Rishad Tobaccowala on how to re-invent marketing, re-think organizations and build a global empire

Published January 10, 2022   |   

“Whether we like it or not, gravity exists. Gravity doesn’t care if we tweet about it, agree, or disagree that it exists. Facts and data are like gravity,” says Rishad Tobaccowala. The author of Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data sat down for a virtual chat with the leadership team at Crayon Data as part of our 2022 planning sessions. 

Rishad’s key skill is getting people to see, think and feel differently about how to grow themselves, their teams and their company. He distils his 40 years of global learning and wisdom in a provocative, pragmatic, and inspirational way. He was most recently the Global Strategist and Chief Growth Officer of Publicis Groupe. He is also the mind behind the popular thought letter, ‘The Future Does Not Fit in the Containers of the Past.’  

Here are some key takeaways from the interactive session. 

Infuse data with humanity 

One of Crayon’s core values is #ThinkDataCraftExperiences. Rishad’s perspective on data being like gravity has only reinforced this obsession. He says, “The future is the spreadsheet, plus the story.” The spreadsheet is the data, facts, math, and the algorithm. And one will be successful when they use that data to tell stories that are relevant to their intended audience.  

In simple terms, we are continuously taking the data and infusing it with humanity. This helps us get our clients, customers, partners, to the next level. 

Talent + Technology = Transformation

Rishad illustrates how truly successful companies combine technology with people and culture. Customers do not enter what they want into an algorithm. They need a human being on the other side to communicate to. 

In this model, he says, Crayon is a technology driven company with service as a layer around it. And the service layer serves three API purposes.  

  1. Connect to customers 
  2. Understand existing needs  
  3. Anticipate future needs  

Because the interesting thing is, when the world changes, algorithms cannot anticipate. Every advance in technology places a premium on talent. Algorithms are bad at learning something new. They need to be told that there is new information. Contrastingly, people are very good at learning something new. But they’re not great at processing lots of data fast. The trick here is to combine these two to achieve great results 

Rishad also quotes Archimedes: “Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.” The lever today is technology. He substantiates this from his own experience with Substack where he uses the technology to share his work. And gets people to spread it. With this magic, he reaches 25,000 people and 350 CEOs every Sunday.  

People follow people, not titles 

The real challenge today is how do we attract, retain, and motivate talent in these times. Rishad suggests  

1) Pay attention to the customer:  both internal and external 

2) Focus on the talent:  Hire A-listers, hire people better than you and give them the space to grow 

3) Focus on your own growth:  Because if you aren’t growing your brand, your skills and reputation, nobody will be motivated to work in your company   

He highlights the importance of growing superstars inside the community which massively help build the brand. Their presence in the community helps attract clients. And if such superstars leave, it will be easier to get other people onboard because of the imprints they leave behind. 

Stay future ready 

As the world keeps changing with emerging technology, hybrid work cultures, and advances in AI, Rishad says companies should focus on what’s important. 

1) Time and Dollars 

Bucket 1: Allocating budgets (people, capital etc) 

Bucket 2: Investing two-thirds of your time for today and one-third for tomorrow 

2) Companies that are C-O-D stand a higher chance of winning tomorrow.  

Composable like Lego blocks  

Open like Discord servers  

Democratized like Google  

Rishad ends with a classic line from the movie Lawrence of Arabia. “The future is for companies that realise that ‘Nothing is Written.’ “ 

There is no prefixed route paved towards success. Evolving to changes and adapting them into a sustainable business model will help companies stay relevant ahead of time.