Using Non-Obvious Habits To Achieve Successful Marketing with Rohit Bhargava

Marketing is a key factor in any company’s survival. Understanding how to use the non-obvious can make products more sellable and successful. Founder and Chief Trend Curator of the Non-Obvious Company, Rohit Bhargava teaches us five habits on figuring out the non-obvious, which include being curious, observant, thoughtful, fickle, and elegant. As an author, he explains how he has developed his own publishing method as well as trends on the desirability of his products. Rohit also highlights the importance of how advertising should promote more experiences rather than images alone. Discover these things and more, keeping in mind how the transformation of a customer is the best result that advertising can bring.

TTL 549 | Non-Obvious


We have Rohit Bhargava here. He is the Founder and Chief Trend Curator at the Non-Obvious Company. He’s got five Wall Street Journal bestselling books. He has a couple of companies that he’s created such as the Influential Marketing Group and IdeaPress Publishing. He does a lot of TEDx Talks and a lot of interesting stuff.

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Using Non-Obvious Habits To Achieve Successful Marketing with Rohit Bhargava

I am here with Rohit Bhargava who helps brands and leaders win by learning to see what others miss. Rohit previously spent fifteen years leading digital and innovation strategy for global brands at two respected marketing agencies. He is the author of more books than I can count and they’re very interesting. Rohit, you have a very strong background in teaching marketing and storytelling at Georgetown. Everything else you’ve done is fascinating to me, so welcome.

Thank you so much. I’m glad to be here and chatting with you.

It was nice of Todd Caponi to recommend you. I could see why he thought we’d have plenty to chat about. You deal with a lot of the things that fascinate me. I’m always interested in the future challenges and some of that you deal with some predictions and a lot of things that deal with curiosity as well. I know I gave a little background on you, but can you give a backstory? I know you started with respected marketing agencies, but how did you get to be a Wall Street Journal bestseller on five books and all the things that you’ve done? Is there a backstory to that?

My journey started with writing. I was always a writer. Even back in high school, I used to write screenplays and poetry and all that stuff. My journey started with writing. I ended up going into marketing and advertising and worked at big agencies both in the US and in Australia where I used to live for about five years as well. I moved around and what I loved about advertising and marketing was that it was done well and not for evil stuff. It was a great vision and great storytelling. Those were the pieces that I loved. As a writer, I love those as well. It was 2008 when I published my first book and I did it very traditionally through a big publisher McGraw-Hill.

That’s where I broke out onto the scenes and do a lot of keynote talks and just be out there sharing my ideas and things like that. That book at the time and still is very topical and it was all about why companies, in order to be effective at selling and inspire belief, need to have a personality. They can’t be faceless. The name of the book was Personality Not Included. It was like batteries not included. They don’t give them to you, but you need them in order to make things work. The book was about how do you have a personality as a leader and use that personality to create a personality for a company.

I wrote a book called It’s Not You It’s Your Personality. I came at it from looking at personality assessments, but what you’re looking at is a cultural thing.

It was very much around this idea that the brands that we loved had this little bit of Trader Joe in them. They had the quirkiness. They had a personality that could be setting them apart from everyone else.

[bctt tweet=”Sometimes, it is difficult to make a change for something that is quantifiably better.” via=”no”]

I was looking at some issues with a turnover with the speech I’m giving. The old fish philosophy story came back. You can all be selling the same thing and yet how do you make it fun and different? You’re a storyteller and you must help people with their ability to be different. If you’re all a me-too product, how do you differentiate yourself?

There are a couple of ways. On the most basic level, if you’re selling the same product and you’re just a retailer who’s selling the exact same product, the only way to distinguish is based on the experience because the product is the same. No one wants to compete on price because that’s the short link. You don’t want to be like, “We have the cheapest price for the product so come and buy it from us,” which might sell it once or twice, but it’s not sustainable. You want to be a place that sustains across everything else. When we talk about the experience, you hear all of this stuff where people are buying experiences and they’re not buying products anymore. People do buy products, but experiences matter always. It depends on what experience means.

I’ll give you an example. I do a lot of different work in a lot of different industries. I’m lucky that way. Like you, I get to touch different industries. I’m not a specialist in any one. In the travel industry, people have known for a long time that people want experiences and not products because when you’re traveling, you have an experience. One of the biggest shifts in travel, which has been interesting is people no longer are happy with just an experience. They want the transformation. Even more, when people go on these big trips, they’re saying, “I don’t just want a great experience. I want to come back transformed and changed as a human to a different person.” You see that reflect and the whole transformation idea is big when you look at the campaigns for incredible India, which is a government tourism campaign for India. One of the big things that India is promoting is it is one of those places where a lot of people when they go there, they do come back transformed. They’re running towards that from a marketing strategy, which is smart.

I haven’t been to India, but are they transformed because they see what they’ve got here and can appreciate a certain experience? What transforms them so much?

There are many things. One is the richest of the rich people walking alongside the worst poverty you’ve ever seen. The contrast is transformational, but also from the spiritual side. A lot of people go, and they do a lot of these spiritual retreats where they reconnect with themselves in a way that’s easy to forget in the culture that we live in. That’s the transformation. For different people, it’s a different thing.

You’ve touched on a lot of things. I saw some of your books deal with all kinds of industries and different things that you even touched on medical. That’s a tough industry. I was a pharmaceutical representative for a long time. My husband is a physician so that’s what drew my attention. You’ve got all this Non-Obvious 2018 to Non-Obvious 2019. You’re looking at trends in your books. Would you say you make predictions or are you looking at what’s happening and how it’s changing? What do you consider non-obvious to do?

TTL 549 | Non-Obvious
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There are two pieces to that. That’s become the brand. Primarily, it’s about getting people to see the world and to see their ideas in a way that no one else is seeing. When I say non-obvious, I do mean not the obvious. It’s some things that nobody else is thinking of. How do you be the person that comes up with ideas that are non-obvious, that thinks in non-obvious ways? It relates to a lot of other words in the business that has become big buzzwords like creativity, innovation, disruption. All of those in some sense is about seeing the world in a non-obvious way. The big part of what I try and teach people is that this is not something where you’re naturally innovative or you’re naturally creative. It’s something that we can learn how to do. We can teach ourselves to think in non-obvious ways. The big part of what I talked about is how do you do that.

The way I bring it to life is every year, I do what you as a fellow author will appreciate the laughable stupidity of this same book and I republish a new version with fifteen brand new trends every single year. I’m going and updating this book every year. It’s great because it keeps it up to date and people want it for keynotes and stuff. It’s bad because I only have a year-long window to sell the book before that’s the outdated version. It’s this consistent treadmill and the counter on the Amazon reviews resets. You’ve got to do that all over again. All this stuff that happens every year and I’ve been doing this now for several years. The new version that’s coming out at the end of 2019, early 2020 is technically Non-Obvious 2020. Everyone has a year, but the upcoming one is going to be Non-Obvious Megatrends. It’s going to be very different because it’s going to take a look back over the past ten years and extract out some big macro lesson. More importantly, it’s not going to say 2020, so it has more than a year alone.

I love how you’re going about the same thing that I’m trying to go about because you’re trying to get to creativity and innovation. I’m trying to do it through developing curiosity. How does curiosity play into figuring out the non-obvious?

The most specific way there are five habits that I talk about and one of them is to be curious. It’s an element for sure for that idea. Curiosity is such an important thing because what it says to people is don’t just believe the first thing you’re told. It’s an important lesson to give to people and to remind them of because a lot of the stuff we’re told isn’t things we shouldn’t believe. It’s not things that are positive in the world. It’s not something that we should blindly follow. We need curiosity in order to be smarter people. You’ve hit on something important here, which is if you’re going to be an intelligent person that makes up their own mind instead of believing the first manipulated story that crosses your Facebook feed, you’re going to need curiosity.

It is important. When I researched it, I found four things keep us from being curious, which are fear, assumptions, technology and environment. You’re touching on that assumption’s aspect. Perception is what I also write about. It’s how we tell ourselves and what we think is a reality. I had Ellen Langer on the show who’s a Harvard professor and she teaches mindfulness. She told a story about how much her thinking was changed after a guy asked her to watch his horse because he said he was going to go get him a hotdog. She thought, “Horses don’t eat hotdogs.” He came back and fed the horse a hotdog. She was like, “I guess horses don’t always eat hotdogs.” She had to rethink how she looked at the world. I love the curiosity component of how we can get to creativity and innovation. A lot of people believe what our minds are telling us based on our perception that’s been drawn from childhood. How do you get out of that?

It’s difficult. One of the stories I tell from the stage is about the history of something that we use on a daily basis, which is the QWERTY keyboard. It’s one of my favorite stories because it’s all about why those keys are in that order. If you think about it like, “Why QWERTY? There must be science?” There is and the science was there was the guy who invented the typewriter and his name was Christopher Latham Sholes. The problem he had was people got too good at using the typewriter, so he redesigned the keyboard intentionally to make people slower at typing and now we had QWERTY keyboard. There is one guy that said, “I need to slow people down.” None of us want it now. In the ’50s, another guy came along, and he was a professor and he redesigned the keyboard. He named it after himself. His name was Dvorak. The keyboard was much more optimally designed to put all the vowels on the middle line.

He went out and found a professional typist in 1950s and taught her how to use that keyboard. She won all these typing competitions with a top speed of over 200 words a minute using his keyboard. He proved it was better, but he couldn’t get anybody to switch because we were stuck in that habit of using that one that we already knew. All the keyboards were already manufactured in that way and nobody could change it. I use it as an example of how difficult it is sometimes to make a change to something that’s quantifiably better. We’re proven to be smarter, but we still can’t make the shift to because of all these things that are keeping us and all these barriers that are holding us back.

It sounds like my golf swing. You get used to doing something the way you’ve done it and it could tell you all the right ways. It’s almost better to come in with fresh eyes with certain things. I always thought the keyboard was designed optimally for which letters you use the most often were the easiest to reach. That’s an interesting story. You mentioned five habits and we touched on curiosity. Can you name the other four?

[bctt tweet=”A trend is a curated observation of the accelerating present.” via=”no”]

The first one that I talked about is to be observant. That’s about seeing the things that no one else sees and seeing what others miss. Being curious is the second. Just always ask why. Be thoughtful, which is take time to think and form a point of view. Be fickle, which is the one that people are most surprised by. That to me is saving the idea and move on. I’m fond of using this analogy. I say, “What if we could collect ideas the way we collect frequent flyer miles?” Think about it as flyer miles, but you don’t cash them in at the same time. You collect them until eventually, you get enough to do something with. If we treated our ideas in the same way, we could come up with great things because we’re more disciplined about how we saved them. That’s a big part of what I talk about. The last one is to be elegant.

This might be influenced by my writer’s background and going into advertising this idea that in poetry or when you’re writing a tagline, you’re very intentional about the words you use. You don’t use extra words because you don’t have space and they’re unnecessary. Think about like, “Are we saying this or communicating it in a beautiful way?” It’s something that great leaders are gifted at doing and great speakers are gifted at doing. It’s something that we can challenge ourselves to do by reducing what we have. This may be a writer’s perspective, but it’s much easier for me to write something longer than it is to shorten it and make it good. Writing longer at some point and making it shorter and better is more difficult but worth it.

When you talk about elegant, it reminds me of science. They always say, “Have an elegant solution.” When you could have anything simpler, it’s better but it’s challenging. I know you gave a couple of TEDx Talks that can be challenging because you have to compact what you want to say on those short periods of time. I noticed that you and I both do these keynotes. A lot of the talks I have to give is an hour long and that seems so long to me. Do you prefer the shorter TEDx-type Talk or do you like to give an hour? How do you do that and not make it boring if you have to talk for an hour?

The talking for an hour thing is what I do frequently and I know you do frequently. The only way to make it interesting enough is to think about levels. You can’t make it monotone. You have to be able to take people up and down. Tell them something slower than get faster. Tell them something more exciting then less exciting because you have some contrast in there. There’s a lot of science around how to build a great long talk. It does apply to shorter talks as well. I’ve done the shortest talk. Somebody invited me to do a five-minute talk. I’m very visual with my speaking so I like to use visuals. I don’t call it PowerPoint because there are no bullets on my slides ever. In an hour-long talk, on average, I’ll have about 140 slides. It’s a lot of visuals, but none of them have bullet points. I moved through it, I finish on time, and I never go over it.

The idea is that the visuals are bringing this to life. If I told that keyboard story, I’d show you what a picture of the keyboard looks like while I’m talking about it. You could visualize what a Dvorak keyboard looks like because I’m talking about it, but I don’t need any words on that slide. Doing it in that flow, as long as you have enough of the ups and downs, it’s important. At the end of the day, whether you talk for an hour or whether you talk for five minutes, I do believe that people are only going to take away one or two things.

What I found to be most interesting is if I do a short talk for five or ten-minute talk, I’m prescriptive about, “Here’s the one thing that I want you to take away.” Whether I say it that way or not, there’s just one message for them to take away. There’s one or two. In an hour-long talk, I might have seven or eight because different people will take away a different idea. I can spread it out. It’s like, “This one is for you and this one is for you.” Different people will come up to me afterward and it’s fascinating because they’ll say, “The one thing that I remember is this.” It’s different for different people because, within an hour, I had enough time to take them through this journey where they could pull out the one that felt most relevant for them.

It’s a challenge to make things interesting when you’re talking about giving these talks and doing things. I was watching one of your talks that you were talking about being more believable in marketing. I thought that was an interesting talk because you were saying how everything isn’t in the world and that we have to be human, real, truthful, and some other things you were talking about. Is it the same if you’re talking about anything that you have issues with people believing what we’re saying as speakers or is it a marketing thing that you were talking about? I think a lot of people hear a lot of speakers and they think, “I’ve heard all this before.”

TTL 549 | Non-Obvious
Non-Obvious: The worst way to start any presentation is to initially say, let me start by telling you about myself.


There is a lot of that for sure. There are things that we do. We being people generally who take the stage where we lose credibility almost immediately and we don’t realize why. For a couple of years, I taught a course at Georgetown. It was all about persuasion and public speaking. I’m not a public speaking coach. It’s not what I do, but I thought this would be interesting because frankly, I did it for selfish reasons. I thought it will make me a better speaker if I have to teach.

If you want to learn something, teach it. I know that.

I’m mission accomplished there. One of the things I would tell people is that there is an absolute worst way to begin any presentation. There are awful words to use to start a presentation. The worst way to start any presentation is to initially say, “Let me start by telling you about myself.” That is the last thing that anybody wants to hear. They don’t care. The thing that we forget is if you’re on stage in front of people, people want to assume that you belonged there. You don’t need to spend the first five minutes proving to them that you belonged there when you’re already there. It’s like trying to sell someone on something that they’ve already purchased. It’s stupid and boring and then they check out because they’re like, “He only cares about himself.” Instead of doing that, focus on capturing their attention and focus on establishing a human connection. All of the great speakers that you see will find some way to do this initially in their presentation, which is they will demonstrate and connect with you on a human level.

The perfect example of this is comedians. They will often come in and the first jokes they’ll tell will be something about their friends, their family, and their life because they want to demonstrate that they have a human connection. When you go and watch David Copperfield doing his magic show, he has this amazing story about his relationship with his dad. What’s more relatable than a relationship between a father and a son, a parent and a child that all of us have. We all have these relationships. He’s a famous icon. Everybody heard of David Copperfield, but to see him do this show in such a personal way, you’re like, “He’s a real person.” That gets you over that skepticism barrier and that trust problem because now it’s not, “I distrust your entire category or your entire company.” It’s like, “You’re a real person.”

This can be very challenging based on the industry. Do you change your opening based on the industry or is set?

I have multiple openings that I use, but I don’t change them based on the industry. I change them based on the audience and where they’re coming from. At the end of the day, if I go and speak for financial services or I go and speak for a retail audience or I go and speak for a healthcare audience, they all have parents. There are some things that are universally relevant. I have a couple of talks and you probably do as well. What is the story that I can use to get them into the core of the talk and tell them something about myself? That’s how I’ll typically decide what stories to use.

What’s your favorite story you tell to start off a talk?

[bctt tweet=”The only way to distinguish a product is the experience.” via=”no”]

It was me talking about how I always saw myself as creative, but when I first started in advertising, I was not creative in the lingo of advertising. In advertising, you have people who are in creative jobs and they have the word creative on their business title and business card. You have the other people who are client services and I was client services. Oftentimes, what would happen is I would see that as an invitation to not be creative because it wasn’t my job. The story I tell around that is me struggling with that as a person because I felt I had this stuff inside me that I didn’t have permission to share. I felt that it was bottled up. I use that story to talk about how anybody can be creative, but we have to take the opportunity for ourselves. What I’m trying to relate it to is anybody who’s sitting in the audience feeling they could do more than they’re currently doing, but they’re not doing it for some reason. They’re feeling held back, which is a universal feeling, especially among the corporate audience. It’s this feeling of unfulfillment. To tap into that in everyone and to say, “I feel the same thing. Here’s how I got past it and here’s how you could too,” it’s a relatable thing.

That is a great message because a lot of people know they want to share information, but then they jump right into what they’re trying to share. What you talk about is fascinating because I’m sure a lot of your talks deal with futures, trends and things. I think that a lot of people are on the edge of their seat wanting to know what’s going to happen. Would you consider yourself a futurist? I know you talk about trends. Are you talking about the observations more than predictions?

I am talking about trends and sometimes where it’s convenient, I will with talk the term futurist. When I say when it’s convenient, obviously I’m going out and getting paid speaking gigs. On some occasions, there will be events that say, “We want a futurist as a speaker. If you asked me, I wouldn’t typically describe myself as a futurist because oftentimes, a futurist is someone who looks at a lot of research data across urban settings and countries and says, “This is what’s going to happen in 20 years or 40 years.” A futurist, in general, is somebody who looks at the far future. Instead, what I often describe myself as is a near futurist. It’s somebody who’s at the next one to five years.

You’re making predictions.

I’m making predictions, but when I talk about predictions, the definition I prefer to use for a trend is that a trend is a curated observation of the accelerating present. The reason why I describe it that way is that the predictions that I make are not predictions of something that might happen. The prediction is this is already happening, but you might not have heard about it. In the near future, it’s going to happen more often. It’s going to change the way we think and it’s already starting to, but it’s just at the beginning stages of it. It’s still not obvious. One of the big questions people ask me is, “You do this book every year so there are new trends. The new trends must make old trends old and useless.” What happens is the old trends, the trends from 2015, 2016 or 2017, they don’t go away. In fact, they were important. They become more obvious instead of non-obvious if they’re well printed. Every year at the back of the book, there’s an appendix with a lot of transparency that grades all of the past trends based on their performance over time.

Did you suggest it or is it something else? Do you look at how close you were to predicting things that continued as a big trend? Is that what you mean?

They’re rated based on whether the trend continued and whether you need to accelerate or whether it fizzled out.

TTL 549 | Non-Obvious
Non-Obvious: There’s a lot of guys who want to be supportive, do the right thing, and be good men. They just don’t exactly know which advice to follow.


Which ones accelerated and which one is fizzled out? Can you give us some top and the bottom?

The first thing I’ll tell you is that this is not just based on what I think. This is based on going out and talking to audiences and putting these in front of different groups for workshops and things like that and seeing if they still relate to them. That’s what it’s based on. One of them that has continued to accelerate over time, and I used it in a couple of different formats, was this idea of the desirability of things that are unperfect or imperfect. We called it lovable unperfection, which is a beautiful word because the word is imperfection, not unperfection. We’re trying to relay the fact that even the word itself is a little bit screwed up. It’s this desire for us to not have things that are perfect. I know Todd talks about this and does a great job talking about how if something has only five-star review, we don’t trust it. We pick someone that is slightly flawed because they’re more human.

That is a theme that has continued to accelerate in many different ways and has relations to a lot of the other trends that we talk about. One of the trends that we had in the last report was the human mode and it was why we prefer to have a human experience. There was this beautiful example that is so good. There’s a grocery store in the UK that created a slow checkout line and it was essential for people who had dementia or older people, or people who just needed a little more time and want to talk to a person. Alongside all of the kiosks and the automation and check out yourself and all that stuff, they add a slow checkout line that was called the slow checkout line. What beautiful empathy does it take to come up with something like that and implement that?

That’s something that we like more and more. It’s this empathy baked into these experiences. Starbucks opened a store right near a famous university for the deaf called Gallaudet University in DC. All the people who work there are deaf and use sign language. It was a great idea and great place, but what was interesting to them was very quickly, the people who started going there whether they were deaf or not, taught themselves how to order their drinks in sign language. The customers adapted to the fact that this was a special place and started using sign language to order their drinks instead of ordering them in other ways.

The imperfect thing is fascinating. I do remember that Todd talked about five-star reviews. You think it’s better to have 4.2 to 4.4 and all that. Can you list a few more?

One of the most interesting progressions is how does the intent of these trends change over a couple of years. I’ll give you an example of trends from different years that started to epitomize a shift when it comes to gender. All the way back in 2013, I wrote about a trend that I called Powered By Women. It was about more women taking on leadership roles and have been prominent mainly in business but also in entertainment. A couple of years later, I wrote about a trend that titled fierce femininity. It was this new and stronger take that was based partially on seeing all these entertainment examples of The Hunger Games where the hero is not a girl in a tower waiting to be rescued. She’s kicking his butt and she has a fierceness. It was that statue that stood up to the bull that was around that same time. That was the trend that year.

The year right after that, I wrote about a trend called ungendered, which was how gender doesn’t matter as much as they used to and how now you have all these countries that have third gender options. There’s male, female, and then X for people who don’t relate to either gender. Facebook opened up their whole dropdown menu to have more than 70 options for gender. They said, “If those 70 aren’t enough, you can just write in your own gender.” Gender became a statement. This 2019, I wrote about a trend called muddled masculinity. In this world where we see so many shifts in how we’re seeing women, what happens to men? What’s the resulting impact of that on masculinity? I love this slide and I did this keynote talk at a big event called South by Southwest. I had this slide where I pulled two popular stories about International Women’s Day and the headlines for the stories.

[bctt tweet=”People are no longer happy with just an experience. They want the transformation.” via=”no”]

One of the headlines was, “It’s International Women’s Day. Men need to engage. We need men in order to help move women forward.” The other headline right next to it was, “It’s International Women’s Day and men should just shut up.” I used it to demonstrate the muddled. These are the messages that the guys are getting. There are a lot of guys who want to do the right thing and want to be good men and be supportive, but they don’t exactly know which advice to follow. They’re confused. I see this more and more through media in terms of what does this create not only for men. I have two boys. I’m a dad of two boys. I’m thinking about, “What does this mean for them?”

I saw the new Avengers movie. It was very pro-women. It was making me think about how much of a focus that they had on women’s strength. As you’re mentioning those messages getting misconstrued or whatever, what did you think of the Gillette ad and the way it was taken? Did you get a chance to see that ad?

I did. That was a perfect symbol of not what people thought it was. I saw it as less a take on masculinity and more a take on a brand desperate to try and be relevant to a conversation that was happening. It was peripheral to their brand. They’re like, “Let’s jump in.” The problem that they had wasn’t so much with the message as it was with them being the ones to relay that message because they didn’t have any permission to do it.

What do you mean by permission?

They were not a forward-looking brand when it came to thinking about masculinity. They didn’t have a point of view until they watched one ad to say, “By the way, we have a point of view.” In marketing, whether it’s Gillette or anyone else, it doesn’t work because you haven’t built up to that. It’d be like me walking into an event with professional chefs telling them how to cook. They’d be like, “What in your background tells us that we should be listening to you?” If you don’t have a good answer for that, you’re going to get criticized. That’s not just Gillette, that’s anybody. That’s what happened. Even with that, I don’t think that was bad for the brand because many other brands struggle with relevance. They don’t care so they get ignored and they get forgotten. If it takes something like this to jump into it and get people talking about it, in this case, it is that old adage of, “At least they’re talking about us.”

No publicity is bad publicity. As people are throwing away their razors, are we becoming too sensitive? Were they trying to do something good? It’s an interesting discussion when I teach marketing classes because you can show that ad to people who’ve never seen it and get such different responses. I’ve never seen an ad polarizing and I was wondering why we see people react the way they do. They didn’t have the foundation for it. Do you think we’re looking for perfection in these ads coming out? How hard are we as consumers on marketers?

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We are, but one of the trends that I wrote about that was called Manipulated Outrage. It was all about this idea that when we feel being outraged as part of our identity that we need to be outraged about something, we’ll generally find something to be outraged about. I’m not saying that it’s not valid to be put off by something like this, but to some degree, it’s tipped the scales in an extreme fashion that says, “If I always have to be outraged, that means I always have to be angry at something. Therefore, I need to close my mind to the perspective that maybe this other point of view or maybe they have something worth paying or debating. They’re not automatically stupid just because they say something that I don’t agree with.” There are some danger signs to that. I was reading an article about how some of the most famous standup comedians in the world refuse to do shows at college campuses anymore. They can’t make a joke about anything without somebody getting offended and creating a whole boycott. In the next generation, they’re in danger of no one knowing how to take a joke anymore.

What’s the solution?

Their solution has been “We’re just not going to go to a college campus,” but that’s not a good solution. My solution and what I suggest to people is we have to be so much more intentional about being open-minded. Choose to read the things that we disagree with. For the last several years, I personally have been subscribed to the political campaigns for Democrats and Republicans. I get emails from Trump, I get emails from Democrats, Biden and everybody. They all come into my inbox, so I see what everybody is saying. Most people wouldn’t do that. They take a side and that’s what they get. The challenge with that is that you become super narrow-minded. I remember reading this idea that I felt was good and true, which is that it’s possible to be both more informed and more narrow-minded at the same time because you’re more informed about that one point of view that you know and nothing else. I’m like, “That’s true.” People who read a lot think, “I’m so well-informed.” You’re only well-informed about that one point of view that you believe and that’s it.

How has it changed your perception by doing that for both parties?

I see how much of the outrage that we are pushed towards feeling is manufactured. If you were to speak to somebody who doesn’t think the same way you do politically, you’d find something in common with them. If you just focused on the media, you’d be like, “I have nothing at all in common with this person.” Across much of America, there is an allegiance to politics. The deeper allegiance for many people, especially in smaller towns across America, is to their local college football team. That’s a deep alliance for people. Imagine if that was the first thing you said like, “All of you people who love the football team from the University of Alabama, you’re all in the same room and you are die-hard fans for that team.” You said to them, “By the way, you are Democrats and you are Republicans.” They still have something in common, which is that they love the same team. Those people would have a different conversation with each other because they know that they have something in common and they wouldn’t treat each other the way that Democrats and Republicans often do treat each other.

It is an interesting time of how much everybody seems to get polarized. That’s what I was interested in developing curiosity. I’m also interested in just changing our perception so that we’re developing more empathy. A lot of my research I did for my dissertation was about emotional intelligence. I looked at what helps with performance. There’s a definite correlation to emotional intelligence. What you’re talking about is opening up our ideas and our minds to different ways of thinking. You’ve done a lot with your Non-Obvious Company. You’ve done some interesting work with these books and all the writing and speaking you do. You’ve also founded other companies. You have the Influential Marketing Group, IMG. You also have IdeaPress Publishing. You mentioned something about publishing the traditional route. I’m wondering if it had changed your mind and now you’ve created your own type of publishing. Do you have a hybrid publishing company? What is IdeaPress?

A division of it became the publishing company that I wished existed as an author. That’s what I tried to do. What I mean by that is there are a lot of things people don’t understand about mainstream publishing. The biggest one is this. When an author gets an advance, they’re getting a loan from a publishing company to write the book. A couple of things happen when they take that loan. The first is an advance against your royalties, which means you have to pay it back, which people don’t get. They think, “You got paid all of this money to write the book.” That’s not how it works. The other thing is once you take the money, you are an employee of the publishing company. The resulting relationship is they’re the employer and you’re the employee, which means they dictate to you what needs to happen.

They have a vested interest in keeping you happy, but at the end of the day, it’s their decision. Everything is their decision. It’s their decision where they are going to promote, what the cover is going to be, and they own it. What I disliked about that was in the cases where I didn’t agree or where I felt like they weren’t doing a great job or where I felt like I wanted more control, I didn’t have the option to do that. When I created IdeaPress, it was meant to be an independent publishing company that would not give up anything. The first thing we did is we went out and got distribution rights so we can distribute everywhere at bookstores and airports and not just Amazon. The second thing we did is we went out and forge relationships with the best printers in the US so we didn’t have to do printing that would be substandard. We would do great printing that was printed in the US by top tier printers so that our books would be beautiful. I’m a branding guy so that’s what I care about. When you hold this thing in your hand, it’s beautiful.

[bctt tweet=”It’s possible to be both more informed and more narrow-minded at the same time.” via=”no”]

We went out and find who are the best resources that we can hire freelance like editors, designers, layout people, proofreaders, copy editors, indexers and everybody? We just built the relationships directly with them. I had all these authors who were friends of mine starting to come to me saying, “We weren’t satisfied with the publishing experience that we had with a mainstream publisher. We want something that we have more control over.” They’d come to IdeaPress and that’s how that business has grown over the last several years. We’ve now done 32 books. Todd is one of our great authors. His book is awesome. I highly recommend it. The Transparency Sale is what it’s called.

It has a great cover with a transparent cover.

We can do unique stuff like that. We’ve done different covers. We’ve done inserts into the books. We’ve done beautiful end sheets. We’ve done all sorts of cool stuff.

I know there are so many people who are trying to get away from traditional publishing because if they’re going to do a lot of work, they want to get paid more and a lot of other reasons that you mentioned before. That hybrid situation is needed a thing for so many people because the book is the new business card these days and everybody would like to have a good quality book. What I saw a lot with the self-publishing was the problem with the quality sometimes of how they looked. That’s interesting because I was impressed by Todd Caponi’s cover and you designed that. You do some very interesting things. I love all the work you do with human branding at personality. We have a lot of things in common, including our hate for cauliflower and a few other things I saw in your bio. A lot of people would like to know more about how they could reach you. Tell them how they can reach you and then I wanted to have a little bit of a peek into your megabrand and what you’re expecting for the new megatrends for your next book.

The easiest way to reach me if you want anything related to Non-Obvious, we didn’t talk about it, but we’ve been in the process of launching an entire guidebook series. It’s coming out, which is going to be amazing as well. You can find out about all of that at If you want to find out more about me or watch any of the videos that you’ve mentioned, they’re all freely available on my site, which is just my full name,

Tell us a little about the guidebook series because people would like to know a little about that.

The guidebooks that you generally see out there right now are the dummies guide or the idiot’s guide. They’re very aptly named because they do treat you like a dummy or an idiot. I don’t think people are. The people who pick up guidebooks, in general, are smart people. They just are not experts in that one thing. The tagline that we use for our guide books is that they’re like having coffee with an expert. That’s how they’re written. On the back, it says, “Smarter guides for smart people because you’re a smart person.” You need highly actionable advice. What you don’t need is six pages defining what the internet is because that’s what an idiot needs. That’s what you get in those books. Instead, we’ve got all these different books that are focused on helping you to get some stuff done. They’re smaller format, highly visual. I wrote one on small business marketing. That was the first one that I wrote, which is The NonObvious Guide to Small Business Marketing. We have ones on event planning. We have one coming up on the blockchain. We have one on being more creative. We’ve got a roadmap and we’re doing a big launch at BookExpo show. We’re slowly adding more and more based on topics that people care about.

I’m going to have to check out some of those topics that you have. Do you have any big megatrend we need to look for?

I’m in the midst of doing the writing. I don’t know what they are yet because we’re in writing phase. There’s definitely going to be one around gender for sure. There’s going to be one around a human versus technology and when we prefer one versus the other. There’s going to be one around distribution and how the way that we get the stuff that we buy is shifting. There are some macro themes for sure that you could expect to see in that megatrends book.

That’s going to be great and it’s non-obvious. I love all the work that you do. This was fascinating. Thank you for joining me, Rohit. This was very helpful information for so many people and you do so many different things. Thank you for being on the show.

Thanks for having me.

You’re welcome. It’s been interesting. I hope everybody takes the time to go to and check out some of your site information.

I’d like to thank Rohit for being my guest. We get so many great guests on the show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can go to Rohit and I talked about curiosity a lot at the beginning. It’s important to discuss the importance of curiosity and how it ties into creativity and innovation and a lot of the things that we talked about on the show. I know we talk a lot about curiosity here with different guests. I am the creator of the Curiosity Code Index, which went along with my book Cracking the Curiosity Code. If you haven’t had a chance to check out both of them, you could find out more at We are doing some training. We’re helping any leadership consultants or HR professionals who’d like to become certified to give the Curiosity Code Index or the CCI for short. We do training sessions on that.

You can contact me through the website. My email is If you have any questions, I’m happy to answer those. We want to get people certified to give the CCI. You would get five hours of SHRM certification training to do that. I’m going to be speaking at SHRM in Vegas. If you’re going to the SHRM conference, please make sure you sign up to attend my training program. We’re going to talk about the importance of curiosity to improve engagement, innovation and productivity. That can be found on SHRM’s website. I look forward to seeing you there. I want to get you there early and make sure that you can find out everything you need to know about how to use curiosity to improve things in the workplace. I enjoyed the conversation with Rohit. If you want to check out other episodes, please go to the website. If you want to contact me just about anything through my main website, it’s I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you look forward to the next episode of Take The Lead radio.

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About Rohit Bhargava

TTL 549 | Non-ObviousRohit Bhargava helps brands and leaders win by learning to see what others miss. Rohit is the Founder and Chief Trend Curator of the Non-Obvious Company and previously spent over 15 years leading digital and innovation strategy for global brands at two respected marketing agencies: Leo Burnett and Ogilvy.
Rohit is widely considered one of the most entertaining and original keynote speakers on business trends and marketing in the world. He is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of five books on topics as wide-ranging as the future of business, building a human brand with personality, and why leaders always eat left-handed. His insights on trends, marketing and the future have changed the way teams and leaders think at the World Bank, NASA, Intel, LinkedIn, MetLife, Under Armour, Univision, Disney and hundreds more. Rohit also teaches a popular course on marketing and storytelling at Georgetown University in Washington DC.


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