Book Cover
The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking

★ ★

TL;DR: a set of 5 concepts to help guide thinking. Mostly common sense, but distilled well and with a surprisingly helpful mnemonic.


  • 5 elements of effective thinking can be modeled as the four “elements” from classical thought
    • Earth: strive for rock-solid understanding
      • “The simple and familiar hold the secrets of the complex and unknown. The depth with which you master the basics influences how well you understand everything you learn after that” (p. 20)
      • Clear the clutter:
        • Identify and ignore all distracting features
        • Analyze what’s left, apply those insights to the larger whole
      • Technique: “remove the adjective”. Example: before, B&W photos were just “photos”. If you think about the adjective “black and white”, it becomes clear that color is missing
    • Fire: fail and learn from those missteps
      • Fail often, fail early
      • When a mistake occurs:
        • Let it lead you to a better attempt (Edison/lightbulb)
        • Ask whether it is a correct answer to a different question (3M/failed scotch tape/post-its)
    • Air: constantly create and ask challenging questions
      • “What would someone ask me in order to determine whether I really understand these ideas?”
      • Make it a habit to approach everything that is happening and construct questions about:
        • What’s missing
        • What’s assumed
        • What might be extended
        • What’s vague and unclear
    • Water: consciously consider the flow of ideas
      • “Solutions to little problems generate solutions to great problems” (p. 96)
      • Current solutions are not summits, they are points on the lower slope of a much higher peak
    • “Quintessential element” (underlies everything): embrace change and the process of growing
      • habits, habits, habits
      • Most people don’t even come close to their ceiling
      • Aim: you are no longer fighting yourself to behave differently. Instead, you are now a person who behaves that way.
  • “Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten” - B.F. Skinner
  • Brilliant people aren’t a special breed–they just use their minds differently