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Episode 15: Career Nation show with Rohit Bhargava

“If you can see things that nobody else sees, by consuming the information that they don’t, you can make yourself indispensable. Because that way, you end up having better, bigger ideas.”, says Rohit Bhargava in episode 15 of Career Nation Show.
Rohit Bhargava is the founder of the Non-Obvious Company. He is an innovation and marketing expert, marketing strategist, author, teacher, and keynote speaker.

Here are some highlights from this episode:
> Non-obvious megatrends
> Power of observation
> Protective technology
> Skill development
> Flux commerce
> Developing trust and becoming trust advisor
> His favorite book, app, and food
> Career advice
> How to become a successful leader?

Career Nation: Hey Career Nation! Welcome back to the Career Nation Show. Today it’s going to be a very special episode because today we have a special guest, Rohit Bhargava. Rohit is an innovation and marketing expert. He’s the founder of the Non-Obvious Company. He spent about 15 years as marketing strategist for Ogilvy and as well as Leo Burnett. He’s now the number one wall street journal bestselling author, and he’s also the author of five business books before this. He teaches marketing and innovation at Georgetown university. He’s probably known for the current bestseller, Non-Obvious Mega Trends. Please welcome Rohit Bhargava. Rohit, welcome to the show.

Rohit Bhargava: Thank you. It’s a pleasure.

Career Nation: Awesome. Rohit, tell us a little bit about yourself for the three people that don’t know you.

Rohit Bhargava: It’s probably way more than that I think. But, yeah, I spent a long time working in advertising and marketing advertising agencies. And, when you do that, I think you become a storyteller. And that’s one of the big things that’s been a driving force in my life. And so I tell stories for a living. I do that by helping people be more in what I call non-obvious. So helping them see what others don’t see, helping them think of new ideas, be more creative, be more innovative. Whatever the buzz word is, you want to attach to it, right? Disruption… There’s lots of them. But I do that by, delivering a lot of keynote speeches at conferences around the world. I do workshops like one day private workshops, for organizations. And I write a book, called Non-Obvious, which has been, every year there has been a new version of it up until this past year where I did the final version of it, which was called Non-Obvious Mega Trends. And it’s all about the big trends that are changing our lives and our culture and how we can use them to improve our careers and improve our business.

Career Nation: Oh, fantastic. There’s so many nuggets there that I would love to unpack. And Rohit, why don’t we dive into sort of the non-obvious mega trends first. And so at first glance, non-obvious and mega trends, it almost seems a little bit like an oxymoron, right? If it’s not obvious, how can it be a mega trend because I may not have heard of it. And so it sounds like these are sort of massive trans, these are undercurrents most people have not been paying attention to, but we should. Is that what it is?

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah, sort of. I mean, if you’ve ever seen one of those viral YouTube videos of a painter kind of making a painting and as they’re making it, you’re like, ‘You know, that kind of looks like something but I’m not exactly sure what it’s going to be’. And then right at the end they kind of flip it around and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s what it is’. You know? I think sometimes the mega trends are a little bit like that. Like they spotlight a lot of stories that we may have seen or you may have heard. But a lot of times we don’t take the time or have the time to put the pieces together over a longer span of time to say, ‘Hey, this thing that happened a year ago and this story that just happened last week, this is how they’re connected and this is what they mean’.

Rohit Bhargava: And so a lot of times with the mega trends described as something that we may have been kind of aware of in the peripheral sense of what was going on in the world, but we never really thought about in that way. And so the reaction I get most often to most of these mega trends is, ‘Oh, that’s like what I’ve been thinking and that’s what I’ve been seeing’. But you don’t really verbalize it in that way, right? And so that’s what tends to happen when I talk to people who’ve read these, who say, yeah, you know, I totally, it’s not that they read it and they’re like, Oh man, I never heard any of those things, right? Because then it’s kind of obscured. And that’s not, to your point, it wouldn’t be a mega trend then.

Career Nation: Yeah. And you’ve done so much work around these trends and I’m sure you like to do a lot of analytics, you observe all of this and you’ve mentioned this in the book, and you call it sort of a Haystack Method, where you sort of gather aggregate, elevate, name and prove, and at the risk of giving away the book. But, in sort of that gather step. You mentioned looking at things that are unusual where you can spot a pattern that’s sort of different. And, that’s to me, very interesting. And one question I had there for you was how can one develop a mindset that notices the unusual things? Is that, should a person just go out and proactively hunt for unusual things? Is it like a power of observation, a superpower that we should be developing?

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah, I think to some degree we all have this sort of power because we see things that are, that are interesting for us. And I think sometimes what we do is we see something that’s interesting, but we don’t necessarily take a moment to reflect on why it’s interesting or what it means. We just sort of consume it and move on to the next thing. And it becomes almost like that, like sitting in front of a bowl of Doritos, right? Like you’re just sitting there popping them in and you don’t even pay attention to what you’re doing. And instead, I think that if we were a little bit more conscious of why we find these things interesting and we engaged our curiosity a little bit more, we’d start to see these patterns. So a big part of what I try and teach people is be more intentional with your media consumption.

Rohit Bhargava: Like be more intentional with what you’re paying attention to and then create some sort of discipline, some sort of method to be able to capture what you read or what you think in a moment so that you can return to it later. And the analogy I use for that is that, if we could collect ideas the way most of us collect frequent flyer miles, we, we could really cash them in later, right? Because you don’t collect a thousand frequent flyer miles from flying from one place to another and then turn around and log into your account and say, okay, let me use my thousand miles. Right? Cause you can’t do anything. Like that’s not enough. But if you collect them over time, then it turns into something valuable where you can actually get a flight somewhere. And I think ideas can be the same way. Like if we collected them and had enough discipline to be able to find where we wrote them down in the first place and not lose that scrap of paper. And, you know, all the things that we sometimes accidentally do, then we could start to see the commonalities between them and come up with better ideas.

Career Nation: Got it. That’s a very helpful tip. And, as you know, if you look at our audience here for Career Nation Show, a lot of us are sort of business and technology leaders. How can we take advantage of these observations? Look at these trends as a tool or a skill that we can develop? How can we gain the skill? How can we apply it and sort of make our organization better or maybe more competitive and things like that.

Rohit Bhargava: So the way I see ideas and stories that relate to these mega trends is, the same way a spark would act in order to help start a fire. And so if you take these stories and you see something interesting in them, and then you say, Oh, I can use that to create something for our business. So let me give you an example, right? So one of the mega trends is something that I called, Protective Technology (Protective Tech). And it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s technology that proactively acts to protect us from some situation. And just this week I saw a story that I published in my weekly newsletter, which is all about non-obvious stories, right? That I send out every Thursday. And the story was about Tinder, adding all of these safety features that allow them to, for example, verify that the photo that somebody posted is actually a photo of them because they have to take a couple of selfies real time.

Rohit Bhargava: And then they match that with the photo. So it’s verified photos. So they’re not just posting a picture of like some famous celebrity and saying, Hey, that’s me when it isn’t. And then they have a panic button feature to where you can say who you’re about to go on a date with. Here’s all of their details so that there’s some emergency services in case something goes bad and you have some protection, right? So here’s a real example of Protective Tech, right? And what Tinder is doing to help protect their users in these real life situations where you meet somebody online and then you interact with them in real life, right? What could we do to inject more protective tech into our experience, right? That’s the question. So really with this mega trend, the question becomes an inspiration to then say, well, what do we do with this?

Rohit Bhargava: Like what could we do? And now you can have a brainstorm. And look, I’ve done a lot of brainstorm, facilitating a lot of brainstorming cause I work in the creative industry. And the problem with brainstorms is we sometimes start with these big open ended questions that say, look, we just need to be more creative. We just need to come up with something big. And like that’s not enough definition to create. And if you talk to any great designer, they will always tell you that they far prefer a more detailed creative brief than just a vague open canvas. Because the more detail they have around what they’re trying to create, the more creative they can actually be, strategically. And I think that the mega trends can give you that opportunity to be more strategic with your, idea session.

Career Nation: Got it. I like that idea a lot. And especially using that for brainstorming sessions. Some of the things we do here, you know, especially with our audience is sort of do problem solving or problem solving and get scale. Would you agree that some of this trending can help us in on one hand identify some of the problems that need to be solved, as well as some of the opportunities that we can take advantage of and then also help us to figure out how can we solve the problem, ie, get us to some solutions. Would that be a sort of a way to approach, our work in terms of problem solving, using trends and using sort of non-obvious observations?

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah, I think the, I mean, you really hit on it with the non-obvious observation part. The trends are really the output of my own process of collecting all these stories over the course of an entire year. And in the case of non-obvious mega trends over the course of 10 years, you know, because that takes 10 years worth of story gathering and research and interviews and all that stuff and puts it into one big package, right? But the technique that I really try and teach people to use is not so much just taking these trends and saying, well the trends are it and that’s the only thing you need to worry about. What I’m trying to teach people is that there’s this way of thinking what you said, the non obvious way of thinking. Which is you know, spot these unusual stories, collect them, find the intersections between them.

Rohit Bhargava: Look for inspiration beyond your industry. Right? A lot of times people who are in a technical field, like they just read their technical trade journals and that’s it, right? Or if you’re in architecture, like you’ll read the architecture digest and you know nothing else. And I think that if we’re going to truly be creative, if we’re going to really be innovative, like we’ve got to go venture outside of our industry, we’ve got to take inspiration from other places. We’ve got to avoid being the sort of person that says, ‘Well, I work in B2B and so anything that’s B2C like I don’t care about’. And so a lot of times we find like I find people have already closed their minds to stuff that they don’t think is relevant for them instead of looking for that gem of something that could be relevant for them that isn’t from their industry.

Career Nation: Yeah, totally agree with you, especially around the idea of applying, hings and ideas and concepts from other industries to your industry. And there’s a lot of learning there and there’s a lot of sort of, identification of problems and maybe different approaches to solve those problems. And again, that goes back to non-obvious, ways and non observation of non-obvious things. Now for 2020, which is your recent book and congratulations on hitting number one, wall street journal bestseller list. And so on, on those 10 non-obvious mega trends, I found all of them super fascinating. The one I got most intrigued by is Flux Commerce. And probably that’s because it’s closer to sort of my line of work in tech and innovation. Can you, do you mind double clicking on Flux Commerce for us?

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah. Flux Commerce is the idea that, business models are rapidly changing. The lines that used to exist between different industries are starting to break down. And so what you’re seeing is a lot of competition from unlikely places. And that’s an opportunity as well as a threat for many of us, right? So Apple’s opened up a new credit card. So now they’re in financial services. You have, furniture brands like West Elm opening a portal, so you can try the furniture in the hotel and then go and buy it. You’ve got Cheetos opening a hotel, right? I mean, you’ve got all of these different examples of banks like Capital One having coffee shops, right? Like there’s so many examples in so many sectors that point of this idea that these lines that were traditionally drawn, where you just select the drop-down in your industry or set up your, consulting practice by verticals, isn’t as relevant as it used to be because everybody’s looking for opportunities in other places.

Rohit Bhargava: Along with that you’ve got a business model flux. So cars being available by subscription now, like all of these auto manufacturers are saying, look, you can just subscribe to our cars and you don’t have to buy them. You don’t have to own them. The nature of ownership itself is starting to change. We see a lot of examples of that where people are saying, ‘Look, why do I need to buy this thing? I’ll just rent it and use it whenever I need to use it’. And the sharing economy is been a big part of that as well. And so all of these are also examples of just this flux, of commerce. And so it’s no longer just this, the idea that you make a product, you sell a product, people buy the product, and that’s it. Now you have all of these other examples like Patagonia and going off and creating their whole worn wear movement saying, Hey, don’t buy the new product. Like fix the old one and keep using it because we don’t want this stuff to end up in landfills. Like that whole movement is just so fascinating. And that’s what I tried to write with this trend.

Career Nation: Oh, totally. This is so fascinating because it touches us in so many different ways through all of these different companies and quite frankly, all of us as consumers and customers are contributing to some of those trends as well. with our evolving, tastes as well as evolving values. You know, I’m shifting gears a little bit, Rohit, you know, in one of your prior books, Likeonomics, you talked a bit about earning trust. And, in the business world we see this term tossed around a lot, like becoming a trusted advisor to your customers or stakeholders. For example, salespeople are super interested in making sure that they become the trusted advisor for their customer accounts, for example. Right? And so this is something that many leaders aspire to be. They want to be the trusted advisor. Can you share, maybe an approach, maybe a way to developing that trust and becoming a trusted advisor?

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah, I mean, to me there’s many keys to it. I mean, one is a proactive honesty. Which is sharing something you didn’t have to share. And so you imagine, I mean, this is a pretty simplistic example, but imagine going to a restaurant and you’ve got a waiter there and you’ve got two different waiters, right? And the first waiter, you say, Hey, you know, I haven’t been here before. What’s good here? And waiter number one says, Oh, everything’s great. You can’t go wrong. And then you have the second waiter, Hey, what’s good here? And the waiter says, well, you know, if you’re really hungry, you might want this. The thing that I get the most complaints about, like, nobody likes this dish, so definitely don’t order that. I’m the one that I get if I ever get to eat here and they let me have whatever I want, that’s what I get.

Rohit Bhargava: And the most flavor is this one. And like, you know, he tells you something that is useful. That’s the guy that you trust. Because he’s not the everything’s-good-here guy. He’s the this-is-good-this-isn’t-good guy. And because he’s sharing with you what’s good and what isn’t, and because he’s being proactively honest, he builds trust. And I think that same lesson is something we can use, whether we’re in a leadership role or a sales role or we’re just trying to engage with somebody who we don’t have a level of understanding or trust with yet at all. Because people trust authenticity. And that’s one way to relay authenticity. Right?

Career Nation: Yeah. I love it. Rohit, this is the part of the show where we get to know you a little bit better. And that’s Favorites. So are you ready for a quick fire round of our Favorite’s game?

Rohit Bhargava: I hope so. Lay it on me and we’ll find out.

Career Nation: Awesome. Okay. Let’s start with your favorite app. And you also have to tell us why do you like it.

Rohit Bhargava: So my favorite app is Shazam. And because it is the ultimate in simplicity. You press one button, it listens to the music around you and it tells you what songs playing. And I just love that singular focus of like one big ass button. And that’s what the app does. Like in a world where we have everything doing everything. Like that’s just so beautiful. I love that.

Career Nation: Oh, totally agree. I love Shazam by the way as well. So, beautiful app. And I think Apple just bought it recently. So, it’s part of the…

Rohit Bhargava: – Nobody’s perfect.

Career Nation: – Exactly. All right. let’s go to your favorite quote.

Rohit Bhargava: My favorite quote is one that I actually share in the book and has been a big inspiration for me and it’s from Isaac Asimov, renowned author and many people know him as a science fiction author. But he actually wrote, you know, more than 300 books on so many different topics. I mean, he wrote a guide to the Bible. He wrote a guide to every Shakespearian play ever written. I mean, just amazing amount of work. And what he said one time when people asked him about his appetite for knowledge, as he said, “I’m not a speed reader, I’m a speed understander”. And I love that. Because what it said to me is you don’t have to spend your time trying to consume everything. You have to be more intentional about what you consume in the first place and then focus on understanding, like thinking. Right. And, and I think that we all could do a little more of that.

Career Nation: Yeah. Love it. And I can definitely see there is a tiny in between sort of speed understanding and observing non-obvious trends. Okay, let’s go to the next favorite topic. What’s your favorite book, Rohit?

Rohit Bhargava: So one of the books that really changed how I thought and I have, I mean, just to give you a little like, you know, glimpse like… That’s my book shelf right there.

Rohit Bhargava: So, you know, I have a lot of books. But, just to give you a sense of, one of the books that really inspired me, it’s a book called Einstein’s Dreams by a physicist named Alan Lightman. And it’s almost like a book of poetry. I mean, it’s very short. Every chapters super, you know, super like condensed. And it’s all about what would Einstein have dreamed as he was coming up with his theory of relativity. And so every chapter is basically a different version of time. In one of them time move super slowly, in one of them it accelerates, in one chapter (time) moves backwards. And the whole thing just imagines what it would be like to live in a world where time worked in that way. And it just really got me thinking about, the nature of time and you know, some philosophical ideas, but just kind of useful too. Because it makes you a little more present in the world. And I think that, that’s not always easy to do.

Career Nation: Oh, that is fascinating. I’ll put that on my list. Einstein’s Dreams. Moving on to the next favorite are probably the last question. What’s your favorite restaurant, Rohit?

Rohit Bhargava: So, I think I have a good one here. So for my, almost my whole life, my dad worked at the World Bank before he retired. And at the World Bank in DC, they have a cafeteria. And because it’s the World Bank, what they do is they bring in chefs from many different countries and they have stations for lots of different countries, including like a featured country at various times. And as you go from station to station, it’s just this really authentic international food prepared by a chef who’s generally from that country and they’re all just in one place. And you can have some of this like amazing, authentic, world cuisine in basically a cafeteria sitting where you carry your tray around, you just pick up whatever you want. And I just think that it’s such a cool thing. I used to love going there, to have lunch, whenever I could because it was just such a cool experience. So that’s probably one of my most favorite places.

Career Nation: Oh, that is fascinating. And that gives you sort of a taste of cuisines from all over the world. It’s special. It’s awesome. Now that we know you a little bit better, Rohit, let’s talk about sort of some of your techniques that you’ve applied to your work. Some of your favorite tools, you know, or your approaches. So as you are working on any given day, whether you’re collecting trends or you’re speaking or you’re preparing for a big presentation, tell us some of your secret sauce. Tell us what is your approach? What are some of the tools you use?

Rohit Bhargava: So, I have some online tools, that I use. So I use a Feedly app. I use it, get pocket app, to save stories every week. And so I’m always collecting stories because I’m doing this weekly email, right? And so I’m always looking for stories and interesting things, to talk about there. I’m also very physical with, the things that I save. So I am a big fan of magazines. I love magazines and especially I buy magazines that are not targeted at me. That’s one of the big things that I do. And I tell other people to do that too. Cause if you buy magazines that aren’t for you, like you get to know about a different world, you see different celebrities you’ve never heard of, right? You get to see like, you know, just, just an entirely different view of humanity, than what somebody is interested in. If you pick up one of these magazines and they all have these really niche interests, right? And so I love them because you escape the algorithm when you do that, right? Nothing’s personalized to you. It’s just the magazine you get is the same one I get. And that’s it. Like, you know, you get what you get. And I love that. So I’m an avid consumer of those types of, of information because I find interesting ideas in them and I save them.

Career Nation: Love it. You know, one thought that came to mind as you were talking about sort of picking up content outside of your genre or outside of your domain was this sort of idea of non personalization. And if you look at your any of your feeds online, everything’s personalized. And I see that you are intentionally going out of that and trying to get something outside of your personal domain. And that is, that I think is so powerful because if it’s non-personalized you basically are opening up to so many opportunities that you may not be aware of. And it’s not, it’s maybe partly serendipity, but it’s partly also sort of getting exposure to other views, other perspectives, other domain areas. And who knows, those might result in new opportunities.

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah. You know, I think that never before has that been more important to do. Because I mean we’re living in a time, I think the first time in human history where, it’s possible to be more informed and more narrow-minded at the same time. Because you just read the same things that you agree with over and over. And we find it hard to avoid doing that because that’s what’s served up to us, right, by the algorithms. And a lot of people don’t realize, I mean, you have a pretty savvy audience, so everybody listening here probably knows. But when I search for something on Google and when you search for something on Google, we don’t see the same results. Because they’re tailored to us based on what Google thinks we want to see. And to some degree, I think that explains a lot of the, misunderstanding and anger in the world.

Rohit Bhargava: Because a lot of times people think, ‘Well, if you’re seeing the same stuff I’m seeing and you have a different conclusion about how the world works, then you must be stupid. What’s wrong with you?’ And actually you’re not seeing the same thing. Like we’re seeing totally different things and we’re concluding how the world works based on that. And I think people don’t appreciate that often enough. And so they just look at somebody who doesn’t think the way they think and they dismiss them as idiotic when actually they’re thinking the way they think because of what they see. Because of what they read. And that’s totally different than what you’re seeing and what you’re reading.

Career Nation: I love that. And that cuts across so many different things, right? Politics, business, technology. Unbelievable. I love that sort of non personalization. Maybe it becomes a mega trend down the road.

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah. I think we need that. Maybe I should just kind of focus something just on that. That might not be a bad idea.

Career Nation: Love it. Rohit, you know, you’ve been such a great sport here, sharing your advice and your time. As we wrap up here, what is your advice for Career Nation show? You know, our audience who is super interested in developing their careers, developing themselves as successful leaders?

Rohit Bhargava: You know, I think the one thing I will tell you about my career, having been in the corporate world for about 15 years before I left to become an entrepreneur for the last five is if you can see the things that nobody else sees by consuming the information that they don’t, you can make yourself indispensable because what ends up happening is you end up having better, bigger ideas. And whether you consider yourself a creative person or not, being the one who comes up with those things and thinks in that way becomes a personal brand. You know, it becomes the thing that you’re known for. And for me, that has really paid off because there was a point when I was working in one of my ad agencies where no one would ever have a brainstorm without inviting me. Because they knew that I would come up with great ideas. And it wasn’t because I was the smartest person, but it was because I was paying attention to things that nobody else was. And I was reading the things that nobody else was. And you know, I wasn’t spending like years and years doing it right? But I was consistently doing it as a habit and that really paid off.

Career Nation: Yeah. I love that. great advice to wrap up here. Rohit, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure and thank you for the great advice. And we will put, your links to the book in the show notes and we hope to talk to you again in the future.

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah, me too. Thank you.

Rohit Bhargava: Take care.