Meet PreCommerce Speaker: Rohit Bhargava, Author, Entrepreneur and Nice Guy

From speaker videos to event photos our recap page of W2O at SXSW has it all!

Each year, leading up to and following our live events in Austin, we host a series of blog interviews with the speakers from our PreCommerce Summit and Movers & Shapers talks. This year, we are continuing the conversation after the events because there was so much good content. Our next featured speaker is author, entrepreneur and nice guy, Rohit Bhargava.

According to Rohit’s LinkedIn profile, he is a trend curator, author of five best selling books (including the Wall Street Journal bestseller Non-Obvious) and founder of the Influential Marketing Group. He advises global brands on communications strategy and storytelling. His signature annual “Non-Obvious Trend Report” has been viewed and shared more than half a million times and his thinking has been featured in global media, including the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, NPR and the New York Times. Now onto the questions:

Aaron – You have written a lot of books. Where do you find the inspiration?

Rohit – Inspiration is actually the easy part. Like many writers, I end up with far too many ideas for me to ever properly explore in depth through something like a book. The harder thing is figuring out what is the biggest and most impactful idea that I could write about and share with the world. Something that I would be happy to spend almost two years of my life researching and writing about, and then another several years talking about on stage at events around the world. Writing a book feels like a big commitment and so I end up with many more concepts than what I will eventually follow through on. Actually, that was the reason I started blogging … so I had an outlet for sharing those ideas that didn’t involve such a big time commitment!

Aaron – How do you define innovation?

Rohit – My favorite way of describing it is with a quote I once read which was actually referring to discovery — but I think it applies to innovation as well. It is “seeing what everybody else has seen, and thinking what nobody else has thought.” To me, there can be no greater way to think about innovation than that. We sometimes think that the most innovative ideas or products come from inventions that are created by inspired people. Those are new ideas, sure, but they are reactions to the same world that you and I live in. Someone has to observe something in reality and then think of an idea for a better way to do something. I love that because it’s empowering. It means that invention and innovation and creativity are within the grasp of all of us, if we can just train ourselves to be more observant about the world around us.

Aaron – What do you get out of teaching at Georgetown? What is your favorite/least favorite thing?

Rohit – Teaching makes me better, and that’s probably the most selfish reason why I do it. My current class is all about storytelling and speaking and I find that the more I teach students about what it is like to effectively command a room and speak clearly on a topic, the more I am forced to relearn the fundamentals and make sure I’m as good of a speaker as I could be. My favorite thing about it is how it helps me to improve because I see the challenge of communication through the eyes of my students. My least favorite thing about it how minimal the time is that I get to spend with my students. I am an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown which means my classes meet once a week and I’m never on campus except to teach my class. What that usually means is that for the majority of students I will only ever see them in class and sometimes that’s just not enough time to really make a meaningful difference in how they communicate. And I’m upfront about the fact that I probably don’t have that much more time to offer them in the midst of all the other things I’m doing running three companies and traveling around the world as a speaker. I suppose that’s the tradeoff for me to even be able to teach, though I aspire one day in the future to be able to slow down some of the other things I do and really spend more time being a better and more present teacher for my students.

Aaron – Who is someone in your industry (or outside) that you admire?

Rohit – I would say that I admire stand up comedians as an entire group and particularly those like Russell Peters who primarily base their comedy on observing the differences among people and reacting to an audience. I look at what they do with a mixture of awe and envy. That’s how I aspire to be when it comes to interacting with audiences. It’s not about wanting to be funnier. It is about having the sense of timing, and vulnerability and personality to be able to relate to people immediately in that way that puts them at ease and helps them to get outside themselves and just enjoy the show.

Aaron – Where do you see book publishing being in 3 years? 5? 10

Rohit – It is my hope that the world of publishing starts becoming more author-centric because it never really has been. The end result has been that authors get squeezed, are treated with minimal respect unless they are the top 1%, and most despise their publishers. When I started my publishing company, my simple goal was to build a publisher that authors would actually want to work with twice … which didn’t seem to exist. In the coming years, I hope this model of serving the author instead of the bottom line becomes more common and I have hope that it will because more and more of the top tier authors who have all the alternatives and the ones that the big publishers desperately want are the ones who will start to move away from those publishers because they will see how little value they add. Only the best publishers who do it well (and there are still a few of the big ones who do) will survive. The rest will, thankfully, become defunct.

Aaron – What book(s) are you reading right now? What is one of the key take-aways/themes (sort of a meta question for someone that writes so many books)?

Rohit – The book I most recently read was called Story Genius. It is all about what it takes to write a riveting novel.  I’m not a novelist and definitely not thinking about writing one … but the storytelling lessons from the book were really useful as I think about how I translate them into my own writing for business books. I think a lot of times we see business books that just focus on the idea with minimal story. I hope to do better than that as I write, and this book was really helpful to do that. Perhaps the biggest takeaway I got from the book was how scenes are often written in layers – and you need to be able to peel them back and do plenty of rewriting before you get to the best version of a story.

Aaron – For fun: you are stranded on a desert island and can only listen to one album into perpetuity. What is that album and why?

Rohit – Ok, first of all – that doesn’t sound like fun at all! 🙂  If I were stranded, though, I would pick pretty much any album from Latin artist Fanny Lu. You can’t listen to her music without feeling just a bit happier … and I think I’d probably need that if I were stranded on an island!

Thank you Rohit. As expected, you didn’t disappoint! And now you’ve got me curious about both Story Genius and Fanny Lu! Thanks again for bringing so much creativity and inspiration to our PreCommerce Summit… and now to our blog!

Aaron Strout
Aaron Strout
CMO and head of financial services practice