Author: Rohit Bhargava

Frederick Douglass and How Photos Will Shape Our Idea History In the Future



“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

Frederick Douglass wrote these words nearly 150 years ago, but hearing them this week as I watched a production of American Prophet playing at Arena Stage, they felt like a surprisingly relevant reminder to speak out for a more just world. Already being described as getting “the Hamilton treatment,” the show takes an iconic figure from American history and brings the age he lived in to life through songs and selected passages from his own writing.

In addition to his central role in helping architect the freeing of enslaved people, Douglass is remembered for his early support of women’s suffrage long before women were granted the right to vote. For me, the most powerful story in the show explored a moment when he posed for a portrait photo and seemed to understand immediately the gravity of that moment and the important role photographs would take in shaping history and countering stereotypes through real images:

“It is evident that the great cheapness, and universality of pictures must exert a powerful though silent influence, upon the ideas and sentiment of present and future generations.”

When it comes to thinking about how photos may be used to understand history decades from now, technology will play a much bigger part. Here’s one example: a (Read more...)

A Sadly Common Case Study In Leadership Failure



Last year Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa banned the usage of agrochemicals by local farmers in an attempt to become the first country with 100% organic agriculture. On the surface, the move seems like a perfect example of visionary leadership. Just over a year later, it is being declared a failed experiment. The “catastrophically wrong” initiative resulted in lower farming yields, barren farmland usage and widespread farmer protests. What went wrong?

This story is a sadly recognizable case study in political chaos. It starts with an insecure male politician wanting to make his mark by doing something bold. Easily manipulated by his advisors, he takes unilateral action without truly understanding any of the implications or speaking with any actual experts. When warned by early setbacks, he doubles down on his previous choice because his ego prevents him from changing course or admitting he was wrong.

Eventually, when the backlash becomes too great, he resigns and escapes to the Maldives (which just happened this week). His next move in this story, based on past examples, will probably be to take no responsibility, declare he was right all along, and try to blame the entire debacle on someone else. Does this story sound familiar? 

3 Marketing Lessons From The Minions Movie



Last night we got dressed up to see a movie.

To be more specific, my boys and a group of their friends created their own matching yellow t-shirts while I sported a black t-shirt and Gru-scarf to complete our crew. Our dedication was slightly before the full hype started for for the latest installment in the Minions franchise – Minions: The Rise of Gru. This #minionscult fever has led the film to a blockbuster opening and a meme that has overtaken Tik Tok and other social media platforms, filled with people dressing up in formal wear or minions garb to enjoy the film.

The movie is the latest in a string of box office successes leading to a resurgence in movie theater attendance after two long years of depressed sales. For the most part, the movies dominating the 2022 box office list belong to large franchises: Marvel’s latest Spiderman, Thor and Doctor Strange films, the Top Gun sequel, and the Jurassic World sequel. Their successes, though, are likely causing marketers and leaders in all industries to wonder if they can recreate some Minion marketing magic for themselves. To do it, there are a few questions they should consider first:

1. Is the level of effort involved reasonable? One of the reasons movie launches like this generate so much passion is because they only require a momentary commitment. I don’t have to dress up like a minion every day or start writing a minion blog The short term extreme fandom works for (Read more...)

Why Coffee Might Make You Impulsively Buy Useless Junk



Never drink coffee right before shopping. I was reading a research study this week about how the caffeine in coffee leads to impulsive shopping behavior and as a coffee lover, I was tempted to dismiss it. Then I thought about the Kickstarter I funded for a perfume that smells like outer space. Yes, maybe I should cut back on the coffee. 

new study published in the Journal of Marketing which found shoppers who had a complimentary caffeinated coffee right before shopping ended up spending more and buying more impulsively that those who chose to drink water or decaf coffee. The effect also seems to impact online shopping behaviour as well.

Several years ago, another study found that the caffeine from coffee also had a similar effect on problem gamblers. So now in addition to the old advice about never going grocery shopping when you’re hungry, you should also make sure you’re not overly caffeinated before doing any kind of shopping. Otherwise, you might end up with a closet full of sad and useless candles and other crap you’ll regret ever owning.

When Success Is Measured In Hate, We All Lose



One thing that right and left wing media personalities have in common: they are both desperate to be hated. Attracting the hate of their ideological opposites has become a sad metric for success. If you’re not pissing someone off, you’re not doing your job. The same mentality has entered into the world of business and entrepreneurship. This ideal of hate-seeking is toxic to our culture, but effective because we are falling for the trick over and over. But who really benefits by keeping us angry all the time?

Magazines Create Empathy That Can Change the World. Here’s How To Save Them.



“The print magazine is an antidote to information overload, a form of media that contains a finite amount of content, releasing readers from the laborious task of deciding what to consume in the limited spaces of time in a day.”

Magazines are my favorite media. I read an ode to the power of the printed word in magazines this week and it reminded me of all the things I love about them. The process of curating this email is a constant battle to avoid overload, and I find that magazines always help. Unlike a lot of online content, the stories and images in magazines are usually professionally produced by real talented editors and creators. The long take they regularly offer is unique and their ability to select and publish stories that are timely without feeling outdated is a constant inspiration for me to try and do the same.

Sadly, many magazines are ceasing operations or moving to an online format only. The good news is, magazine subscriptions remain a steal compared to the cost of other things. So if you’re like some of the people interviewed in the article and have forgotten about the appeal of magazines, maybe now is a good time to restart some of those subscriptions you once had – or find some new ones.

Why We Still Need Conferences and Convention Centers



Convention centers can be beautiful energizing places. They can also be sad lonely reminders of why business travel sometimes sucks. I have spent many hours inside convention centers as a speaker before they became one of the first big casualties of the pandemic. A Businessweek feature this week focused on the collective efforts of architects, city officials and event planners to imagine a richer future for these forgotten convention spaces. The events industry right now is filled with hope, which is fueling multi-million dollar investments. The irony is that hope is also the one thing that these events themselves can bring us.

Gathering the smartest minds in a profession together face to face for future-shifting conversations inspires hope. It is undeniably important. Every time I am invited to an event, I experience this hope. It’s what makes the travel delays, time away from family and long hours worth it. And like the magic of a wonderfully planned and executed convention, hope is one of those things that is really hard to recreate over Zoom. 

How To Archive Yourself In the Digital Age



“I thought self-archiving could lead to self-actualization. I filled as many spaces as I could with information, whether it was on my blog, in Facebook albums, on Twitter, or on any of the many social media platforms I’ve used through the years. It was like collecting data on myself. But I also had an overall fear of letting go, of impermanence. I was so scared of forgetting pieces of myself—even pieces I longed to discard, like bad relationships and bad friendships and, I guess, other people in general. They discarded me more easily than I discarded them.”

I have the luxury to remember myself cooler than I actually was in school. As I have sometimes shared on stage, there are no social media posts from the ’90s to contradict how I think of my younger self from 25 years ago. The digital archives we are now creating for ourselves can be a gift, but also can weigh us down. Writer Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya explores this idea in an essay this week that suggests perhaps the path to self awareness requires deleting the past … a conclusion she reaches after much soul searching:

“Easing up on my self-archiving felt like building new trust with myself, giving myself permission to change and grow. I used to believe saving everything was the only way to find out what I really wanted, who I wanted to be. But when I delete things, I just make space for something new.”

It’s not easy to admit, (Read more...)

Understanding the Woman-Led Backlash Against the “Lean In” Movement



Nearly ten years ago former Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg became the “face of 2010s-era corporate feminism” when she published her book Lean In, which advocated for women to be more assertive and empowered at work. Since then, the book has been simultaneously celebrated as a much-needed manifesto for working women … and a one-dimensional tech industry perspective that failed to acknowledge the many systemic barriers at work that women often face.

Now that Sandberg is stepping down from her role and close to a decade has passed, the moment is inspiring a backlash as some people question whether her insights have moved women in business forward or ultimately held them back. If you are a professional woman working in business right now, what do you think? Do you identify with this idea of “leaning in” as the right way to build your career, or do you feel that this expectation that it is your responsibility to assert yourself underestimates the cultural and institutional barriers that stand in your way? I’d love to know.