Can you learn to be successful?

5 effective thinkingI’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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3 Responses to Can you learn to be successful?

  1. I agree that making mistakes are a key aspect to the learning and growing process and integral to becoming successful. As a “newbie” it is inevitable that I will make a mistake here and there, but being in a corporate environment that is not too harsh in these situation is extremely important (yet sometimes uncommon). Having a manger that can be supportive during a learning moment after a mistake was made, helps ensure my confidence, teaches me how to deal with it effectively and instills the lesson. Understanding that managers, VP’s and Chief Executives make mistakes too, and hearing those stories can be extra beneficial! It let’s you know as a junior, that it is okay, as long as you learn from it and make adjustments where necessary.

  2. How interesting. I would have never thought to use the 5 elements as metaphors for a success blueprint.

  3. Jon Reed says:

    I like it and tend to agree. However I don’t think you can talk about true success without applying these approaches towards mastery – hopefully mastery of something personally fulfilling and material/market value. Embracing imperfections on the road to mastery of something you have a never-ending goal to improve/perfect – that to me is the success I aspire to. Stumbling often. 🙂

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