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Strong Thinking

The Five Elements of Effective Thinking

This book breaks down useful thinking approaches for problem-solving in work and life.

Earth #

Center your ideas around a solid foundation.

The key to mastering something is mastering the basics. The basics form the core of any expertise, like the Earth representing the solid ground. They're more important than theories or lots of facts.

Bring this to practice by breaking tasks into their basic elements. This gives you a list of simpler tasks to master and to build upon.

Solving a problem also means uncovering its essence. The essence is often hidden behind distractions or unneeded details. Finding the essence means ignoring what we see, or what others taught us to see. Don't let your expectations keep you from focusing on what's missing.

Fire #

Embrace failure as a necessary tool to improve.

Everyone fails, so avoiding failure isn't the right approach. It's learning from failures to improve ourselves. Failure is uncomfortable like fire, but we need it to find our most effective lessons.

One problem's failure could even be another problem's solution, as long as you reflect on them. Look for ways one failure can be a solution in another time or context.

All this means we need to embrace failure, even if it's uncomfortable, due to the useful lessons it gives us. Accept you'll likely fail a certain number of times (at least nine) before you get something right. This lets us try new ideas without fear.

When you brainstorm new ideas, get them down and worry about if they're good or bad later.

If you need to force failures, trying running a "stress test." These are when you pressure weak points until they break to find weaknesses, and then fix them. You can also find known or suspected weaknesses and exaggerate them, break them, then fix them.

Air #

Find clarity and focus by asking good questions.

We must always ask questions. They clear the way to deeper knowledge like a breath of fresh air.

You can imagine you're teaching someone who knows nothing about the topic. Try to guess what questions they'd have about it throughout the lesson. Or, if you wrote a mock exam about the topic, what questions would you include? Both approaches help you find faults in your knowledge.

Questions also keep you from getting bogged down in knowledge you may not need. Keep asking questions about your goals that lead you toward the info you need most.

Also important is asking the right questions. Good questions lead to new insights, solutions, and actions. They give clarity to the path towards a goal. They shouldn't focus too much on elements you can't control or learn more about. Don't be afraid to question your questions too, spotting when the solutions don't help you.

Also, ask more philosophical questions of why you're trying something at all. Why did you focus on it in the first place? What do you want to gain from it?

Water #

Let inspiration for ideas flow from one solution to the next.

New ideas don't pop up out of nothingness. Instead, they're variations of existing ideas. Ideas flow from the past to the present, like the flow of water itself. Throughout history, many knowledge breakthroughs were because people built on existing ideas.

To develop your ideas, look at what ideas are already there. Look at how others developed them, which is often through basic trial and error. Accepting this makes it easier for you to develop ideas in the same way.

This also means that new ideas are never the end of solving the problem, but the new start in how to fix it. You can exploit and extrapolate any new idea to solve others. So never dam up the flow of ideas, and instead, let each new idea flow the next.

Change #

All these elements won't amount to much if you're not willing to change.

This means embracing incremental chance and always trying to improve. The more you want to change for the better, the more effective they'll be. Work your way through a list of problems to address, and in the end, do it again from the start.