Six Ways to Grow Your Career

Recently, I began a free newsletter "The Future does not fit in the Containers of the Past" where I share perspectives, points of view and provocations on an eclectic number of topics from leadership to poetry. The underlying connection between the topics I write about and the goal of the newsletter is to help people see, feel and think differently about growing themselves and their careers.

Here, from the newsletter, are six thoughts on how to grow your career.

If any of these pieces resonate with you, please feel free to subscribe to the absolutely free newsletter they are distilled from by entering your email address here: rishad.substack.com

1. What is Strategy

What is strategy? For me it has been three simple words: Future Competitive Advantage.

What will the future look like? What will people need and expect ? How will demographics, technology and other global shifts create new competitors or recharge current competitors and how will categories blur, blend and maybe even disappear ?

Amidst these new expectations and changing competitive dynamics what advantage will your company offer? A differentiated or better product? A competitive moat of network effects, scale or some other dynamic ? A better experience? Speed and value?

While Strategy firms can be amazingly helpful in guiding companies through these questions, most leaders already have a gut instinct on what needs to be done. The deep dive documents, the chanting strategists and the long march of meetings are to bring others along and to provide an intellectual and analytical framework for a decision that clearly had to be made.

If you work for a firm and you have an idea of where the future is going and how changing peoples expectations and emerging technology are going to create challenges or opportunities I strongly advise that you should go to your management and share your thinking.

All you need to talk about is future competitive advantage.

2. On Leadership

Over the past four decades I have observed, experienced and read about leadership. In the end I have distilled my beliefs on leadership down to this:

  • Leaders acknowledge, face and communicate reality.
  • People follow people and not titles since titles are bestowed while leadership is earned.

Reality. A key to leadership is to solve challenges and address problems. This requires confronting issues versus looking away or hoping some form of magical thinking will make them go away. You cannot hope to get people to follow you if they suspect you are not addressing real issues and challenges however difficult they may be.

Followership. Without the hearts and minds of your team you are not a leader but a ruler. Rulers leverage fear, project power and exploit insecurity. Employees genuflect, fall in line, salute and pander to the hollow and bloated boss, while they silently seethe, plot insurrection or practice defection.

Five Characteristics.

  1. Capability: To be a leader you have to be capable in your field of work or craft. You have to know your shit. You have to keep improving your skill. Doctors will not listen to doctors who are not great at medicine. A creative will not respect someone whose body of work they do not admire.
  2. Integrity: Can you be trusted? Are you transparent about the ingredients of your decision making. Do you look for and use real facts ?
  3. Empathy: Leaders can see from other points of view and they understand that employees are people and work is but a sliver of their being. They understand and they listen. They care. They do this both for employees and for customers.
  4. Vulnerability: Great leaders acknowledge mistakes. They know they do not have all the answers. This means they are open to criticism and correction and they surround themselves with skill sets that offset and balance their areas of weakness.
  5. Inspiration: How do leaders face and acknowledge reality and hard truth but still get people to unite, align and take the challenges head on? They do so by recognizing that people choose with their hearts and not their minds. They inspire through a combination of personal example and storytelling.

3. On Change

Change is difficult especially for established individuals and businesses since transforming our thinking and sculpting into new shapes requires one to go through a regimen of pain, mistakes and unknowable twists and turns.

Why suffer sure pain for unknown gain if there is a way to avoid it? Therefore it is not surprising that many of us as individuals and companies take the easy way out by pontificating about “change agendas”, hiring “change agents”, announcing “re-organizations for a changed era” and issuing a flurry of press releases and re-decorating one’s digital presence with words like “platform”, “disruption”, “personalization”, “data”, “cloud” “seamless” and other buzz word bingo and mumbo jumbo.

Never works, this eruption of vigorous cosmetic application and vocal vociferousness. The only way a company transforms is if the people in the company transform. Upgrade the people or upgrade their mindsets. To gauge if you or your company are really aligning with change ask three simple questions

Incentive plans: Are people being incentivized to change or are the people who get paid the most the ones who run the established businesses, have the biggest existing revenue books, have the deepest current client relationships ? Are some of the best people being allocated to where the company will spend the rest of its life which is the future or is it folks the company does not know what to do with or those between assignments? Show me a company’s incentive structure and I can guess how they behave and if they will really change. The future does not fit in the incentive and power systems of today and yesterday.

Fear: Change is scary but the reason many people don’t change is something is they fear their management and culture even more than they fear change. Management that provides no room for error, or for speaking up or calling out the “turd on the table” will have a difficult time to get people to people to change. Without freedom to challenge and fail, there is unlikely to be any innovation but just a crowd of synchronized head-nodding, bobble-headed people who serve as mirrors to their leaders by reflecting what they believe their leaders need to hear or what will make them look good in their Managements eyes.

Investment in Training : The third key to change in addition to incentive systems and an absence of fear is a significant effort in training. If a company is to change and to upgrade its people it can do so in two ways. First it can bring in and hire talent with the skills they need and second it can upgrade the skills of the people it has. Most companies will need to do both and will require to train existing employees with new skills while training new employees to the company expertise resources and culture. So next time you or your company speak of change ask if you have got the incentive systems, culture and training to get you to the other side of this difficult transition.

A Birds Eye View | Rishad Tobaccowala

It’s not easy but even though change sucks, irrelevance is even worse.

4. Managing Culture

It has been said that “culture eats strategy” and often when companies decay (Wells Fargo) or resurrect (Microsoft) or have distinctly different outcomes in the same industry (Southwest versus United Airlines) a key determinant is the culture. What it is like, how it is improving or how it is getting worse.

Once I read that the culture of an organization is revealed in how people behave when no one is looking or monitoring their behavior. I do believe that that this is right in the fact that culture is about people. Yes it requires leaders to set, correct and support the culture but it is how they treat people and how people feel about themselves, their company and their colleagues that is the fabric of culture. Companies with great cultures tend to have employees who feel most of the following about their jobs and companies:

Fair/ Good Compensation: If people are not paid adequately or fairly it really hard to have a good culture.

Recognition: Great cultures recognize contributors and leaders do not step into their teams video stealing credit.

Autonomy: People are trusted to deliver with limited monitoring and can access resources to do so.

Purpose: They believe in the purpose and values of the company and see the role of their company beyond that of just profit but doing good for society or community.

Growth: The company is growing, has a plan for growth or even if static, the individual is growing and teams are growing by being given opportunities to learn and build new skills.

Connectedness: People feel connected to each other and to their leadership. They feel free to speak up and share and even joke.

Today most of us are working from home for six months and it is likely that we will be doing so for at least another six months until a vaccine is available broadly.

Have been spending a lot of my time advising C level executives, one of the big challenges they are grappling with is how to ensure the mental and emotional well being of their talent who often feel disconnected, stressed for both work and life reasons as they grapple with children at home and other worries and challenges about their future.

Solving for and focusing on these six drivers of culture is one way smart leaders are working to ensure that in a distributed world the fabric of culture is not torn. They and their talent/HR leaders are planning different ways they get there but recognize it is key to ensure that each of these six seeds of culture are watered.

And before we end this section on culture, I would like to share a key temple of culture.

Libraries. I love reading. And I read everything in every form. From newspapers to twitter feeds to blogs to cereal boxes to out door signs. It is an addiction. One I believe that enlarges oneself.

But it is books in their analog form that is my favorite format for reading. While I have gone electronic in every other form (and my own book is available as an e-book, on Kindle, on Audible and even in CD-Rom form) I only read books on paper. Am so old fashioned that if I had lived in a different age I may still be reading scrolls or if even earlier I would be heaving tablets!

Each great book is like a religion it opens up new worlds, inspires, lets you empathize and imagine. And when you have a pile of them organized you have the beginnings of a library. Libraries are my temple and the world’s best and grandest are just like places of worship like The National Library of Prague in Prague, Czech Republic.

In many ways we become what we experience and what we read. While our experiences may be limited, our reading does not have to be. I always suggest that people read far and read wide. But if you can only read one writer you should read Shakespeare who I believe better understood humanity and life and could express it in ways that no one before or after has done. If you have not read him you use his phrases all the time as you will discover here.

For a great read that combines magical writing, a mystery ( who set the main LA Library on fire?) and to understand how libraries work behind the scenes and how they are evolving in the Age of the Internet I strongly recommend “The Library Book” by Susan Orleans.

When you have had enough of Netflix and Zoom and the polarized streams of Social Media, have a shower, put on a bath robe, get a glass of your favorite libation and withdraw to the sanctity of your library ( even if it is small pile of books) and pay it attention and maybe add a few more building blocks to it and buy some books.

It is culture at its best. And the best leaders tend to have read a lot.

5. The Importance of 4 Ps

Perspective, Point of View. Provocation. Plan of Action.

I believe that data is as important as electricity. No business or leader can survive without it. But just as no company differentiates itself through its use of electricity, data alone will rarely differentiate a company or leader.

Almost everybody (with a few exceptions like Amazon, Facebook, Google) has access to pretty much the same data. When I see businesses hyperventilating about their “data lakes”, I feel sorry for what they will dredge up in this pool of increasingly outdated, irrelevant, commoditized sludge they massage and rub into gooey gibberish.

What story do you extract, weave and tell from the spreadsheet of numeric, the files of facts and the streams of notifications that cascade, glitter and dance on your screens?

In the past six months the entire world has been struggling with the impact of Covid-19. By March every country in the world had access to the same data. What differentiated one countries response compared to another country was a) how they read the data, b) the quality of the leadership of the country, c) the unique history or geography of the country and d) the trust in government.

Korea, Germany, New Zealand revered science and expertise, had trustworthy and transparent leaders, and either had a unique history or geography that made fast response or containment possible.

US, UK and Brazil leadership refuse to accept reality, and were polarized to a point that no one knew who or what to trust.

It was not the data that made the difference. It was the people, the history, the geography, the culture, the emotion.

If you want to lead, please lead and do not hide behind numbers and say crap like things are too uncertain. Life is uncertain. If things were certain, a machine could do your job. So be glad the future cannot be lived forward with only backward-looking databases.

What do you bring to the data when you bring the data to your bosses or to meetings? What matters is not the data but the perspectives, points of view, provocations and plan of action you bring to the data.

Here for example is a perspective, point of view, provocation and plan of action regarding Covid-19

Perspective: The Great Re-Invention: Many people have called what we are all coping with the Great Acceleration (things that might occur three years from now will happen in 3 months), the Great Pause, or The Great Recession 2.0. There are comparisons to SARS/MERS, 9/11 and the 2008/2009 Financial Meltdown. I believe that this is far greater in impact than anything else in the past five decades because:

  1. This is a health, financial and social crisis all at the same time. while the others were one or two but not all three,
  2. This is happening to every country in the world; and,
  3. When people start or stop doing something for 60 or more days, they form new habits. I believe that society, business and individual mindsets will literally be re-invented in the next 18 months which is how long it will take at the fastest for a vaccine to be both created and be widely distributed.

Point of View: The New Strange: The term “New Normal” is an oxymoron. It is also completely wrong. If you wish to take a peek at the future google “schools in South Korea” or” malls in china” or” restaurants post covid-19″ or take a visual tour on Instagram of airports post Covid-19. It’s a dystopian, science fiction filled landscape. Nothing normal. Very strange. Till a widely distributed vaccine strange will be the new normal.

Provocation: Labor gains at the expense of Capital. The cost of labor (particularly blue collar and front-line labor) is going to rise significantly as companies will have to prove that they are looking after their employees, society and government. (The new ESG is Employees, Society and Government and not Environment, Sustainability and Governance). They will do this through a) better health care and life benefits, b) much higher wages than $15 an hour in the US, c) payment of higher taxes either due to increased taxes or shaming/curtailing of tax avoidance. Talent and consumers will often judge a leader and a firm by how they look after their employees including diversity. The cost of supply chains will also rise as resilience, diversification from China and other factors besides cost will matter. To offset this, expect massive reduction in real estate costs and elimination of half or more of travel budgets.

Plan of Action: “Starting” Not “Re-Starting”: The biggest mistake companies are making is believing they are going back to restart their businesses. There are three reasons why this is not true.

First and most important consumer and customer behavior and expectations are very different than December 2019. People and society are fragile. They are looking for safety, security and value.

Second your employees and workplace have changed. You may have fewer employees. Many of them after the last four months are different people with different mindsets and are looking at their work and leaders with new eyes.

Third, your category and competitive set may have changed. After the Great Recession was over because of new mindsets as well as new technologies (social and mobile) a plethora of new companies were formed. GM and Ford were no longer each other’s key threats, but Uber and Tesla were. Gillette and Schick’s ultra-expensive over-engineered blades were now facing Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club. Post Covid-19 a different consumer mindset combined with scaled new technologies (5g, Voice, Cloud and Machine Learning) means you better think again. Start again not Re-start. What new needs and behaviors from consumers? What new competitors? What new products or services and ways of working?

As you move forward, I suggest that you expose yourself to lots of valid data and differing points of view. Next add value to your company and to your career by providing a perspective, a point of view, a provocation and/or a plan of action on everything you have imbibed versus just reporting facts and process.

If you do you will forever grow and succeed.

If not, you could be automated away.

6. The ABCDE of Re-invented Marketing

The Importance of Frames

Intelligence is the ability to simplify and not dumb down.

To create a way to share and think through complexity by getting down to core issues and ideas in modular ways that people can understand and build from.

Frames are helpful in not only getting the audience to understand but it is a great way to tell your story. Think of frames as a spine you hang the bones of your ideas on.

Here is my frame for how marketing has changed and is changing that I use as a way to help guide people I advise. I call it the ABCDE model of the future of marketing.

Audience. Brand. Content. Data. Enterprise.

For each of these areas I believe there have been 3 key changes which explains both the birth of new firms, why some companies are crossing the chasm into the future and others are struggling. I call it the 5X3 Frame for the Future of Markeing. Few firms have all 15 areas covered but it is a great way to develop action plans and to make a case for change.

a. Audience: Who we are marketing too, how we find them and their mindset has shifted greatly over the past decade.

From Consumers to People with God Like Power: The biggest mistake companies make is they view things through the lens of their Brands and see us as Consumers. Very few people define themselves by the brand they consume. Even an incredible company like Procter and Gamble with dozens of billion dollar brands cannot understand me if they look at me only through the lens of their Brands ( they are too sophisticated to do that) because at the core all their Brands are about dirt removal. Dirt removal from my teeth, clothes, dishes, butt, kids butt etc. Do you define yourself by dirt removal? Or brands that want to have relationships with me . Very few people want to have a relationship with a brand. I want my headache to go away and not have a relationship with Tylenol. It is key to think about people and not consumers.

But even more key is to stop using words like enabling/empowering and other BS ( Yes Google, Apple and a few other companies empower consumers) but most Brands are grappling with highly empowered people who via use of Search, Social, E-Commerce and Mobile destroy any arbitrage of price, information, or place that a Brand though they had. If you were to describe what we can do with a mobile phone to someone 15 years ago they would say why that is “God-Like” power.

From passive to interactive: A decade and a half ago we thought of people we marketed to as an audience since they were primarily passive receivers. Today they create, share and interact and some of them are so impactful that we call them Influencers and there is an entire ecosystem of Influencer Marketing.

From Segmentation to Re-aggregation: As media becomes digital we need to understand that people come to digital media one at a time. There is no mass media that we segment by finding channels or magazines with high proportion of the people we are marketing too. The power of Google, Facebook and soon Over the top television is the ability of self service tools to buy and scale individual interactions one at a time. We no longer are going from a cow of a mass audience to a steak of a segmented audience. Rather we are are re-aggregating single pieces of mince into a hamburger.

b. Brands: Brands continue to be important but the way they are built is changing greatly. Today Experiences, Purpose and Employee Joy matter the most in building Brands. These changes explain the long term secular decline of advertising and communication but the renaissance and rise of marketing.

From Communication to Experiences: Jeff Bezos of Amazon said some companies spend 30 percent of resources on building a better product or experience and 70 percent telling people about it. Others spend 70 percent of their effort on product and service and 30 percent on telling people about it. Jeff said Amazon was the latter company.

In an era of empowered people connected to each other the focus should be on the experience. The brand is the experience and experience is the brand.

From Great Words to Purposeful Behavior: Purpose matters more than ever especially in todays time of social, financial and health challenges. Purpose is not some words left to wander on a lonely corporate website but the way a company or brand behaves.

Employees as Brand Advocates and Key to Purpose and Experience : If a company does not invest and treat its employees well it will be very challenged on both the experience front ( angry, tired and worried employees do not deliver great products or experiences) but also any purpose statement rings hollow if you cannot look after your own people.

c. Content: Content has always been a key to marketing. The three big differences is that there is much more of it, it is far faster and there are many new ways of making it.

Think Poetry and not just plumbing: Today in a world of granular targeting and algorithmic trading we can get the right interaction to the right person at the right time. But what are we paying as much attention to the interaction as getting it there. We must think of the poetry and not just the plumbing. T

Think response not just creation: Many campaigns are started by people. Meme’s or perspectives of about your brand can ricochet all over the world and you need to ensure that in todays world of weaponized platforms you have a world class risk intelligence partner and a rapid action team

Never Forget People choose with their hearts and use numbers to justify what they do: Content that moves is content that moves product.

d. Data: Data is key to future of marketing. It is like electricity. Without electricity one can not keep the lights on. Without strong data a company cannot compete. It is necessary. But it is not sufficient. Because just like few companies differentiate themselves by how they use electricity, very few companies will find a competitive edge in data. It will be a key ingredient and not the be all or end all of strategy. And very few companies will be able to live on their own data. The three areas to focus on data are

Quality versus Quantity: If 90 percent on data has been created in the last two years most companies “data lakes” are filled with muck/mud/ slime.

Real Time Access and not just Ownership: First party relationships with people who buy from you are key. Using platforms as the roadways to reach them will lead to high tolls or blockades. But first party data alone is not enough and how to access and partner with other firms both to build a better understanding and bridge to people but also to design better and more comprehensive products and solutions.

Meaning versus Math: Data is not information, knowledge or wisdom. Algorithms are bias embedded in code. How do you integrate, interpolate, interrogate data and involved diverse mindsets, interconnect to larger trends and add imagination to make meaning from math.

e. Enterprise: If a company is to deliver experiences in a world of people with god like power while steering itself with a purpose and looking after its stakeholders particularly its employees but also making sure it delivers tangible results today it will new to sculpt itself into a new form by building new muscles.

The Paranoid Die. The Schizophrenic Thrive: Andy Grove the late CEO of Intel said only the paranoid survive. In todays age where we need to connect and work together this leads to polarized and insular thinking which explains why Intel has become a shell of itself and is a shadow in the world of Taiwan Semi-Conductor, Nvidia, AMD and ARM (which Nvidia might buy).

Rather than Paranoia the right mindset is Schizophrenia. Companies should run two models. One focussed on delivering today and the other on building a new tomorrow where some of the best talent are given all the assets of the companies and none of the liabilities and asked to do whatever it takes to move into the future including eating and harming todays cash cows.

Culture is the result of what fear free diverse people do when no one is watching: To navigate change companies need fear free cultures of diverse people and mindsets led by leaders who do the shit they claim others should do. Incentivize and train for change and worship no sacred cows.

Trust is speed: If a company wants to be high velocity it must be one built on trust. A company where information and decision making is transparent. Leaders are accountable and Cover your ass deck writing and meetings to prepare for meetings are minimized.

How does your company or your Client companies do in the ABCDE frame?

Hopefully you will find this frame a useful one to add/subtract from and an instigator to thinking and doing.

Artist's Rendering

Rishad Tobaccowala ( @rishad ) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by Harper Collins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in. The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Rishad is a sought after speaker and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at rishadtobaccowala.com

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Rishad Tobaccowala