of Texas at Austin, propose in their recently released book The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking (Princeton).

The book is essentially a how-to guide on thinking critically. It has valuable information for anyone who is stuck in a mental rut or wants a detailed outline of techniques on understanding difficult subjects. While there’s something for everyone, The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking would be a useful reference for any student, especially one who struggles with finding ways to grasp new (or old) concepts in school.

The authors aim to teach readers how to expand their intellectual and creative capacity by adopting habits that train the mind to see beyond the surface level of ideas in order to find innovative ways to solve problems. They use a mix of stories from their experiences and observations and some of history’s greatest innovators as examples of what can happen when people learn to think effectively.

Burger and Starbird describe effective thinking as the ability to be more imaginative and creative, endure and seek solutions to complicated issues, and then take action.

To help others reach this state of enlightenment, the authors use the five classical elements—earth, fire, air, water, and the quintessential—as metaphorical devices to help readers understand the steps necessary to create a more successful life.

The advice is practical. According to the authors, thinking effectively requires learning how to understand the basics of an idea, finding ways to use failure as a steppingstone to success, solving problems by figuring out the appropriate question/creating questions out of thin air, understanding the flow of ideas, and implementing strategies. Each technique is divided by element and explained. Explanations are filled with real-life examples and activities that are designed to encourage individuals to examine their current thought process, develop new techniques for approaching difficult problems, and incorporate the elements into their daily lives.

Burger and Starbird, who also work as business consultants, use their interactions with students throughout the years as examples of how to embody their techniques. This book could be a great resource for teaching students how to study, understand class material, and excel in school and life.

Overall, The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking is a quick, easy read that is entertaining and engaging. It’s the type of book that you can read in one sitting or read over time as you grapple to master the elements.

Will you read it? If you do, let us know what you think.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.


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