Analytical Thinking and Clear Communication for Success

Josh Bernoff photo

By Blair Kinsey

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Pennsylvania State University, Josh Bernoff started down the path towards a career in mathematics. Now, he is a successful nonfiction writer the author of two independent books, and a collaborator on 50 other past book projects. His mathematical expertise has been relevant all the while.

An exceptional math student at Penn State, Bernoff followed his undergraduate studies with three years of graduate work toward a Ph.D in mathematics at M.I.T. before he decided to change course. “I realized that I had very little interest in making contributions in areas where only a few dozen people in the world would be able to understand what I was working on,” Bernoff said.

Realigning, Bernoff spent the next decade and a half with various startup companies in the software industry. In 1995, he joined Forrester Research, which advises companies about technological changes. Here, Bernoff observed, “there’s an enormous focus on delivering as valuable and interesting insights as you can, in as brief and clear away as possible,” a principle which he’s carried with him since.

At Forrester, Bernoff co-wrote his first book with Charlene Li, Groundswell. Published in 2008 by Harvard Business Review Press, Groundswell sold more than 150,000 copies and became a leading book on social media.

“It basically made both of us celebrities in the world of social media,” said Bernoff about Groundswell. “I stayed at Forrester and eventually ended up working on more books there because that was my passion.”

In 2015, Bernoff committed to writing full-time, explaining, “I took some of the principles that I’d learned there and put that into my first book as an independent, which was Writing Without Bullshit, a manual for corporate writing that is clear and direct.”

Since publishing Writing Without Bullshit in 2016, Bernoff has led workshops on clear and effective expression at companies like Netflix, Disney, Spotify, and X (formerly Twitter). Additionally, Bernoff decided to use his experience to help other nonfiction authors. He has since collaborated on over 50 book projects generating more than $20 million in profit for their authors.

This past June, Bernoff’s second book, which he described as “a compilation of everything I’ve learned in all of those book projects,” was released: Build a Better Business Book.

“It covers everything from how to gather case studies, how to do research, how to work with co-authors, how to deal with writer’s block, how to get a publisher, what to do if you can’t get a publisher, how to promote the book, how not to kill your copy editor,” said Bernoff. “Basically, everything associated with what it takes for a business book to be successful.”

Bernoff keeps a daily blog at, which has racked up more than four million views in the past eight years. “I continue to use that as a way to connect with people about topics in writing, and in authoring and publishing,” said Bernoff.

However, this blog has other functions as well, Bernoff explained: “It’s a way to get ideas out there. It’s way to connect with people, and it’s a way to find out the best way to describe things.” Perhaps most importantly, “It also keeps my mind active,” he added. “You can’t write 1000+ words a day that’s intended to be interesting without keeping your mind active.”

Though it’s been decades since Bernoff decided to veer away from a career in mathematics, his math expertise has never lost relevance.

“Math is about proof. It is about conceiving ideas and then using ironclad logic to prove that they are true,” which requires an active imagination, as Bernoff explained, “and that kind of imagination and then logical reasoning is very much associated with creativity and ideas and writing.”

It’s this combination, “the analytical side plus the ability to write in a fluid and interesting way,” Bernoff said, which has most aided in his success. 

Commenting on Phi Beta Kappa’s commitment to fostering free thinking, Bernoff said, “Nothing interesting gets to happen unless people think up things that hadn’t been thought before.”

But this commitment may be more complicated than it appears, as Bernoff explained: “A lot of that breaks paradigms. It breaks boundaries. And it annoys people. And the other thing about it is that if you think things that nobody thought before, a lot of it is wrong. But that’s how success happens is, you know, most of the good ideas I’ve had in my life have been because I had a naive idea.”

Thus, this sort of provocative ideation must be coupled with critical thinking and the ability to discern “the difference between an actual argument and a spurious one,” explained Bernoff.

“There’s a real need for people to learn and be criticized and understand the principles of logical thinking,” Bernoff said. “And that might be math, and it might be something else, but that has to be in a central part of people’s education,” and ideally, at liberal arts institutions, it will be.

While Bernoff’s career has been long and multi-faceted, it’s nowhere near over.

“I can’t tell you what I’m going to do next, because it’s a secret, but . . . at age 65, I’m about to become a corporate co-founder,” said Bernoff. “I have a lot of [experience]. I have a lot of energy, a lot of creativity. So, people will just have to keep an eye on me.”

Blair Kinsey is a senior at Rhodes College pursing a major in mathematics and a minor in English. She was inducted into the Society by the Gamma of Tennessee chapter there in May of 2023.

Photo by Ray Bernoff