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The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking Hardcover – August 26, 2012

4.7 out of 5 stars 145 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2013 Silver Medal in Self-Help, Independent Publisher Book Awards

"What do earth, fire, air, and water have to do with effective thinking? Everything, according to mathematics professors Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird. In The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, the authors draw on these metaphor-laden elements from the natural world to demonstrate how to ask better questions, take calculated risks, learn from mistakes, and, ultimately, transform ourselves into more engaged and thoughtful citizens of the world. . . . The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking is a useful guide for anyone interested in tackling difficult subject matter, particularly in the classroom. The book also could serve as a solid supplementary text in courses on critical thinking."--Jennifer Moore, ForeWord Reviews

"If you remember being told by your teachers to think harder and having no idea how, The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking should help. . . . This is a snappy, illuminating read that should appeal to anyone who has ever dreamed of being a genius and is willing to strive, step by step, to become one."--David Wilson, South China Morning Post

"Thinking is good, enthuses this book by two distinguished teachers of mathematics. You might think you're being creative or having intuitions or conducting a romance or whatever, but it's all thinking, right? And you can learn to think better! So you can, and the advice herein, which includes many practical tenets of 'critical thinking', will surely be useful to many a schoolchild or business leader."--Steven Poole, Guardian (U.K.)

"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. . . . 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."--Catherine A. Cardno, Education Week

"The challenge of books such as these is that, in the wrong hands, the contents can come across as banal generalities and just so much hokum. But the appeal of The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking lies in that its authors are mathematicians by profession, and it shows in how the book is written. It's a very systematic book about being organized and critical in one's thinking, written by individuals whose work demands that they are organized and critical in their thinking. Yet it isn't at all imposing; in fact, the discussion is often down-to-earth, and the fact that the book is structured like a playbook readers can easily apply certainly has its merits. In short, The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking is the kind of book I know would have helped me a lot in my days as a student. I'd like to think it will be helpful to students of today, too."--Brian L. Belen, Brain Drain blog

"The root of success in everything is thinking--whether it's thinking disguised as intuition or as good values or as decision making or problem solving or creativity, it's all thinking. The surprising fact is that just a few learnable strategies of thinking can make you more effective."--John G. Agno, Business Week's Coaching Tip blog

"Inspirational and engaging but also educational and immensely practical."--Anthony J. Sadar, Washington Times

"The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird is a fun little book with great tips to improve overall thinking skills. . . . Suited for students who can employ the techniques in the book to earn better grades and become better thinkers."--Brandon Kroll, NACADA Journal

"There is undoubtedly much here that would be of practical use to professionals from all walks of life, and indeed other educators, such as management trainers and coaches. As a practical and helpful guide, particularly for students seeking to improve the quality of their thinking and learning, The Five Elements of Effective Thinking is a thought-provoking and useful manual."--Jonathan Gravells, Teachers College Record

"Teachers from primary grades to university courses can use the model in this book to deliver curriculum in a way that students are forced to develop thinking skills to successfully understand the material they are being taught and to identify their own next steps in learning. Although the authors draw most of their examples from the learning of mathematics, The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking can be applied in any classroom where thinking is emphasized."--Kent Miller, Canadian Teacher Magazine

"This is a short book, easy to read and understand. But its value is very high because it teaches us how to change the way we think. It shows us how to think effectively. Our thoughts precede our actions and govern our lives. The way we think determines our success and happiness in life. If these are important elements to you, so is this book."--Paiso Jamakar, Biz India

"Whenever you are stuck, need a new idea, or want to learn and grow, The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking will inspire and guide you on your way."--World Book Industry

"I've applied some of the ideas and they give real food for thought in terms of comparing and contrasting different approaches."--Ian Baulch-Jones, Quality World

"[A] short and brilliant book with tips on being a better thinker. . . . [I]nspiring."--Derek Silvers

From the Back Cover

"I remember as a kid in school being told by teachers to think harder and having no idea what to do. This book solves that once and for all. We now have a guide for people of all ages to learn how to think more effectively. I highly recommend this book."--Jack Canfield, cocreator of the New York Times best-selling Chicken Soup for the Soul® series and The Success Principles

"Think...fail...question...understand...change...learn: in their powerful new book, Burger and Starbird show students, teachers, and everyone else how to harness the genius of learning. The 5 Elements argues that the door to knowledge is not opened by a magical test. Instead, the key is for each of us to boldly embrace a willingness to fail while organizing persistent approaches to thinking. Even more than helping one master content, this book can lead to a satisfying and rewarding life of the mind."--Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association

"The authors invoke Michael Jordan, Warren Buffett, and Winston Churchill to illustrate practical approaches--including failing--to understanding, creativity, and wisdom. Their observations apply to honing any skill from sports and school to leadership and citizenship. Knowing how to listen and learn has become a rare art--The 5 Elements is a timely tutorial."--Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates

"In this compact and remarkable book, two renowned professors share decades of teaching experience with anyone--from students to business people--seeking advice on how to improve skills and expand learning. It should be read, studied, and cherished--then reread."--Fay Vincent, former commissioner of Major League Baseball and former president of Columbia Pictures

"This book is just what American education needs. It guarantees invention and discovery."--Barbara Morgan, former NASA "Teacher in Space" astronaut

"The 5 Elements is an enormously insightful examination of what constitutes effective thinking. Everyone will find something of value in it."--Morton O. Schapiro, president of Northwestern University

"I highly recommend this book for instructors who care more about their students than test scores, for students who care more about learning than their GPA, for leaders of society and masters of the universe who care more about serving the public good than increasing their profit margin, and for artists who constantly remind us of the human condition. The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking provides comfort in a world that has lost its equilibrium."--Christopher J. Campisano, director of Princeton University's Program in Teacher Preparation

"Our brain is our greatest asset in life, so it is a 'no brainer' that we should invest some time learning how to use it effectively. In this concise and carefully crafted book, renowned professors Burger and Starbird demonstrate their talent for making difficult concepts accessible. An average reader can peruse this book in only a few hours, but for many people those will be the best hours ever spent on a book. Highly recommended."--Brett Walter, president of the Homeschool Buyers Co-op

"Edward Burger and Michael Starbird became renowned scholars and educators by demonstrating that mathematical expertise is within the reach of the general population and not confined to those with the 'right' aptitude. With the publication of this remarkably wise and useful book, they extend their pedagogical principles to the general realm of practical affairs and the entire range of academic endeavor. Regardless of the reader's background, The 5 Elements offers highly applicable and original lessons on how to think."--John W. Chandler, president emeritus of Hamilton College and Williams College

"So this is how Newton stood on the shoulders of giants! Burger and Starbird outline the basic methods of genius--so that ordinary people, too, can see further than others."--Robert W. Kustra, president of Boise State University


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 7.7.2012 edition (August 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691156662
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691156668
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 4.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (145 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I originally became interested in this book after reading a blog on PsychologyToday by one of this book's authors. The blog essentially discussed the values of failure, and how accepting and even encouraging failure leads to a better attitude about learning.

This book is one of the few books I have ever read in one sitting. I became very interested in the authors' message, and found the writing to be straightforward and logical. I noticed that the authors do not needlessly repeat themselves, which is funny because in the first chapter they discuss how they initially wanted to literally print the entire text three times, but their publisher wouldn't let them. Good call, Publisher. I have noticed in reviews about similar books to this one (in the same vein of learning how to think better, or be more successful, etc.) that people often complain about the author(s) repeating the material over and over again in different words, as if to take up space. The Five Elements of Effective Thinking is logical, condensed, and never rambles. Reading this book is like drinking a shot of intellectual espresso.

The basic point of the book is that there are 5 qualities of thinking that all effective thinkers share. Because it is about effective thinking, the authors rely on a lot of examples of effective thinkers: Famous examples like Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein, and examples of students who learned how to think effectively, like Mary, and the mathematics professor Dr. S who was once the worst mathematician in his class and later went on to receive his PhD in maths. All of the examples are fairly inspirational, and I think they highlight the fact that this book really is a self-help book of sorts, or maybe more accurately, a self-improvement book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The root of success in everything, from academics to business to leadership to personal relationships and everything else, is thinking - whether it's thinking disguised as intuition or as good values or as decision making or problem solving or creativity, it's all thinking... Doing anything better requires effective thinking - that is, coming up with more imaginative ideas, facing complicated problems, finding new ways to solve them, becoming aware of hidden possibilities, and then taking action. What is a surprise is that the basic methods for thinking more clearly, more innovatively, more effectively are fundamentally the same in all areas of life - in school, in business, in the arts, in personal life, in sports, in everything. The other surprise is that those methods of effective thinking can be described, taught, and learned. They are not inborn gifts of a special few. They are not so esoteric that only geniuses can master them. All of us can learn them and use them, and that is what this book is about."

As pointed out by previous reviewers, this book is slim in size, but nevertheless large on content. The authors have developed an excellent system for applying their 5 elements of effective thinking: Earth = Understand Deeply, Fire = Make Mistakes, Air = Raise Questions, Water = Follow the Flow of Ideas, and "The Quintessential Element" = Change. When I first read about their system in the introduction, it seemed a bit odd and hokey, but by the end of the book, I was very much impressed with the cleverness of the whole scheme. Additionally, the authors have sprinkled in some useful quotes and copious examples to illustrate their points. In sum, I believe this book really does capture what it means, and what it takes, in order to be an effective thinker.
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Comment 35 of 39 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
NOTE: I received a free copy of this book to review for the web site Metapsychology Online Reviews; please see that site for a more detailed version of my review.

Authors Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird assert that throughout history, what the world's most successful and accomplished people have in common is not solely great intellect but rather, a different way of thinking. They emphasize that these concrete thinking strategies can be taught to anyone, and thus, they introduce five learning strategies in this book. The authors associate each technique with a specific element (a metaphor which feels a bit forced at times). Briefly, the strategies are as follows: Earth, understand deeply; Fire, make mistakes; Air, raise questions; Water, follow the flow of ideas; and The Quintessential Element, Change. Their chapters combine short paragraphs, brief anecdotes, personal stories, exercise suggestions, and the like; the narrative is constantly broken up, similar to a "For Dummies"-style book.

I found the value of "Earth" to be minimal. Here, the authors primarily highlight the dangers of rote memorization; their main advice seems to be to simply spend more time with a subject in order to learn it more thoroughly. Conversely, "Fire" provided more practical information, offering specific examples of how mistakes can be useful as well as suggesting ideas for building on failures to find success. But the chapter on questioning is again more basic, providing common-sense suggestions such as exploring issues from various viewpoints and ask better, meta questions.
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