There’s some world-changing stuff financial services can do

Near-futurist Rohit Bhargava on non-obvious thinking, the accelerating present and the novelty of the metaverse.

Rohit Bhargava is on a mission to inspire more non-obvious thinking in the world. He’s the #1 Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of eight books on marketing, storytelling, trends and diversity. His book, Non-Obvious, has been read or shared by over 1 million readers. 

A ‘non-boring’ speaker, Rohit is widely considered one of the most entertaining and original speakers on disruption, trends and marketing in the world. He’s inspired audiences at NASA, Disney, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, LinkedIn and hundreds more with his signature non-obvious keynote presentations, helping them better understand the world today and prepare to lead the future.

I had some talent in being able to spot things that might be important and make connections between ideas. So I became a trends expert. I started taking all of these things that I was reading and putting the pieces together and saying, well, if this is happening in retail and this is happening in health care, and this is happening in financial services, here's the macro trend that's happening in the world. I started publishing those trends, and people started reading them and paying attention to them. Then I started getting invited to organisations to teach them how to think like that too.” 

Rohit believes with the right mindset, we can all look to the future with informed optimism. Just don’t call him a futurist.

“In some circles, I’m a futurist, even though I don't love that term, I'd describe myself as a near futurist because I don't talk about what's going to happen in 2050 or that far in the future.”

That means Rohit isn’t thinking about flying cars, only the here and now because he believes the future is coming at us faster than ever. Most of what he describes is about the accelerating present - the stuff that matters to businesses and leaders right now.

“My definition of a trend is a curated observation of the accelerating present. I use that phrase because I think that there are signs of the future happening right now. I will never write about something as a trend that is a guess like we could have flying cars in the future. Sure we could, but what I'd rather write about is something that's starting to happen right now, but that is going to amplify.”

There are signs of the future happening right now.

We’re all struggling to figure out what to keep up with and what to pay attention to.

A former marketeer, Rohit is a master at weaving stories into his talks in a way that helps his audience understand the world. Part of this is his notion of ‘non-obvious thinking’ - a framework that can help anyone be more innovative and anticipate the future.

“I've spent a lot of time building a brand around this idea of being non-obvious as a person. It means that you see the same things that everyone sees, but you don't think the same thing because you have so many different sources of input and you have so many diverse perspectives that you're able to see what I call the non-obvious.” 

In his book and on the Upfront podcast, Rohit reveals the five habits of non-obvious thinkers that enable people to become ‘speed understanders’ and see opportunities others don’t.

“It's a paraphrase of a wonderful quote from Isaac Asimov, the famous science fiction writer who became conversant in many different things. When asked how he did it, he said, I'm not a speed reader. I'm a speed understander. The moment I read that, it spoke to me. We’re all struggling to figure out what to keep up with and what to pay attention to. We have to get better at knowing what to pay attention to and what not to. And we have to know how others pay attention to something, otherwise, we’ll never be persuasive and never be able to get in front of them.”

Of course, there’s one question everyone wants to know about Rohit. How does he see what’s coming?

When people say, how do you get all these ideas? How do you know what trends are coming? Well, I'm spending six hours every week reading stuff that is unrelated to anything I'm working on with the objective of finding the most interesting stories of the week to share in my email. I can't talk about the big story. Like the week after the Oscars, one of my stories would not be about The Slap. You know, Will Smith and The Slap. That's too obvious. Everybody knows about that. My stories would be about things that people haven't generally heard. The discipline of taking hours every week to find the stories, save the stories, read the stories, think about what they mean, write them down, and send them to my subscribers. That's what allows me to see what's coming.”

I have no reason to read Teen Vogue, but if I do, I’ll see stories and things that are totally unfamiliar to me

Rohit’s advice is for us all to broaden our minds by watching, reading or listening to things we wouldn’t normally pay attention to. 

“If you live in a household with other people, look at the media they look at instead of just the stuff you like. Log into their Netflix or Hulu, see what shows show up for them and watch one. Pick up magazines that you would never read otherwise. I have no reason to read Teen Vogue, but if I do, I’ll see stories and things that are totally unfamiliar to me. It allows me to get outside of my world and into the mindset of someone else.”

And talking about getting out of this world and into another, what future does Rohit see in the metaverse?

“There's never been anything where it's like, oh man, literally everybody's on this thing. Technology adoption doesn't work like that. The closest we probably came was everybody getting on Zoom during the pandemic because we were forced to. I don't see that happening with the metaverse. Right now, it’s more of a novelty. I don't think that we are anywhere near the sort of science fiction world where I would prefer to exist and interact with other people in the metaverse versus real life. But I do think that the metaverse is going to become something similar to what other social media platforms have become. There'll be people who are like, I don’t need this metaverse crap. I don't need this digital stuff. I'd rather have a coffee with a friend in person.” 

I don't think that we are anywhere near the sort of science fiction world where I would prefer to exist and interact with other people in the metaverse versus real life

What I love about financial services

I love the potential. Financial literacy is just not taught properly to anybody, especially younger people. I’m excited about the potential for financial services companies to proactively support that knowledge through things like alerts and limits and education. Not everybody is doing it right now. There's some world-changing stuff that financial services companies and professionals working in those industries can do for people's actual lives if they choose to prioritise and I think that's pretty awesome.

Rohit Bhargava