By Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird

Because it came highly recommended, I decided to read The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking. I wasn’t necessarily in the mood for yet another book telling me how to think, but it was small and compact, with few pages. And, I was interested to learn the thought provoking ways that promised to provoke thoughts.

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Much to my surprise and my ever-lasting gratitude to the authors, I found the book to be inspiring, entertaining, and yes, thought provoking. Meaningful and wonderful quotes were sprinkled throughout, as were great tips to improve one’s overall thinking skills. In addition, it actually changed the way I process information and think about it, just as authors and mathematics professors Burger and Starbird said it would.Understand Deeply, the book’s first chapter, uses “voting” as one of its illustrations. A more perfect time to delve into that subject could not be possible. I decided to take on the “assignment.” The authors ask the question, “How well do you know the candidates running for office?” And then they ask you to write down everything you know — records, positions, my positions vs their positions, their voting records, etc. As it turned out I’m not quite the “deep thinker” the authors believe I should be. But their point was made.

Burger and Starbird 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 believe that “Brilliant people aren’t a special breed — they just use their minds differently.” And when we look at things and ourselves in new ways, previously hidden opportunities exist.

Real life stories are used throughout the book, which also includes action items and concrete methods that allow us to attain a deeper understanding of any issue and to exploit the power of failure as a step to success. “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” is a quote by Thomas Edison found in the book. Any creative accomplishment, the authors write, evolves out of lessons learned from a long succession of missteps.

Given my work in communication and conversation, the chapter Be Your Own Socrates, was of interest. It addressed the importance of “being thought provoking” by asking questions and especially finding the “real” question. As I too have written, this requires that we become active rather than passive listeners. Sadly, many people spend their lives either not really listening or focusing on the “wrong questions.”

The authors illustrate this point with a classic joke:

Two men are walking in the woods. A ferocious grizzly bear charges at them and they start to run. While running, they shout:

Man 1: We’ll never outrun the bear.

Man 2: I don’t have to. My only question is “Can I outrun you?”

Man 2 has identified the right question.

Do take the time to read The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking. It is a book for all ages and for persons in all professions.

And remember: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. — Samuel Beckett