Interview with Rohit Bhargava, Author, “Non — Obvious”

Ailbhe Naughton, VTQ

How To Predict Trends And Win The Future” This is the 2018 Edition on Non-Obvious.

How did this series of books come about?

The series started eight years ago with a blog post and a PowerPoint presentation that tried to compile the biggest ideas of the past year and predict which of them would matter most in the coming year. The post and presentation came out in late 2010 and quickly went viral with over 100,000 views so the following year I did it again and the series was born. Each year’s edition included 15 trend predictions and over time the focus broadened from just marketing to many other topics.

The Non-Obvious series has over 1 million readers. What do you feel has contributed to this global success of the series?

I think the “non-obvious” intent of the series has really helped it to stand out. Reading articles about predictions for the coming year is usually a sea of unoriginal and lazy “predictions”. Calling Artificial Intelligence a trend, for example, is just plain lazy. That’s not a trend, it’s just a form of technology that exists. A trend has to have some sort of intent behind it and describe a human behavior. It is not enough to simply describe a technology or platform that happens to be growing.

Can you tell us about what is new in the 2018 edition?

The 2018 edition has been completely redesigned and is new in several ways. Firstly and most importantly, there are 15 new predictions for trends that will matter in the coming year. In addition, the interior layout of the book has been redesigned based on feedback from readers of previous editions, there are more illustrations and photos and the entire format is more visual than in past years. The writing has been improved and details added where readers have requested it in the past. Finally, this new edition has completed revised ratings of ALL past predictions — one thing that really makes this entire series stand out because there is a lot of transparency behind the past predictions and a willingness to admit when a particular prediction did not pan out the way we expected.

Who do you feel would most benefit from reading this book?

Innovators and entrepreneurs, leaders responsible for setting vision, consultants and anyone interested in the way that patterns emerge in business and what they tell us about human behavior will benefit from reading this book.

In this new edition you share some of the curation process used for many years to build the Trend Reports. Can you expand on that for us?

The curation process is based on being an “idea collector” and finding new stories and ideas in everything from conversations to ripping articles out of magazines. A big part of the process I teach to leaders and teams is how to use their curiosity to think outside of their industry to find more innovative ideas. Being more observant, curious and thoughtful are all elements of this process and learning to use those qualities to find and share better ideas is a worthwhile effort.

In terms of being trend aware and acting on trends, which companies do you think are doing well in this space?

Every year there are new companies that find ways to capitalize on the trends and evolve faster than their competitors. Several years ago, it was Red Bull that anticipated the rise of content marketing and shifted to become a media and lifestyle brand instead of an energy drink maker. More recently, GE has anticipated the need to tell its story to a new generation of potential employees and as a result is in a much better position to replace retiring talent and prepare itself for the future.

Do you have any advice on creating a truly great brand?

Great brands today need to stand for more than just what they make — they have to tell a complete story about how it is made, where it comes from, who is behind making it, and what impact its production or sale is having on the world. Companies benefit from taking a “Brand Stand” (one of the trends from the 2018 report) and having a point of view on the world is more important than it has ever been in the past.

You are a best-selling author, university lecturer and sought-after keynote speaker. What motivates you?

What drives me is getting people to see new ideas and opening their eyes to more diverse perspectives. I think the world and media in particular conspire to keep us locked into our world view and we can do better than that, but we have to choose to think differently and find new ideas from other sources.

You are a lecturer in storytelling and marketing at Georgetown University do you have any tips for marketers wanting to develop their storytelling skills?

Storytelling can seem like a big audacious goal requiring marketers to turn into professional filmmakers or novelists. That’s not necessary. I think the number one thing that marketers fail to appreciate is the rhythm of how people actually speak. When I do a training on storytelling, the first thing I get teams to do to think like screenwriters. A screenwriter only puts words on paper that are meant to be spoken aloud. It is easy to lose that rhythm of dialogue so the best way to get it back is to read what you write out loud. If it sounds unnatural, then change it. Real stories are told in the language of conversation, not the language of content marketing.

Bigger companies have been recruiting journalists as content creators, how can other businesses without these resources compete?

When a company (large or small) hires a journalist, what they are really looking for is someone with the right media skills or writing or video production or another such skill. The way to compete is to foster your best people who have those skills or the ability to develop them. Many brands fail at storytelling because they force team members skilled in marketing strategy to try and become content creators, writers or filmmakers instead. Those are different skills. You don’t need to hire journalists to compete, but you do need to find people on your team with the right skills … no matter what part of the organization they happen to work in.

The book also features a detailed section with a review and rating for more than 100 predicted trends. Predicting trends is a hard process. Can you expand on some major trends that you have predicted?

There have been quite a few! Some of the biggest have focused on the shifting role of women in business and media (Fierce Femininity) or how technology is creating a shift in how we perceive and understand one another (Virtual Empathy). The idea of sharing the past trends and ratings openly is to demonstrate how transparent our process is and how the trends and their meanings might change over time but the methodology for how we curate them remains consistent and useful.

What is next for the NonObvious series and for Rohit Bhargava?

This is going to be a very exciting year for the NonObvious series because we are moving beyond our signature workshops and annual book to many more products and learning opportunities. In the coming year we will be launching new digital training programs, more howto books in a series, learning products like notebooks and other tools and several other (hopefully) surprising and useful things.

About the book: 2018 Non-Obvious: How to Predict Trends and Win the Future by Rohit Bhargava Wall Street Journal Bestseller Winner: Gold Medal — Nonfiction Book Awards Winner: Silver Medal — Axiom Business Book Awards Official Selection: CES 2017 Gary’s Book Club #1 Amazon Business Bestseller (Top 50 All Books) Translated Into 10 Languages!

This article first appeared in VTQ Magazine. 
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