Rohit Bhargava, an innovation and marketing expert, keynote speaker, and founder of the Non-Obvious Company, strongly believes in the power of non-obvious thinking. And as a trend curator, he is also the best-selling author of the Non-Obvious series of books, which have highlighted top trends annually since 2011.
Making his fourth appearance on the podcast, Rohit returns to Leading Learning to discuss his most recent book, Non Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future – the tenth and final edition in the Non-Obvious series – which looks back at more than a hundred past predictions to spotlight the 10 biggest trends he thinks will impact us in the coming decade. He also looks back at how his work has evolved over the years and shares his plans for the future of Non-Obvious.
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[00:18] – A preview of what will be covered in this episode where Jeff interviews Rohit Bhargava, trend curator and author of the Non-Obvious series.
Be sure to check out our past episodes with Rohit below:
- Non-Obvious Learning with Rohit Bhargava
- Curiosity and Curation with Rohit Bhargava
- Navigating Non-Obvious Trends with Rohit Bhargava
[01:50] – We’d like to call out a non-obvious aspect of the Leading Learning Web site that we want to highlight as a resource. Namely, whenever we have someone on the show like Rohit who is a speaker, we tag that episode. This means that it’s very easy for you to find and listen to the various speakers who have been on the show simply by going to leadinglearning.com/tag/speaker.
If you work for an organization that often has need of speakers – as we know many listeners do – this is a great way to review a range of options and get a feel for a speaker’s content and style.
[02:44] – You might consider the reflections questions below on your own after listening to an episode, and/or you might pull the team together, using part or all of the podcast episode for a group discussion.
- The first is an obvious one. We highlight three of the megatrends in our conversation – instant knowledge, attention wealth, and ungendering – and we challenge listeners to really put some thought into how those particular megatrends might impact their learning businesses.
- On a less obvious note, we talk about how the whole non-obvious project has evolved. Rohit does a great deal of speaking, the company offers workshops, it’s gotten into publishing and – spoiler alert – is headed for podcasting.Basically, Rohit and his team took a core idea and turned it into an entire business that has spawned multiple products. So, the question is, how are you leveraging and capitalizing upon your best ideas? What might the results look like a decade from now?
[04:20] – Introduction to Rohit.
A Mission to Encourage Non-Obvious Thinking
[05:25] – You are now on the 10th edition of Non-Obvious and it’s hard to believe you have been at it for a decade at this point. I’m going to guess that many listeners are, by now, familiar with your work, but before we get too far into the conversation, I want to make sure we catch anyone up who may not be familiar or who needs a refresher. So, can you tell us, what exactly have you been up to for the past decade?
Rohit discusses how the big mission for him over the last decade has been to try and encourage more people to be what he calls, “non-obvious thinkers”—people who think for themselves, who aren’t narrow-minded, and who take time to appreciate perspectives that don’t match with their own.
And he says what’s happened over the last ten years (that’s both fascinating and concerning), is that it’s been really hard. This is because of all the algorithms that serve up the exact same news that you already agree with, how polarized the media environment has become, and how low trust everything seems. So, people are skeptical.
While Rohit used to just put trends out there to help you grow your business or just be smarter, he now feels this is a more of an urgent call to action and changing our world. This is because we need more people who can be objective and less opinionated. And this is what’s become to big mission of this series.
Lifelong Learning and Non-Obvious Thinking
[07:28] – Maybe you have said this before, but it jumped out at me this time that you suggest your whole non-obvious process/the non-obvious way of thinking is really akin to an approach to lifelong learning. Could you say a little more about how lifelong learning and non-obvious thinking fit together?
The smartest people I know are the ones who find a way to collect ideas the same way most of us collect frequent flier miles.
The reason he says this is because with frequent flier miles, you have to build them up over time/multiple trips before you then cash them in to go somewhere you want to go. If we could do that with our ideas, a) we would get better at collecting them and figuring out how to save them, and b) we’d start thinking about what the relationships are between the ideas. And Rohit notes that’s a really big part of this process.
He has a method he teaches for this but the point of it is to show that there isn’t any magic trick he knows as a “futurist” where you should just pay him to say what the trends are because you can’t do it for yourself. He truly thinks that anyone can teach themselves how to do these things in the right way to be able to see these connections on their own.
The Non-Obvious Project: What’s Different This Year?
[10:00] – Before we get to this year’s trends, let’s talk a little bit about the past. You have been doing this for a long time now. Are there trends you’ve identified during the last decade of working on this that really stand out for you?
For context, Rohit points out that something that might be interesting for listeners (particularly those who have heard his previous Leading Learning interviews), is what’s different this year from previous years.
He explains that during the ten-year, non-obvious project, every year there’s been a new “trend report”, which has 15 trends based on research from he and his team that will affect how think, what we buy, what we sell, how we learn, etc. in the coming year. So, the lens has always been a year, and the cover of the book has always had a year on it.
But this year, what’s different is it’s non-obvious megatrends and the horizon isn’t just the next year, the horizon is the next decade. What this really caused Rohit to do with his editorial team is to look back over the last ten years to see which trends really stood out, what the commonalities were between them, and how to elevate their thinking even higher.
Rohit notes that at the end of each megatrend chapter in the new book, Non-Obvious Megatrends, there’s a roadmap of all of the past trend predictions from 2011 to 2019 that weighed into that particular megatrend.
[13:40] – The 10 megatrends you identify in the book are:
- Amplified identity
- Instant knowledge
- Human mode
- Attention wealth
- Purposeful profit
- Data abundance
- Protective tech
- Flux commerce
Megatrend: Instant Knowledge
[14:32] – We can’t talk about all of these megatrends but the one that particularly jumped out at me was “instant knowledge”, which says that, “As we become accustomed to consuming bitesized knowledge on demand, we benefit from learning everything more quickly but risk forgetting the value of mastery and wisdom.” Can you talk a little more about instant knowledge as a megatrend?
Rohit notes this has been one of the most popular trends that’s come up in conversation because it really resonates for people. This is because they generally know you can go to places like YouTube to learn anything and there’s all these ways of learning now.
The positive side of instant knowledge is we have access to world-class experts and all of this great, on-demand content. But the challenge is that if we can get exactly what we need without ever having to learn the foundation behind it, we risk having just superficial knowledge. Sometimes instant knowledge becomes superficial knowledge that is good for solving a problem or doing something quickly but not that good for anything longer-term.
Rohit discusses how this is a big topic, at least in the way that he thinks about teaching as an educator himself, but also for anyone who works at any level of education or learning. This is because it raises this question of how deep do we need to go—do we need the one hour seminar? Do we need the five-day intensive course? Do we need a full certificate program? All three?
He says all of these questions are so fascinating because what it leads us to, particularly with this megatrend, is what he thinks is the reality of any prediction like this, which is it describes something that’s changing in our world but it isn’t inherently good or bad. The question is, how are we actually going to use it to think differently or do things differently.
[17:06] – It seems like there’s the possibility we’re going to lose depth, lose mastery, as you said. There’s also what you bring up in a different part of the book as a processing problem that we have right now.
The problem is that expecting to get smarter from processing content faster is a bit like entering a speed-eating contest to enjoy a good meal. Eating 26 hot dogs in 60 seconds might satisfy your hunger, but you’re likely to feel sick afterwards.
It feels like we’re in danger of this with this instant knowledge access that we have to just process quicker and keep up with the machines basically.
Rohit shares one of his favorite quotes from early in the book from the famous science-fiction writer, Isaac Asimov who said, “I’m not a speed reader, I’m a speed understander”.
We spend a lot of time trying to encourage others to become speed readers and the idea is you consume everything, only faster. Whereas the idea of speed understanding is you consume what you need to in order to develop understanding—and Rohit admits he loves this idea so much more.
Megatrend: Attention Wealth
[18:32] – What are some of the other megatrends that have resonated with you the most as you’ve started to put the book out there?
Rohit shares one that has really resonated for people (because it speaks to the idea of attention) is attention wealth. This megatrend is in response to what we all know and have heard lots of times, which is that we’re in this information economy, where the currency is your attention.
If our attention is actually the currency, Rohit asks, why we aren’t considered wealthy because we have the ability to control our attention. When our attention is the most valuable thing that we have to offer, and when organizations that are trying to engage us and capture that attention and use it, we should be able to use our attention to generate value for ourselves.
For example, he talks about how a lot of people wear Fitbits but now they’ve started to complain that they have all this healthcare data, but it doesn’t connect with their actual healthcare. And what Rohit thinks this is going to happen soon in this decade, is that when people start figuring out they have access to all this data they’ve created, there’s value in that because if a company could use that data, they could deliver something to them of value (if they are willing to share it).
So now people have the control over this data in a way that it used to be that data was just collected on them. But more and more this is changing, and data is being available to the consumer. The problem is we don’t know how to use it yet.
[21:48] – For many of our listeners, this may be non-obvious and not where their attention is focused – and this is more divergent thinking about where to put their efforts – and that’s regarding this megatrend, ungendering. Many folks are tuned into what’s going on related to this, but they may not be thinking about that in the context of their business as lifelong learning, continuing education providers. Do you have any thoughts on how they could apply this trend?
Rohit explains that ungendering is fascinating because what it says is something a little bit different than what we’re all thinking and hearing about. For example, involving more women as leaders, or shifting the gender balance so it’s not so skewed towards men and it’s more equal.
And then we hear about people who think about their gender and the way that they describe themselves as not fitting into this binary, you’re either male or female, rather it’s something different.
He points out a common thing now is that in people’s email signature file, they put what their preferred pronouns are. And these are the sort of things we are starting to see as indications. But what’s interesting about this is that it’s leading us towards a culture where people can make a statement about themselves that’s different than just male/female. Rohit notes that Facebook now has evolved to where gender is now an open write-in field and says this is an example of how fast this evolution is shifting.
What he talks about related to this trend in the book is what this means for ways of communicating that used to be “gendered” that don’t need that gender in them. He shares an example of a pen that was created for women and the predictable backlash that came because of it.
There are two angles of this, and Rohit says these were two previously predicted trends that fit into this ungendering trend. One of them was what he called “fierce femininity” and the other was called “muddled masculinity”.
Non-Obvious: What’s Next?
[25:50] – Somewhere along the way you got involved in publishing and actually launched your own publishing company. As you go forward, what role does publishing play for you and how do you think about the whole publishing industry now and what can be done with the book? And how are you going to be combining that with other approaches as you go forward?
Rohit discusses how since this is the last year he is doing this book, one of the big questions that a lot of people want to know is that if it was working and so successful (which it was), than why stop? The biggest reason, he says, is because he wanted to take the Non-Obvious brand and this idea that we need more non-obvious thinking in the world and make it bigger than just this one book.
So instead of continually publishing this book about trends, the Non-Obvious brand is now encompassing an entire guidebook series that’s meant to compete with the Dummies guides that are out there.
And one of the big motivations for that (something he thinks will be really relevant and interesting to Leading Learning listeners) is the sense that the way that we want to learn anything now has shifted from what it used to be when the Dummies guides were first created 20+ years ago.
People now believe they’re pretty smart and can work things out using information instantly available at their fingertips. The mentality isn’t so much that people think they are dummies, the mentality is that they’re smart. So the guides they’ve created are described as “smart advice for smart people”, something they intentionally did because of their competition.
The other thing they put in there which really resonated with people, was that the tagline said that these books are written like having coffee with an expert, which is the tone of it. If you could sit down and pick the brain of a world-class expert on a variety of topics and ask them every question you want to ask, this would be a book that describes that.
Rohit says the first five are already out in market and another eight are in production and it’s really starting to take off because this is the type of learning from a book that people want.
[30:43] – Any plans for a podcast?
Rohit reveals there are plans for one and because it’s going to be the Non-Obvious podcast, two clues about the format of it are that it won’t feature any interviews and every episode will be about five minutes long. More to come, but that’s the idea behind it so far.
[31:25] – We’ve previously asked you about your most powerful learning experience, so we won’t ask that again. But coming from a different angle, you’re making this shift in what you’re doing with the company, which I’m assuming is also impacting you personally. And I know curation has been so important to everything you do—and I’m assuming it will continue to be. But do you have new practices beyond curation or a next-level curation that you’re going to be employing as part of your own lifelong learning in the next generation of the Non-Obvious world.
Rohit shares that one of the things he’s started to discover is that there really isn’t anyone or anything that isn’t accessible. He explains what he means by this using examples of what he’s learned/experienced since starting his publishing company and how it’s empowered him and opened up a lot of doors.
[35:15] – How to connect with Rohit and/or learn more:
- Book: Non Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future
- Book Website: https://www.nonobvious.com/megatrends/
- Rohit’s Website: https://www.rohitbhargava.com
[36:19] – Wrap-Up
- How might the three megatrends highlighted in the episode – instant knowledge, attention wealth, and ungendering –impact your learning businesses?
- How are you leveraging and capitalizing on your best ideas? What might the results look like a decade from now?
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[38:16] – Sign off