Yuval Harari (45M+ Books Sold) Shows How To Learn And Communicate Like A Bestselling Author
10 years ago, Yuval Noah Harari was an unknown history professor. Today, his books have sold tens of millions of copies.
In this clip, he poetically describes the problem of info overwhelm better than I've ever seen before. Then he shares his very unique approach for sifting through the noise in order to come up with big ideas.
I'm fascinated by info overwhelm because it sits at the heart of learning faster and better, which sits at the heart of thinking better, which sits at the heart of writing better. In other words, our thinking is based on the knowledge we accumulate. And, our writing is based on our thoughts. Garbage in, garbage out. Gold in, gold out.
I’m also fascinated by Harari, because he has an extremely unique and effective way of communicating ideas that I’d like to emulate.
Today’s Game Plan
In the first half of today’s lesson, I provide a transcript of Harari’s thoughts on info overwhelm. Normally, I don’t do this, but Harari is so well spoken that I kept his words in tact.
In the second half of the lesson, for paid subscribers, I unpack the lessons we can all learn from how Harari learns, thinks, and communicates at the highest of levels.
Before I jump in, let me give you a quick timeline on Harari’s career so you have more context…
Yuval Noah Harari Timeline
1976: Born in Israel
2000: Becomes an avid meditator. Harari sits daily and participates an annual 10-day silent meditation retreat and credits his clarity of thinking to the ritual. Interestingly, Ray Dalio also swears by the power of meditation as well.
2002: PhD from Oxford. While at Oxford, Harari first encounters the work of researcher Jared Diamond and his popular book, Guns, Germs, and Steel. Describing the influence of this book, Harari says it, "was kind of an epiphany in my academic career. I realized that I could actually write such books."
2006: Becomes a lecturer at Hebrew University
2011: Breakout book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind published in Hebrew. The book is based on Harari’s lectures on world history. Interestingly, others like Chip and Dan Heath along with Peter Thiel have written bestselling books after testing out their ideas on a class first.
2014: English version of Sapiens published
2016: Homo Deus (second book) published
2018: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (third book) published
2021: Sapiens: A Graphic History (fourth book) published
2022: Unstoppable Us: How Humans Took Over the World (fifth book, children’s book) published
With that context set, let’s jump in…
Harari On The Info Apocalypse
The most important thing today is to be able to focus, especially if you have no guidance from an established school or an established program.
The greatest danger you face is being flooded by enormous amounts of information and being completely distracted and unable to form a clear vision, a map of reality.
In the past, the main problem was lack of information. Information was scarce. Censorship worked by blocking what little flow of information there was. And especially if you wanted to learn by yourself, there was just nowhere to go. You live in a small town, somewhere, and there is no library, there are no books, there is certainly no radio, no television, no internet.
Now information is everywhere. We are flooded by it. Our problem is just the opposite. Censorship actually works now by flooding people with enormous amounts of information. Whether true or not, it doesn't matter. Just flood people with information to the degree that they can't make sense of reality anymore. They can't tell the difference what is important, what is not important. They can't build a map of reality.
Build A Map Of Reality
And for schools, I would say one of their chief missions now is not to provide pupils with more information. It's really the last thing they need, but to provide them with either a map of reality or the tools to construct such a map.
Yuval’s Approach To Building A Map
My method was really to focus on the most important questions and then allow the questions to just lead me wherever they go. You take a big question, like, for example, why have men dominated women in almost all large scale societies for the last 10,000 years? And you want to understand why.
And it's important to take a question which is not only big, but it's also very relevant to my life to make it interesting. Something that really impacts me every day.
And when you start reading and researching about it, the first thing you'll discover is that you have to cross all kinds of disciplinary borders. This is not a question in biology or psychology or economics or philosophy or history. It's everything. You can't understand gender relations if you don't know about human biology. But if you think, oh, biology has all the answers, you also, you won't understand much. You also need to take history into account and economics into account and so forth.
So what gives you the structure is the question. I have this big question, and I'm on a quest, following it wherever it leads me.
Thought Leader Takeaways
There is absolutely nothing there [in Sapiens] that is new. I’m not an archeologist. I’m not a primatologist. I mean, I did zero new research. . . . It was really reading the kind of common knowledge and just presenting it in a new way.
—Yuval Noah Harari
When I see someone communicate extremely well, I switch into Idea Connoisseur mode. I wonder how they strung together the words so effectively so as to capture and keep my attention while rearranging how I see reality. Harari’s clip fits this mold, so I decided to analyze it.
In short, Harari uses three tactics extremely well in just this one clip…
He uses credible superlatives
He uses contrast
He follows his big question
We can all use these tactics to drastically improve how we learn and communicate our ideas online.
Below is a breakdown of each…