It’s impossible to achieve meaningful, sustainable growth if you’re satisfied just keeping pace with your competition.

Being “current” with what’s happening in the industry today won’t allow you to get ahead. The reality is, if you don’t have one eye on what’s around the corner, you’re always going to be at risk of getting left behind.

That’s one reason why I look forward to the annual installments of Rohit Bhargava’s “Non- Obvious” books, which have been read and shared by over one million readers. Each year, Rohit identifies trends in business, marketing, and culture that he hopes will help his readers “win the future.”

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“My definition of a trend is a curated observation of the accelerating present,” Rohit Bhargava says. “Curated observation is because I spend a lot of time kind of like a museum director curating and figuring out what’s the best thing to pay attention to, what should be on ‘display.’ The accelerating present is a phrase that I use to describe the idea that these are things that are happening right now, and the prediction is this is going to accelerate. It’s going to change the way we think. It’s going to change what we believe, how we buy, how we sell.”

Rohit Bhargava is the founder and chief trend curator of the Non-Obvious Company, which helps companies and leaders win by learning to see what others miss. He’s also the founder of three successful companies, and advisor to multiple startups, and a bestselling author of five books on a wide variety of topics, including the future of business, how to build a brand with personality, and why leaders always eat left-handed.

We talked about some key trends from the 2019 edition of “Non-Obvious” that financial advisors are going to want to pay special attention to. The rapid advances in technology, media, and marketing have put our business in an “accelerating present” for more than a decade now. Rohit’s observations will help you stay ahead of the curve.

Retro Trust

The day after the Super Bowl, football fans were picking apart what the Rams could have done differently to beat the Patriots.

Rohit Bhargava was doing some “Monday morning quarterbacking” of his own, but he was more focused on the ads: specifically, what they were trying to accomplish from a strategy standpoint, and how they aligned with some larger trends he’s identified recently.

“You always see Super Bowl ads kind of turning back the clock and casting people that we recognize from the past. You had just Burger King using Andy Warhol, Bo Jackson, Sarah Jessica Parker. All of those align to a trend that I called ‘retro trust,’ this idea that in a world where it’s really hard to know what to trust, many smart people are kind of turning that clock backwards and saying, ‘Well, we trust in our past. We trust in the things that we recognize from when we were younger.’”

It’s probably not surprising that we respond to these kinds of ads given how much multimedia manipulation we have to deal with these days. Rohit says that retro trust can provide a shortcut through all that noise for our brains because, “if I recognize it, then perhaps I might trust it.”

This is one reason that the Life-Centered Planning process involves asking questions about clients’ money memories. The advisor gains insight into why clients behave the way they do around money, but also the client reconnects to those formative –  you might say “retro” – experiences. Building a financial plan around an understanding of those experiences creates a plan that clients will trust more.

Proactive Honesty

A related trust-building trend that Rohit Bhargava has identified is what he calls “proactive honesty.”

Think about the last time you asked a server for a recommendation at a restaurant. Whom do you trust more? The server who tells you, “Everything here is great!” or the server who says, “I’d steer clear of the halibut tonight, but the filet is really good.”

Providing people with a bit of honest information they weren’t anticipating makes you seem more real to other people, and therefore more trustworthy. Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book, “Influence,” is my recommended source for learning how to gain more trust and influence people.

As you work on being “more human” in your interpersonal relationships, try proactive honesty as a first step. “Pointing to something that is proactively honest because you had a bad experience or because you’re sharing something, it is a form of vulnerability,” Rohit says, “but it’s not like this deep thing that you feel like, I would only really reveal that to friends and close relatives.”

Tell Your Story

Rohit Bhargava also teaches marketing and storytelling at Georgetown University, and he says it’s important for leaders of any business to embrace storytelling without worrying that they have to be Ernest Hemingway.

“Ultimately what story means is that you’re not focused on the facts and the bullet points” he says. “Telling a story is kind of the opposite of that person who says, ‘Just give me the facts. Just give me the numbers. That’s all I care about.’ We hear people say that to us all the time, especially when it comes to financial advice. The problem when you start to do that is that there’s no context for it. If everything is decided based on a number on a spreadsheet, then a bigger number is always better.”

Hopefully this idea is ringing some bells if you’re a financial advisor.

Rohit is touching on that tension between the quantifiable and the unquantifiable that we’ve all been struggling to solve. Storytelling is one way to bridge that gap between your client’s spreadsheet and that client understanding how those numbers are going to help him or her live a more fulfilling life. Again, that circles back to advisors having the tools and the skills that will help them collect those stories from clients during discovery, and then build those stories into a larger narrative that’s going to carry through the life of the financial plan.

Robot Renaissance vs. the Human Touch

Rohit Bhargava noted a sharp contrast between the soothing “retro” Super Bowl ads and the tone in ads featuring technology and robots.

“If you just look at the way robots were portrayed in the Super Bowl, that was a disaster for anybody who is working in a robotics firm,” Rohit says. “Robots were portrayed as these scary, inhuman, gross, creepy things. We are in a period of discovery about how we’re going to relate to these robots and what we’re going to want them to do or allow them to do and what we’re going to need them to do.”

Obviously, this has been another hot topic in the financial industry. Much of the panic about “robo advisors” and diminishing fees has died down, in part, because most investors still want some level of human interaction.

It’s become pretty clear that what we as advisors want “the robots” to do is automate some behind the scenes tasks so that we can have more face-time with clients. Even some robo platforms offer a premium tier of service that connects clients with a real live person they can talk to.

“There is a basic underlying fact that humans prefer humans,” Rohit says. “I do think that humanness is one big piece for financial advisors. The face-to-face interaction is something that we continue to value as humans. I think that in a world where we can do so much work in collaboration virtually, it’s easy to forget the positive things that happen when you are able to get together in person. There is a huge value to that that really isn’t replaced by anything else.”

Next Steps

Here are a few thoughts on how to put some of Rohit’s trends in action to enhance your “premium tier” of human service:

1. Write down three “proactively honest” things you could share with a client or prospect that will surprise him or her and increase your trustworthiness. Remember, these don’t have to be super touchy-feely. For example, you might mention a strategy you tried with another client that didn’t work so well, and how you’ve learned and adjusted.

2. Write down three questions you can ask a client or prospect that will help you learn more about their “retro” experiences with money, good and bad. This podcast with my business partner and Life-Centered Planning pioneer Mitch Anthony has good suggestions about how to improve your questions and gather more valuable stories.

3. Another one of Rohit’s recommendations to all business leaders is to engage your curiosity. If you need a bit of a kickstart, take a look at this list of “Non-Obvious Books Award Winners” that Rohit shared. These are the best books that Rohit Bhargava and his team read in the past year as they were looking for the next wave of trends and innovations. Pick a book that’s maybe a little outside your wheelhouse. It might spark an idea for your business that you wouldn’t have come up with otherwise.


– Non-Obvious Company Visit Rohit Bhargava and his team online.

– Non-Obvious Book Series Buy the current and past editions of Rohit’s trend books.

– “The Non-Obvious Guide To Small Business Marketing (Without A Big Budget)” Rohit Bhargava designed this book to be less of a how-to and more like an expert conversation.

– The ROL Index A tool Mitch Anthony and I developed to help advisors measure their clients’ well-being in 10 aspects of life.

– Values Clarification Toolkit Click here to download this FREE tool and start living your values.

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