Rishad Tobaccowala: Part 1 – Change Sucks… Irrelevance is Worse

Overview

This article is one in a series of thought leadership content sponsored by CyberData Pros and part of their CyberTalk initiative.  Today, I am speaking to Rishad Tobaccowala.  Rishad is perhaps best known for his roles at Publicis Groupe – one of the premier global agencies.

Besides having been named by BusinessWeek as one of the top business leaders for his pioneering innovation, TIME magazine dubbed him one of five “Marketing Innovators”. Rishad also has a best-selling book and is a sought after advisor, teacher, speaker and futurist.

Introduction

As a young man Rishad had aspirations of becoming a writer.  His parents encouraged him to learn (and earn) initially so he studied Math & Economics at the University of Mumbai and completed his MBA in Marketing & Finance at the University of Chicago.   Rishad understood that he had to live a bit before learning how to write because otherwise, “…I have nothing to say”.

Upon graduating he began work at Leo Burnett (a Publicis Groupe company) and by 2013, Rishad had become the Chief Strategy & Growth Officer for Publicis Groupe. He continues today as an active Advisor to the firm.

In the past three years, after approximately four decades of working and experiencing life, Rishad has moved to pursue his dreams of becoming a writer… and is also now a teacher, speaker, futurist and influencer. His focus is on helping people and organizations re-invent themselves in changing times.  In a short period of time has written a best-selling book – Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data –  which challenges executives to understand the impact of technology & data on employees & culture and then how to transform. A recurring theme throughout all Rishad’s work is that while he has distinguished himself by embracing and innovating with digital technologies, he sees the importance of human understanding as equally important.

Rishad guides the reader through the process of empowering and enabling individuals to innovate while embracing data-driven insights… the hidden key to successful transformation.  The themes of this book are even more relevant three years later as Covid has amplified much of what he discusses.  The Economist Magazine called it “perhaps the best recent book on stakeholder capitalism” and Strategy Magazine named it among the five best business books and the marketing book of the year.

Rishad did not stop there. He has a second book in the works while also hosting a popular podcast titled “What Next” where he speaks with a broad spectrum of amazing people.  His weekly “thought-letter” (The Future Does Not Fit the Containers of the Past) is seen by more than 25,000 executives globally. Rishad works with organizations and people seeking to be transformed with one-on-one advisory services, one-to-few via workshops and one-to-many via talks, conferences and online.

Consistent with his philosophy of understanding human nature, much of Rishad’s writing has to do with change.  Everything is changing; change sucks; managing change.  Change is about the future and it does not fit easily into the containers of the past suggests you must look somewhere other than the past when seeking to understand the future.

Storytelling

Rishad tells stories with his writing that are about humans, technology and change.  I asked him to recommend authors and/or books that had most influenced his thinking. I was caught off guard when he answered Shakespeare, Flaubert and Tolstoy. Specifically, the novels War & Peace, Anna Karenina and Madam Bovary. For a successful business executive with degrees in STEM, I was a little shocked at his choices.

Rishad explained that Shakespeare demonstrates with his plays and poetry how to understand human beings and how to use language to communicate.  When dealing with humans, it is important to be able to understand them, and then communicate. As I listened to Rishad speak and then researched more of his writing after the interview, I began to see the influence of these authors in his writing. As with Tolstoy, the more I read Rishad’s writing, the more I want to read … and reread.  There is so much information packed into everything he writes that you have to go back for more. It is helpful that Rishad communicates in structured ways using frameworks and models to help his audience interpret and understand trends and contributing elements. His use of stories complements his structured thinking.

The value of these collective works is demonstrated in Rishad’s own writing.  Humans are imperfect and often fail due to their inability to see the obvious. Rishad now makes it his mission to help individuals, teams and enterprises recognize identifiable trends, embrace change and succeed.

The next articles in this series with delve into some of Rishad’s views on trends influencing business and life, changing demographics and how they will help to define culture; the international order; the rapid advance of technology in an increasingly connected world; evolving attitudes towards privacy and data; and the role & influence of healthcare in shifting the FoW.

In the first article for the thought leadership series Cyber Talk, we interviewed Matt McFee, the CEO and founder of Inbox Monster. One of the ideas highlighted in that article was how Matt and his team embraced the challenge of regulatory compliance and incorporated compliance into their strategy. This embrace allowed them to innovate and change the conversation they were having with customers.

Rishad’s life and career have been about, and continue to be about, embracing change as an opportunity to innovate and transform yourself and your business. Rishad communicates this by storytelling in his book, his writings and with his podcast. He uses frameworks and models to simplify complex issues for his audience.

Part 2 of 3 on Rishad is titled “Strategy is Future Competitive Advantage”.  We will hear Rishad’s blunt analysis of technology, data and healthcare in shaping how we will work, shop and market.

Takeaways

  • Understanding and communicating with people is important in every job
  • Change may suck but the alternative is much worse
  • Align with long term trends
  • Use frameworks and models to simplify complex topics / issues

About the author:

Jeff Leroux is an experienced Silicon Valley executive with a broad background in tech and thought leadership marketing. He is on contract with Happy Gilmore Marketing to complete a thought leadership series on security & privacy compliance.