in book

The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking Summary

Here is The 5 Elements of Thinking summary. Learn practical and inspiring ways on how to become more successful through effective thinking. Learn specific strategies how brilliant people use their minds.


The 5 Elements of Thinking authors Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird explains how brilliant people think more effectively. They have studied ways on how people can use effective thinking strategies to achieve more success.

They say that you have to understand deeply, make mistakes, raise questions, follow the flow of ideas, and embrace change if you want to be an effective thinker.

About the Authors

Edward B. Burger is the author of over 60 research articles, books, and video series. He is a mathematician who has been honored for his innovative work in teaching mathematics through electronic textbooks.

Michael Starbird has received more than a dozen teaching awards. He specializes in teaching mathematics. He has also conducted hundreds of lectures and workshops.

Main takeaways: The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking Summary

Let’s discuss the key takeaways from their book:

  1. Understand the fundamentals and go for depth.
  2. Make mistakes and raise questions.
  3. Follow the flow of ideas and embrace change.

Understand the fundamentals and go for depth

Any subject or concept (no matter how complex they are) is just a combination of a few simple core ideas. The fundamentals always govern concepts all around us.

For example, if you understand deeply the 3 Laws of Motion, you’ll understand a large part of classical physics. It will just be a combination of few concepts. Add some math and the subject becomes more elegant.

Also look at calculus. It started with a few pages hundreds of years ago. But now a calculus textbook can have over a thousand pages. The few fundamental lessons were extended and combined to yield more learning.

It’s like having mental models as Charlie Munger says. You master the fundamentals and these will serve as your guide in thinking. No matter how complex the situation, you’ll go back to those fundamentals.

When you’ve mastered the principles and fundamentals, you won’t have to memorize hundreds of formulas. You won’t have to memorize a specific formula for each specific situation.

Make mistakes and raise questions

This is one of the keys towards effective thinking. Making mistakes present opportunities for learning. You’ll discover the holes in your understanding. You’ll also get feedback that you can use to improve your understanding.

Feedback is helpful especially when starting to learn something. You’ll identify the mistakes. You’ll also know what you’re getting right. You can keep trying until you see something that works.

You won’t know much if an idea would work unless you test it. Yes you can do some mental simulations. But it’s hard to consider all things (including the important ones) when you’re imagining the possible consequences of your thinking and actions.

Your mistakes will always be a great source of further learning. You might not find use in that one specific mistake for now. But for a future situation (maybe unrelated or not), you might find that mistake valuable in your learning journey.

Maybe you’re already familiar of Thomas Edison’s story about the light bulb. He tried over 10,000 ways on how to invent one. But he failed in most of them.

The thing is he only needed one success. He just needed one time when the light bulb will work. He made thousands of attempts. And he learned from all of them. He learned thousands of ways that won’t work. The succeeding attempts made him closer to getting it right.

Also raise questions. Just because it has been done that way in the past doesn’t always mean it’s the best way. There’s always room for improvement.

Many people think that asking questions is like showing they’re ignorant. Well, asking questions is part of effective learning. You have to challenge assumptions (both yours and your colleagues). This is important especially in new and complicated problems.

Follow the flow of ideas and embrace change

This is also important. Follow the flow of ideas. There’s always something more about each idea. We mentioned about calculus earlier. It started with a few pages. Then people started exploring the variations. Now calculus has grown into a very important field.

It also goes with other major discoveries. Newton’s 3 laws of motion seems simple. But those 3 laws guided further discoveries and innovations for hundreds of years. After all, you have to start with simple truths first. Then you can expand on them later.

To make further discoveries, you always still have to rely on the discoveries of others. There are always implications to each discovery. Follow that flow. And you’ll discover something new.

Also embrace change. Learning is a lifelong journey. What you’ve learned today might become obsolete tomorrow. But here’s the thing. You’ll become a much more effective thinker. You’ll welcome change and challenge assumptions. You will always be ready to learn something new. You’ll also go into the core of each issue.

Buy this book through my Amazon affiliate link