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Former Member

I’m behind in my reading. More than 30 unread books are sitting on my office shelves and another one joins their ranks almost every week. In an attempt to break the logjam I opened one somewhat randomly and read this intriguing claim:

"You can personally choose to become more successful by adopting five learnable habits, which, in this book, we not only explain in detail but also make concrete and practical."

With that, ‘The Five Elements of Effective Thinking’ went to the top of my list.

Mathematics professors Dr. Edward Burger and Dr. Michael Starbird believe effective thinking can be described, taught, and learned. They present some practical methods to improve thinking which – spoiler alert – boil down to asking better questions, taking calculated risks, and learning from mistakes. I believe this strongly enough that at a recent employee meeting I encouraged my team to take more risks and quipped that “failure is the new black”.

The five habits are based on the five classical elements:

  1. Earth = Understand deeply
  2. Fire = Make mistakes
  3. Air = Raise questions
  4. Water = Follow the flow of ideas
  5. Aether = Change

It may seem a bit contrived but the analogies work. To give you a sense of the book, here’s what the authors say about making mistakes:

"Fail to succeed. Intentionally get it wrong to inevitably get it even more right. Mistakes are great teachers — they highlight unforeseen opportunities and holes in your understanding. They also show you which way to turn next, and they ignite your imagination."

Simple advice but too often ignored. Most of us avoid mistakes, missing the greatest opportunity to learn. If you fail more, you might be more successful.

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This blog was originally posted on Manage By Walking Around on Sept. 8, 2013.