Podcast Transcript

Buzz Knight 00:00:01

On this episode of the Taken a Walk podcast series. I’m your host, Buzz Knight, and we’re in Chicago, Illinois, for a special road trip edition of Taking a Walk. I’m here near the famous Lakeshore Drive area to meet with an Inspirational figure. Rishad Tobaccowala is our guest. I consider him a business and personal growth Buddha for the times. He’s the author of Restoring the Soul of Business staying Human in the Age of Data. He also has a very popular blog that we look forward to every Sunday that comes out. It’s called The Future Does Not Fit in the Containers of the Past. I highly recommend you subscribe to that. And I can’t wait to take a walk with Rishad.

Buzz Knight 00:00:50

It’s so nice to see you again and to be in the fine city of Chicago, Illinois, taking a walk with you.

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:00:57

Absolutely. And here we are walking along the beach, Ohio Street Beach along Lake Shore Drive.

Buzz Knight 00:01:02

So describe this lovely scene here.

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:01:07

So we are in downtown Chicago. And for those of you who have been to Chicago, Chicago is defined by one way to think about it is the flatness. But the other way is it’s very tall buildings, it’s river, and most importantly, it’s Lake, which is Lake Michigan. And because Lake Michigan is so large, you have waves, as we can see, and you have beaches. And basically we are looking at a beach, which is Ohio Street Beach. There are a few boats, one with a little robot, I guess a light guard, and a few other boats. We get some working day, and we’re hearing the hum of cars on Lake Shore Drive. And that’s where we are. And it’s right across Navy Pier for those of you who know Chicago . And we see the Ferris wheel.

Buzz Knight 00:02:10

So I have to thank you for some of the inspiration of the creation of the Takin A Walkpodcast.. I was here in Chicago in August when I got to see you and have an adult beverage. And we talked about a number of things. And one of the things that you sent me on a homework assignment, and it was a homework assignment specifically around a number of questions. I believe nine of them.

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:02:39

Yes. Right.

Buzz Knight 00:02:40

And why don’t you tell folks about the nine questions, and then I can sort of loop it back to how it motivated me.

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:02:47

Absolutely. So one of the key things that we discussed and which I have written about is that every one of us over time does a couple of things. One is we evolve and we grow, and we have career transitions, but eventually we want to come up with nine words that describe who we are and three words that describe our niche, which is what are we good at? Three words that describe our voice, which is who we are, and three words that describe our story, which is why should someone believe that? And those nine words can be used as a framing device. So as we are going around trying to decide what we want to do, how we sell ourselves, that’s why we are looking at it. And the other way is a filtering device which is how do we spend our time and what makes us happy? If these are the nine words that we happen to be finding down to and I did those nine words and I’ve been doing those nine words and my nine words have now sort of been not changing for a while, but three of them, which are my niche of future change and innovation. That’s what I’m good at. But then who am I? And there you ask people and ask them to come up with words that describe who you are, more importantly, what your voice is. And so mine apparently is authentic, inspirational and provocative. And then what’s your story? Which is why should we believe you? And mine is a global story. I grew up in one country, working another for really the headquarters in a third. I used to travel a lot as global. I’m a mongrel in the fact that I’ve got free internet media, digital and analog staff and operating laws. I’m a reinventor. Well, it looks like I have to lose my job every three years or do a new gig. I stay in the same company for 37, but it looks like we do a new gig every three, four years after the first 18. So that’s me. So my nine words, our future, change, innovation. My voice is authentic, provocative, inspirational and my story is reinventing and global. And with those nine words you can do a lot. Now, in my particular case, I’ve actually come down to one word. So among each of the first three I use future, the next three I use provocative and the last three I use reinvented. So my step is future, change, innovation, future describes that best, authentic, provocative, inspirational, probably I question the status quo is provocative and of the other three it’s reinventing. And if I were to come up with one word, which you don’t have to, it would be reinventing. Because reinventing is about the future, it’s about challenging the status quo and it’s about change. So that’s what I suggested you do the nine word exercise. And I always suggest to anybody as they are figuring out what next to do or what to do better.

Buzz Knight 00:06:04

Well, I don’t know if I did it as precisely as you, first of all. And I don’t know if I did it with as much certainty issue because it shifts and changes. Yes, but what led me to the Takin A Walk podcast was the fact that certainly where I thought my voice was, it was around content and creation because that’s where I came out of.

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:06:27

And that’s what we discussed over our beers. That’s right.

Buzz Knight 00:06:30

So as I was walking 15 miles that particular day, 30,000 plus steps in Chicago, I just started thinking around storytelling, around that voice. A love that I’ve always had has been interviewing people throughout my career. And actually, I don’t know if I had told you this on our visit, but I read this book called Decoding Greatness, which was about reverse engineering ideas. So here I am, strolling the streets of Chicago, thinking comedians in Cars getting Coffee is not just about cars and coffee. It’s about this amazing host in Jerry Seinfeld having conversations with people. So I love conversation. I love the genuineness of it, whether it’s new friends or whether it’s old friends. And that’s what led me down this path. So thank you for pushing me into this journey.

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:07:33

Well, I’m glad you look very happy doing it, and it clearly is one of your key trades. And the good news is I get to be a guest, so that’s even greater.

Buzz Knight 00:07:44

It’s terrific. Thank you. So since we last met, what’s going on, as far as you can see, in the media landscape, what is happening around me?

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:07:55

So I think there are three very big shifts going on in the media landscape, which are building on shifts that occurred before. So one is clearly, almost all media is increasingly becoming digital and streaming. You saw that. It doesn’t mean it’s the majority. The majority of radio still is not streaming, but there’s a more and more streaming component to it. And that could be everything from each of the radio stations have a streaming component. You have Spotify, you have YouTube music, you’ve got Title, et cetera. The same thing happens with if you think about it, yes, Netflix stock fell, but one of the reasons it fell is because there are now ten or 15 options you have besides Netflix. And you can decide. I use Netflix this month for Stranger Things, and next month I’ll do Disney Plus for Obiwan Kenobi, even though they both occurred this month. So you have to give up maybe something else. Screaming the second one, which I think people are not appreciating as much, is that the person who is the content creator is changing. So you obviously were in the content side of the radio business, so you have acumen in content, but because you were working in a radio place, you actually had an ability to distribute. But if you were not, you could be a content creator, but nobody would hear you or listen to you or read you, because there was no way the closest anyone got to sharing their viewpoint was writing letters to the editor or calling into a radio show. There wasn’t any other way. That obviously changed with the web and definitely went social and mobile. And now I remind people that the Causation Sisters of Instagram and Mr. Beast of YouTube and the Melio Sisters of Tik Tok reach more people in a day or two than the people who watch the Super Bowl. So the question really comes up to be who is a content creator right now? I used to write presentations and I used to write perspectives inside my company. But over the last two years I’ve been writing it on Substack. And I’m a small content creator, but it’s read by about 25,000 people, including you, who are a big fan. So I’ve become a little content company. So that’s the second big shift. One is everything’s going streaming, so it’s much more on demand and time shifted. The other is everybody can be a content creator. Obviously some of them are not so good, but everybody has somebody. And the third one, which people are not anticipating as much. And it’s got to do something with both digital technology and content creation is what the impact of what I call the future of the internet, which is web three. So a lot of people today are confusing web three and saying, okay, it’s about cryptocurrencies or NFTS. That’s part of it. But the underlying philosophy of web three is to try to give more control and power and monetization opportunities to the people who consume the content and people who create the content and a little bit less to the people who enable them. So the enablers are today called aggregators. It could be Spotify, it could be Apple itunes Store or the Apple App Store. So the Apple App Store takes thirty cents of every dollar. It could be me creating the content. The people have come to listen to me. But $0.30 goes to happen because of old recording rules. It’s not just Spotify’s fault, but because of old recording and other rules. It’s basically a dollar that goes to Spotify. If you happen to be a musician, if you’ve only performed the song, you get $0.06. If you own the song, which is you wrote the song and you perform the song, you get $0.12. So $0.88 goes to other people. So the new world and people can see it. If you don’t believe it, you go to a place called Royal IO or Autograph IO. So Royal, IO is where the musicians hang out. Autograph IO is where the sports people hang out. Is there someone like Lil Nas will give you the rights and sell you some component of the rights to his songs. So you’ll share in his royalties, tiny vinyl, but you pay him a little bit and you own a percentage of his future. That’s all future royalties. What’s great about that is, as you now are a partial order of the song, you’re a fan of Lil Nas and he invites you, depending on how much you buy, two concerts to meet with him, et cetera. But as you basically say, this is a great song and you’re a big fan. The more successful he gets, the more successful you get. And there’s almost nobody in the middle. And that is revolutionary because it’s about a decentralized owned, much more ownership, so much more decentralized, much more open and much more composable and controlled by the content creator. That world, right? Plus new content creators, plus streaming is going to change media.

Buzz Knight 00:13:59

And we’re only at the beginning of that, really, the infant stages.

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:14:03

Yes, you see the real impact in three years. But it would be amazing. I mean, the reality of it is, why do the middle people like, let’s even look at something like a Facebook. You take to Facebook your identity, your data, your content, your friends, your time, what do you get? You get to see what your other friends are doing and you get likes. And Mark Zuckerberg keeps Pine Islands in Hawaii. What’s that all about? That revolution is coming and the young generation says no more. And that’s where I’m now going to boards and saying, you’re about to see a revolution. And this content, which is, if it’s my network, I can reach people, I can use token economics, I can do different things. Why does the man or the woman take so much?

Buzz Knight 00:15:05

So how are the boards responding when you speak to them about this? I realize I’m generalizing because not everybody buys it. How are they responding?

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:15:17

So when I speak with them, they respond with great positivity because of two reasons. One is I explain what’s going on and I suggest that they learn about it themselves. I don’t tell them things like you are dead and you don’t get it or there’s a revolution. My basic belief is this new form also provides a lot of opportunities to companies and to see their executives. If you reimagine your business, nobody basically says you are forced to have your current business and you can transition your business. So because I explained how web three is different than NFTs, , , how to learn about it, and what the financial upside is if they learn about it and what the creative upside is if they learn about it. And of course, what some of the challenges are if they don’t learn about it, makes them want to learn about it.

Buzz Knight 00:16:23

But you said something important, that you don’t put them on their heels, no defensive posture. You lay the facts out.

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:16:32

I go to them as a business person, talking to a business person. And because I was fortunate to be right in 1993 and in 2007, where I helped many of these companies first get on the web, understand mobile. So when I show up again, I say it’s, that same thing is happening again. Start paying attention, start understanding the impact. And that which is speaking with two senior people in three voices. So one voice is a voice of business and reason. The second voice is a voice of education and the third voice is a voice of provocation. But it’s not just the provocative voice. The provocation is something big is changing which could help you or hurt you. I’m not sure exactly. But these are some of the things you want to think about, and here’s how you can learn about it. And by the way, that’s the education part. There’s upside to your business if you think about your business like this. So then they’re saying, Oh, good, I should think about this, because this could be a threat. But wait, it could also be an opportunity if I learn about it. And so I’ve done it for seven boards already, boards of directors. It’s the CEO’s external board. They say, no one speaks to us like this, right? And I said, Look, I’m not the expert. I’m showing you where the experts are. But these are the kinds of things you want to think about. And I have, at this current time, a bunch of experts training me. So this afternoon, I’m going to have another expert. So I have five different world class people doing like 1 hour a week or 1 hour every two weeks training me, and then I go learn on my own. But they say I ask them, what should I use? What should I leverage? What should I buy? What should I understand? What should I look at? And some of it is too hard for me, and I say too hard. Sometimes it’s a little bit easy, but.

Buzz Knight 00:18:50

What are they training you on?

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:18:53

Social media? Yeah, it’s basically everything from how does a distributed autonomous organization work to someone else. Basically, like, I figured out how to make my own NFTs and all that that’s done. But what’s the underlying business model behind some of these tokens? Not just Bitcoin and others, but the newer ones, like Algorand or Cardano, et cetera? How do they work? Why do they work? What’s the business? Why is it not just a Ponzi scheme? Right? What industries will be affected by what? What should I be looking for? Who should I be following? Right? What conference should I go to? What should I watch on YouTube? So they’re like curators. They tell me, look here, watch this, read this, go there, play with this. But that’s the way you are. Yes, but what happens is I do that in stuff. I know, but I keep reminding people that there are people who know more than I do in this space. Sure. And they want to talk to me. So you might say, Okay. And I don’t pay them, right. So some will say, Okay, why are these people talking to you? The reason is because they know that I believe in what they are thinking about. So think of them as revolutionaries, and I believe in the revolution, but then I know how to ask questions and sell the revolution to the kings and queens. Right? Yeah. And ideally, you should be able to go to the future without any bloodshed so my whole stuff is, show me how this works. I can then translate it into English for these folks. At the same time, I can translate from what you might hear from these folks as resistance, as actually business and human questions, which you need to answer, right? Or not answer, but be aware of. Because if you really want this to scale, it’s better to get people as your friends or neutral than just go and piss people off.

Buzz Knight 00:21:14

Well, but at its core, too, you talk often in your book Restoring The Soul of Business and in your Substack blog about the importance of learning.

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:21:28


Buzz Knight 00:21:29

And how that should be the continual diet in your life.

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:21:36

It’s always been important. And I have this, like, the presentation that I give. And I normally never give presentations, but because the space is a little bit complex, I have to show a few things, like a few visuals to show how things are interconnected, because it’s hard to say, okay, now imagine a box, and this is it. So I have to draw the box and show the thing. So I wrote a presentation, which is for me, very odd because I don’t do presentations, and it’s a longer one because I try to keep my slides to nine slides or less. I’ve written about that. And this one is 18 slides, okay? But it takes the 18 slides to explain the new space, including a deep dive into things like metaverse and web 3.0 and tokens. But it takes the 18 slides, not for too many words, but actually 18. But last slide is a quote. I point to the words written on the tombstone of Arthur C Clarke.  Clarke wrote 2001 Space Odyssey. And he is buried in Sri Lanka, which is the old salon south of India and island country. And on his tombstone are the following words that’s how my presentation ends, right? “He never grew up, but he never stopped growing”. And I remind the senior people, the reason you all have this role is you are constantly having to navigate the future. But the future doesn’t fit in the containers of the past and it changes. So if you don’t upgrade your own learning, you will be a container of the best, okay? Therefore, keep learning. Because the day you stop learning is the day you start dying. And that is what gets people excited. And because me showing how I do it and how they can do it, it’s like, Oh, this is cool. And learning is like a drug. Once you start it, you get addicted to it. It’s all like exercise or a few other things for you. But once you do it, you’re much more less resistance to change because you are learning about it. And so you can decide to resist it because you know about it and you think it doesn’t make sense. Like a lot of what I will share with people at some stage, they’ll say, Somehow it doesn’t make sense. And I said, Okay, you heard me. It doesn’t make sense. Tell me why it doesn’t make sense. And they tell me, and sometimes it doesn’t make sense after they listen to me. But if they just said, It doesn’t make sense, I’d say, you don’t get it. Or without even talking to me, they said, you don’t make any sense. I said, what’s this? That’s what it is.

Buzz Knight 00:24:43

Our leaders of today and companies understanding the importance of the way they shape their culture in these times.

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:24:53

They do, and they realize it’s important. But they are struggling. Everyone is struggling. The last problem they had, or the problem they all had, is a fourth problem and sort of surveyed the first three. The last problem was Covid 19. But the first three was globalization. Demographic shifts in the Internet, not problems with massive changes. So globalization already meant that if you were a leader, your workforce was everywhere in the world. So when people say, Oh, I’ve got distributed remote, I don’t like the words. There are more employees of IBM, Accenture, and I can name a lot of other companies that are supposed to be based in wherever. They’re more of their employees in India than they’re in the United States. So the sole idea where they basically say, everybody’s got to be together. I said, 80% of your people are nowhere near your headquarters or anywhere in this country. Let’s start with that. And then time zones apart, so let’s forget all this. It’s already happened. Then you have the demographic issues, which is, A, in the US. The country is getting older. So how do you deal with people like ourselves who are older, or as I call ourselves, seasoned

Buzz Knight 00:26:28

I like that one better.

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:26:30

Right. But on the other stage, how do you deal with the demographics that people under 18 in the US. Are already multiethnic? Right. And then also, how do you deal with the fact that certain things like purpose and values are not things that have been hoisted upon as something alien? Purpose and values have always been important, but there’s a group of people under 35 for whom this is even more important than maybe for people who are of a different age. So if you’re a management person, you’re basically saying, okay, I have these young people who want to learn quickly and move quickly, and they don’t want to pay their dues. They don’t look like me, they don’t talk like me. Their values are different from me. Then I’ve got these seasoned people who I can’t afford to lose because the population of the US. Is declining. And if I lose all my senior people and these people don’t want to come to work, what do I do?. Those are the issues. And my old stuff is culture. Is all of that culture isn’t just getting people in an office. So that’s what they’re struggling with.

Buzz Knight 00:27:45

How can companies make their organizations more future proof?

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:27:53

The way to basically make an organization future proof is three key things. The first one is to strongly encourage incentivize and sort of enable people to grow. So what do I mean by that? Most companies have cut back on training. How are people going to learn without any training? So you’re asking people to do something different beyond training them. The other is you want to incentivize them. So if you want something to do something different, you got to promote people. You got to pay people who try the new things. But if you basically promote the people and pay the people who are doing what the cash cow does, why would anybody do that? So the point is, look at your incentive programs, look at your trade programs and also look at your communication programs to get people to change, which obviously the elite from the top, which is you should do that yourself as a leader. So that’s one. The second is do not define your category by your existing competitors. So every category’s, real opportunities and threats for their opportunities come from outsider the automobile industry. The opportunity and threat comes from an Uber and a Tesla that were not part of the automobile industry. But if you look at the future of the automobile industry, it’s some combination of electric cars. Some more may not be fully automated driving but more automated driving than today and potentially people not having cars, right? The future of and the biggest value in the hotel business comes from companies like Airbnb and Booking.com and maybe less than from Hilton or Marriott. Now they have all understood this and they’re figuring out how to work at it, but if they should have done it earlier, right? So I say the future comes from this line in the heavens. So one is training communication. Second is do not define your category with the way you currently have it. And the third one, which is extremely important, is to do what I just mentioned, which is you yourself as management, if you’re management or any individual, I basically say to management spend 30% of your time on future projects. I’m not saying spend 30% of your budget on future projects. You can spend 90% of your budget in today’s projects and maybe five or ten in future projects. But 30% of your time and 30% of your best talent should be for tomorrow. And people are confused. I said if tomorrow is very important, you don’t want to give you wouldn’t hand your kids to a troubled child but you have a troubled executive who’s not doing so well. You say, okay, we don’t know what to do with this person. Give them on a future project. How stupid is that, right? And you want to signal, I’m putting my best people I’m putting my own time in the future, even though I’m putting most of my budget today to make sure I have a few generate income. So that’s the third one, which is I want to know how you spend your time and how you put most of your talent. I don’t want to necessarily see how you spend your budget.

Buzz Knight 00:31:45

So it’s a year from now. What do you personally want to have learned in the next year that you’re setting your sites on, that we’d be talking about a year from now?

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:31:56

So the two areas that I am actually spending a lot of time on for two different reasons is the following two. One is what is the future of the internet look like?. I think there’s something dramatic happening there. So I will be more sophisticated about it, hopefully a year from now. So that’s on marketing technology. The other one, which you see in my writing, is what is the future of work, workplaces and workers look like? I don’t think it’s going to look like in 2029 what it looked like in 2019. It’ll be more different than 2019 than 2019 was from 2009 or 2000, dramatically. And I’m trying to understand what does that mean and where does that go and what the implications are. Because work is central to everything from GDP to the way cities function to identity. So when you basically say work, workers and workspaces are changing and all we are changing at the same time, driven by technology COVID-19, changing demographics, the ability to set when web three allows a content creator to be their own boss, when it allows seven to eight years, you and me to have this conversation almost real in a metaphor, not today’s. Technology doesn’t allow it, right? What happens when the next Athens or Silicon Valley or Bangladesh is not a place, but it’s a cloud? So the future of work, workers and workspaces is one and the future of the Internet is the other.

Buzz Knight 00:33:55

Well, you make me excited about the future, not afraid of the future. Even though sometimes I think we need to be slightly fearful,

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:34:04

Be apprehensive, we have to be skeptical. All of which I am right. But literally my future of Internet presentation starts with I have a disclaimer. I said, you are going to hear from somebody who is going to take a positive take on the future, a positive take on web three, and a positive take on everything. However, and then I list there are amazingly smart people and I list where people can go who disagree with me. I mean, they don’t know who I am, but their viewpoint is different than mine. And I said these are famous, very well known people. So you’re Scott Galloway on Web Three. Here is Dan Olson to our video. Your is the NFT Sucks group on Reddit, right? So I said there is that. I spend time with them. I don’t spend time with them. I listen to them, I hear them, I figure it all out. But I have a different take and here’s why. Right? And that also, by the way, encourages people to listen to me because my whole stuff is, yes, they’re right in certain ways, but they aren’t seeing the whole picture. And what they are fighting about is like the equivalent of someone comes into let’s say you come to my apartment and it’s a pretty nice apartment, but then you basically see that somewhere in the corner there’s like a mess. Not the turd, but some sort of mess, okay? And you basically say Rishad lives terribly. Look at that mess in the corner. Everything else is pristine. And the mess might basically be my kids were just before you entered through something on the corner. And then you say that is the future of Rishad’s living conditions. And my old stuff. Is that’s true? There’s a corner in the mess. We figured out why. But how is that the living conditions? That’s what a lot of these people do. They take a price of some crypto. They take somebody fighting with each other and they conflate it into the future of the internet. That’s why I don’t call it Web Three. I said the future of the internet. I said for people who don’t believe that, the Internet changed in 1993. In 2007 it came around and it created massive new things like mobile and social and search and e commerce . This is the same thing. So you can decide if this is about a crypto crash or you can decide this is about i AI and biotech, which is what I think it is. So I said you decide. And by the way, you think that the whole world is going to hand in a hand basket and there is no progress in technology, fine. But that’s your right. I don’t know how to live when someone basically says everything is going backward.

Buzz Knight 00:37:04

Thank you for your passion, for your generosity absolutely.

Buzz Knight 00:37:09

It’s so great to see you again.

Rishad Tobaccowala 00:37:12

Thank you.

Buzz Knight 00:37:13

Taking a walk with Buzz Knight is available on Spotify, Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcast.

About The Author

Buzz Knight

Buzz Knight is an established media executive with a long history of content creation and multi-platform distribution.

After a successful career as a Radio Executive, he formed Buzz Knight Media which focuses on strategic guidance and the development of new original content.