The Future does not fit in the containers of The Past

The Future

Rishad Tobaccowala rocks Malaysia Tech Month with provocative insights we were shy to ask!

Last weekend we explored the thoughts and wisdom of Rishad Tobaccowala, the best-selling author of the smash-hit book “Restoring the Soul of Business – Staying Human in the Age of Data.”

He distills 40 years of global learning and digital wisdom as a keynote speaker for major firms like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Procter & Gamble, Bank of America, Walmart, Heineken and more. He was named by BusinessWeek as one of the top business leaders for his pioneering innovation and TIME magazine dubbed him one of five “Marketing Innovators”.

His belief in stimulating both halves of his brain extends to his writing in two distinct blogs. One is called “Re-imagining,” where he posts news and musings about the arts, music and literature. He addresses marketing and workplace culture in his left-brained blog, “Re-inventing.”

The Chicago Tribune calls him marketing’s digital provocateur. Rishad is a Senior Advisor to the Publicis Groupe, the world’s third largest communication firm with 80,000 employees worldwide, and serving most recently as its Chief Growth Officer and Chief Strategist.

So The Hammer and Rishad were having a conversation about data, the future, and the key importance of the Human Factor, here are the highlights.

Rishad Tobaccowala

What are your thoughts about mobile technology in terms of E-commerce?

I think very soon we are going to stop thinking about mobile technology, search technology or social technology, because all of them are going to blend seamlessly into the same thing.

For those of us who have the opportunity of purchasing things from Instagram or Tik Tok, can you explain whether it’s mobile, or social, or Ecommerce? It’s all the same thing.

People just want the stuff, they don’t care how they’re getting it, and they just want it fast and easy. It’s the companies who come up with all the terms, all of which will disappear in the next 2-3 years.

With economies like the US opening up, big companies are asking their employees to get back to the office and the only response they keep getting is a “No”.

Working in the office is good, you get to socialize and train together, but you can do that just once a week. Working in the large container that we call an office is very 2019, and it is a thing of the past.

The human mind is like the cork of a champagne bottle, it expands one popped open and cannot be used to stop the same bottle it used to be part of. With 18 months of working from home, productivity has still gone up.

I am doing interviews, webinars, and presentations – all while sitting at home, virtually. Why the hell would I go to the office?

The future does not fit in the containers of the past.

So while we are still trying to figure out what’s in between bygone days and days to come, the most challenging part is adapting with change. What are your thoughts on change management?

I personally believe that change sucks. I hate change. People are shocked to hear this and tell me, “What are you talking about? You drive change!” Yes of course, I hate change but irrelevance is worse.

Doesn’t mean that change is easy. I have worked in my second career for 40 years, have been living in the same city for 42 years and I met my wife 50 years ago. I hate change.

But if anyone comes to you and tells you that change is good, look them carefully in the face and ask them this, “If change is so good, why are you asking ME to do it?”

My advice for both individuals and companies is that there are six things you have to do in order to change.

First of all you need a strategy, which is what I refer to as future competitive advantage. What are you going to change to?

Second is you have to do some M&A, you have to develop some new skillsets.

Number three is you have to reorganize.

Four is to explain why this change is good for the employees.

Five is to have an incentive program. End of the day everyone has to pay their bills.

The sixth and last point is to have a training program.

With the last three answered you will know whether the change is right for you or not.

Here are a few questions I have from our audience. The first is – how soon will the mobile be replaced with a chip planted in our body?

Before there’s a chip in your body, there’s going to be one in your headphones, watches, clothes, glasses and other accessories. 5G and AI technologies will give you those.

It’s already part of your electronic appliances and vehicles. Chips will always be put into things that you wear or keep close to your body before they can be inserted in your body.

What is your perspective on privacy versus personalization?

Privacy is very important. The reason is when someone is watching, you are not who you are.

If someone says they don’t care about privacy, I tell them I’m going to sit in front of them and watch them for an hour, just to prove that point. I’ll ask you to think about that.

Personalization doesn’t require you to take away people’s privacy.

Any person with two moods is quite difficult to be understood by machines. Humans do not like to be categorized and put into boxes.

Cloud is not hack proof, things in the cloud still tend to disappear, what are your thoughts?

Clouds are hack proof and getting better now. But of course there is a lack of trust, inequality because money goes to people running technology not those using it.

People are also becoming polarized. With all these things, I recommend people to build a case with the opposite scenario to choosing cloud, or anything for that matter, to find out whether you need it or not.

What is the source of your unique surname?

When the British came to India, many people in India did not have surnames. They said you need to have a surname, and Indians didn’t know what they were.

So they explained that for those with family roots as blacksmiths were called Smith, those who were green grocer are Green.

My ancestors were in the tobacco growing and selling business, hence we’re Tobaccowala, like those who sold liquor are called Daru Wala, those selling screws are Screw Wala. I even have a friend whose ancestors’ job was to open soda bottles so his surname is Soda Bottle Opener Wala.

If given the choice between Singapore and Chicago, where would you rather live?

Chicago. I love Singapore, and it was a tough decision to make for a second. But the reason I chose Chicago is because it is still trying to figure out what it is, while Singapore thinks it already knows what it is.

The Q&A took place after the author’s keynote session with the same title as is book during the MDEC Digital Investment Week 2021, Malaysia. The session was co-moderated by Raymond Siva, SVP of Investment and Brand and Chief Marketing Officer of MDEC.

Those were some of the biggest takeaways from the amazing keynote session by Rishad Tobaccowala. Yes, times have changed, we have changed, evolved, venturing into and still adapting with the new normal. Rishad’s thought provoking and eye opening session surely made things much clearer.

You can sign up for Rishad’s free writings every week at

Get a copy of the book here: 

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