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The Secrets to Become a Top 1% Thinker

by | Mar 17, 2024 | Life Hacks

The greatest thinker I ever met was the son of a Malaysian farmer.

He ran the old school mainframe servers at my employer. My privileged white colleagues, as bad as this sounds, looked down on him because he was black. It pissed me off.

When I first met him I had no idea of the impact he’d have on my life. He’s a top 1% thinker. You’ll never meet another human like him.

He made me realize one big idea:

True beauty is humble wisdom.

What makes him a top 1% thinker is his view of the world. He has bizarre decision-making frameworks. And he’s one of the quietest and kindest people you’ll ever meet.

Not in a do-gooder way, but in a deeply caring and human way. It’s hard to explain and I get emotional thinking about it.

I’ve known this man for 5+ years, and here are the secrets he taught me about becoming a top 1% thinker.

Writing is thinking

There’s this weird idea you sit down to write with all of your ideas and a solid outline. I’ve learned this is false.

When I sit down to write, I often know nothing.

Through the process of writing I come across new ideas and join the dots between previously unrelated stories. Writing is how I make sense of the world. It’s a process of transcendence.

I got this from my farmer friend. He used to sit down and write these long memos to our team. He was a marvellous writer — short, sharp, powerful, concise, inspiring.

If you want to be a top 1% thinker you must write. You must become a proactive connector of ideas. The world will look different when you do.

The smartest people in the world accidentally connect different and unrelated ideas to create brand new thinking.

Strong mental hygiene is fundamental

My farmer friend dabbled with Buddhism.

He told me he couldn’t do deep thinking without the practice of meditation. He spends a lot of his work life traveling the world. He loves to disconnect. The other week I tried to call him to say hi.

He was missing for 14 days with his phone off.

I nearly called the police. I panicked. When I finally got a hold of him he told me he’d been in Japan.

Instead of staying in Tokyo’s tourist center, he decided to book an Airbnb out of town. He lived amongst the commoners. No one in the town could speak English.

One morning he went with his wife on a walk. They were in search of the best tea in Japan. They stumbled into a large conventional office building.

In the basement of this office tower was a small cafe with no windows. They only served tea and didn’t offer takeaway. He said there were five seats in total. He couldn’t understand how the female owner made money.

While he sat down she went over to this bizarre contraption. It was like a bunsen burner you’d use back in high school science class. It was an old artifact that belonged to a different era. It had pipes coming from all directions.

My friend watched with fascination as she hand-crafted his pot of tea as if it was her life’s purpose. After a few minutes his tea was ready.

He told me it was the best tea he’s ever had.

While sipping his tea he sat in silence in the darkness of the basement and thought about life. He says the power of silence and the present moment helps him do his best thinking. It keeps his mental hygiene top-notch.

A few days later he went to return to the basement cafe to do more thinking. Unfortunately, because he found the location without the use of his phone, he had no way to find it again.

The memory is now locked away for eternity never to be revisited again.

They’re low status

Thinkers who have big egos aren’t top 1% thinkers.

Their own arrogance gets in the way of them finding new ideas. They get caught up with credentials and expert status so they sound like wankers.

My farmer friend was low-status by default. He came from a poor family and earned a low salary.

He had a job no one else wanted — mainframe maintenance (cloud computing replaced it) — yet he turned it into a progressive hub for ideas. When people called him smart he brushed it off.

He didn’t exist to please or outsmart others. He lived to make people think.

I took his mantra and applied it to my writing. He taught me that to make people think is the greatest gift you can give a stranger.

This doesn’t mean you push for right or wrong. It just means you help people escape their bubble of comfort and consider a radical idea that challenges their beliefs.

Infecting people’s brains with radical ideas requires humility, otherwise, it scares them away forever.

Self-education is a foundational skill

The best thinkers don’t need to be told to learn.

They have a secret desire to do it on their own. They learn after hours while the masses are drowning in Netflix. My farmer friend used to get home and do self-paced courses or read history books.

He always wanted to be ahead on trends. He loved to sign up for challenges — fitness, writing, career, endurance, chess, etc.

Learning wasn’t a just-in-time pursuit. It was an automatic habit.

Obsession leads to future greatness

Thinking is an obsession.

The average person doesn’t think at all. They distract themselves. They numb themselves from the big, bad world.

They consume so much of other people’s thinking — through news and politics — that they forget who they are and stop giving birth to their own thinking and ideas. It makes me sad.

Thinking is a subtle art.

It’s an act of defiance. In 2024, it’s a controversial act of rebellion. Society, institutions, and governments don’t want you to think anymore because it makes you easier to control.

Public speaking makes good ideas great

When my farmer friend told me I should improve my thinking through public speaking, I had runny poos for the rest of the day.

Getting up and doing public speaking used to be my worst nightmare.

I felt exposed, naked, alone, and easily embarrassed. But after a few years I found public speaking made my thinking better.

When you publicize your thinking through the intimacy of a speech and open yourself up to feedback/criticism, it forces you to think harder. You have to make your ideas bulletproof through research and data.

Many of my best ideas started out as 60-second speeches at Toastmasters. Over the years I refined them to make the ideas so sharp they could pierce the hearts of even the most macho man.

Turn your thinking into 5-minute speeches. Deliver them.

Self-experimentation is how you find data-backed answers

A bottom 1% thinker will say “I don’t know” and give up.

None of us have all the answers. We find the missing solutions we need to progress in life by following our curiosity.

Self-experimentation is the powerful tool to make it happen.

When we experiment we learn. We disconnect from the burdens of failure and rejection, and focus on collecting data regardless of the outcome.

True learning happens through action — not by acquiring more information that’s just procrastination in disguise.


To become a top 1% thinker and access the enormous benefits it offers, my friend taught me that you don’t need to be special.

From the humble beginnings of a mainframe maintenance job, that everyone looked down on him for doing, he’s now the second in charge of one of the most successful tech companies in America.

In a few years, everyone will know his name. I often joke with him that he’s easily the next Sundar Pichai (Google CEO), and 99% of people don’t know it.

Dare to become a top 1% thinker. It’ll change your life.

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