Ever heard/read something that helped you "connect the dots"?
Clear thinkers help me connect the dots and reach "aha moments".
To me, a clear thinker is anyone who helps you reach an understanding you intuitively grasped but couldn't quite explain/manifest before.
Under the rule of social media, clear thinkers win by cutting through the noise.
Here are 10 multi-disciplinary clear thinkers and my notes on them.
Carl Richards is the creator of the Sketch Guy column, appearing weekly in The New York Times since 2010. He became great at illustrating work/financial concepts.
Poorly Drawn Lines
Comics by Reza Farazmand have one commonality, we instantly understand them and shine a light on our daily insecurities.
In Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, the author attempts to explain various complex subjects using only the 1,000 most common English words.
Here's how Randall, also the author of xkcd, explain the International Space Station :
Wait But Why
Tim Urban's Wait But Why publishes long-form posts explaining topics such as AI and procrastination. His research process takes ages, bringing dry topics to life through story-telling and light jokes.
Humans of New York
"So do you do a different color every day?"
"No, I used to go through different stages. But then I found that I was happiest when I was green, so I've been green for 15 years."
Brandon Stanton is a master storyteller. He walked the streets of NYC and of dozens of countries to gather poignant stories that we can all empathize with. He makes you care. If you wish to know more, I'd recommend this podcast.
Derek's storytelling boils down to the essential, manifesting intuitions we can all understand. He excels at short stories: videos or blog articles.
Naval admits tweeting to clarify his own thinking. Millions of eyeballs consume and relay his tales, creating a cult-like following.
This one tweet/thread is a masterclass of copywriting, broad enough to be inclusive yet specific enough to be actionable.
The Marginalian (formerly "Brain Pickings")
James sold millions of copies of Atomic Habits. Readers LOVE his conciseness, he also built a 1,000,000+ subscriber newsletter on a simple model:
"Each message includes 3 short ideas from me, 2 quotes from others, and 1 question for you to ponder."
Why does Clear Thinking matter?
"If you want to master something, teach it."
- Richard Feynman
I'm obsessed with clear-thinkers, especially those who are multi-disciplinary. They could communicate through teaching, writing, drawing, poetry, music...
Simplifying feels like a multi-disciplinary approach that goes beyond knowledge. Getting your fact straights isn't enough, you need to deeply understand a given topic and shine a new light on it. What's your prism/leverage?
Could be through storytelling, copywriting, abstraction art, allegory, irony, pop culture... You need to find an angle that works for you AND for your audience.
Side-note: That's why I find generative art projects fascinating, they combine technology with classical art, see Star Wars-themed tributes.
- How can you tell that someone is a clear thinker?
When you ask them about a concept, they explain it in a way that makes sense to YOU.
For instance, see the video below from WIRED's YouTube channel "5 levels of difficulty", explaining topics ranging from Quantum physics to Neuroscience.
- How can I become a clear thinker?
I'm not sure. For copywriting, I'd recommend reading Scott Adams' advice (creator of cartoon Dilbert).
Let's note that incentives are broken, as most universities reward the OPPOSITE of clear thinking, asking students "2,000-word essays". Traditional workplaces also love lengthy communication as "proof of work" rather than clear thinking.
One commonality among all of them is that it takes A LONG TIME to get a decent understanding and create your own style.
PS: This is almost a male-only list, which isn't great. Who are your favorite clear thinkers? Would love to add more!