What We’re Reading – The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking


I’m reading a great new book by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird, entitled “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking.”

We’re working with one of the authors, Ed Burger, to schedule an interview with him in the next few weeks on our podcast feature, “Join the Conversation.”  So, I am hoping you will soon hear more about this book directly from one of the authors.

In the meantime, I want to share some highlights from one of the chapters in the book.

As you might guess from the title, this book is all about the process of thinking.  And I suspect most of the 5 elements are quite different from those you and I typically employ.

One of the 5 elements is “Fire,” or as the related chapter is entitled, “Igniting Insights through Mistakes / Fail to Succeed.”  So just how do the authors say we should “fail to succeed”?   Here are some tidbits from my reading of this chapter:

  • “Fail is not an obscene word”:  We all avoid failing and usually to our own detriment – we get frozen into inaction.  To paraphrase the authors’ advice on how to get over this:  “if you know you can’t get it right, then get it wrong and then ask yourself why what you did was wrong.”  They include this famous quote:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games.  26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  And this is why I succeed.       –Michael Jordan.

  • “Don’t stare at a blank screen”:  Tackle any problem, project, or issue by opening up a computer screen and quickly writing down any and everything that comes to your mind as an idea, whether it’s “good, bad, or inaccurate.”  You can then use what you have written down to “exploit what’s wrong” and, “tease out the good elements.”
  • Finding the right question to the wrong answer”:  The authors tell the story of two scientists who worked at 3M in the 1970’s.  The first one, Spencer Silver, worked very hard on creating a stronger adhesive.  The result was an adhesive even weaker than others 3M had produced in the past, and thus was a big “failure.”  But that was not the end of the story.  Four years later, 3M scientist Arthur Fry attempted to find a way to put bookmarks in his hymnal so they would not fall out or damage the pages.  He remembered Silver’s failed “super-weak adhesive” and incorporated it to become…the “Post-It” note.  It was the correct answer to a different question than Spencer Silver had sought to answer.


  • “Exaggerate to generate errors”:  I really like this one.  Take any issue or problem and exaggerate it to a ridiculously extreme perspective: “…make the argument so exaggerated that you realize that it’s way over the top.”  Now you have something you can study and discover the “underlying defects,” and determine if these defects were in your original assessment.  They give the examples of companies which hire computer hackers to attempt breaking into their computer systems, manufacturers who conduct extreme stress tests on products.  Both exercises reveal the underlying weaknesses of a product and help determine whether the original assessments of the weaknesses were valid – we can all do the same with our ideas or problems.

So after reading this chapter, I asked, “How can the element of “Failing to Succeed” be applied to an on-campus housing program?  I asked some of our regional managers for their thoughts.  Here’s a good one:

“I’m a huge believer in the pilot program.  It’s hard to innovate in higher education with a massive program.  If you invite 1,000 students to an event and it’s a failure, you may have lost those students for the rest of the year.  Not to mention the potential waste of money.  But do the same event as a pilot program for 20 students, work out all the kinks, figure out that it is effective — then you are ready for the 1,000.  I think every housing program should have at least one pilot program going at all times.  It keeps fresh ideas coming and an innovation on deck at all times.  If the pilot program works, we keep it.  If it fails, we learn from it and either try again with changes or dump it.  Also, from a student development perspective, bringing this sort of culture to the student staff or hall government groups is a great way for out of the classroom learning to occur.  Students have the ideas; they just need to be challenged to make the plans, do the problem solving, and be persistent.  When they do, they build critical thinking and creativity skills.”

 So what do you think?  Have you seen examples of “Failing to Succeed” in your on–campus housing program and if so, what are they?