Anurag Harsh joins IPsoft as CMO
Anurag Harsh is a recognized thought leader in digital transformation and management. He has authored seven best-selling books and is a contributing columnist for leading US publications. In his role as CMO, Anurag leads IPsoft’s overall marketing efforts globally, including evolving the brand narrative, and deploying communications and engagement activities that elevate the understanding of the company’s mission and strategy. His office creates and drives demand through awareness and preference building in the industry using all modes of marketing. Previously, Anurag was a founding executive leading strategic development at digital media giant, Ziff Davis. During his 8 years at Ziff Davis, Anurag was part of the team that orchestrated rapid growth in the company, taking it from a privately held publisher to a multi-billion dollar publicly held company. Anurag holds an MBA & MS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he was a Sloan Fellow, and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. His articles on HuffPost and LinkedIn have attracted hundreds of thousands of readers and in 2016 he was voted one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices, ranking #1 in Technology. An accomplished vocalist, Anurag has performed two solo concerts at New York’s renowned Carnegie Hall and also holds a Master’s degree in music.
Tell us about your role and what led you to IPsoft.
My objective is simple. I want to showcase to the world the magic that the employees of IPsoft have created. We might be perhaps the best-kept secret in AI. No more. I want to take us out of silence and put us at the apex of AI, a throne we deserve to sit on. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. The stuff of science fiction is rapidly becoming science fact. Technology really does work best when it brings people together for a higher purpose. I see that at IPsoft. I believe that IPsoft technology will benefit all of humanity and address existential issues of our times such as global warming, poverty, food production, arms control, health, education, the aging population and demographic issues. IPsoft will change the world for good. That’s what brought me here.
What is your approach to marketing?
Money can’t buy you love, not even a like. Marketing is not what it used to be, not even a little bit. Long gone are the days of gimmicks, clever phrasing, and seduction. The well of false enchantment has run dry. Clients and consumers stare down attempts at persuasion and flashy marketing because they expect authenticity from salespeople and corporations alike. This shift in expectation comes on the back of the digital revolution and unilateral skepticism toward salespeople and companies. As consumer psychology changes, marketing enters a new era, where human needs, values, and connections define success and failure. To meet this call to action corporations must change their perspective toward their clients and consumers. They must see them as community members, tribes-people, as human beings who need trust, predictability, transparency, and respect. This is the pathos of the Relationship Era. Spending large amounts of money to buy “likes” and promotions from paid bloggers is not the way to go. I believe in the core philosophy that the more you sell, the more you scare. That relationship building ought to be embraced not as a strategy but as a pleasure. That corporations must know what they stand for and champion it. That they should listen to their clients and customers, spreading content that is valuable and resonates with their customers’ feedback. Lastly—most importantly—not fabricate authenticity. Not even try.
You wrote a book on the key tech trends of our time. What were your biggest lessons learned?
Some periods of life transition into memory unmarked, much like that song you love yet can’t remember the year it hit the radio. Some periods, however, stay with us, like erased pencil marks on white paper, indelible yet barely visible. Such is the case of the technological events that are occurring all around us right now in our lives. In every sense, what is happening in tech is unforgettable. We are making strides in some areas, foreshadowing technological innovations previously consigned to science fiction books: artificial intelligence, automated cars, augmented and virtual reality, solar grids, and more. In those areas, we are setting the stage for a prosperous future. Yet in other areas, the future is grayer, more ambiguous, and riddled with doubt. Care must be taken to remember what is being done right and what we are getting wrong, lest we fall victim to pernicious forgetfulness. We are seeing for example, how algorithms can skew the line between fact and fiction; how actors halfway across the world can shape a cultural narrative using social media and click-bait. Nowadays, all it takes to move millions is a strategic blog post, a clever domain name, and a social media account. In tech circles, historical forgetfulness is especially conspicuous. The thrill of discovery and the rate of change can blind us to the deeper consequences of our inventions. At its inception, did Mark Zuckerberg imagine that Facebook would influence cultural discourse, or even an election cycle? As algorithms enter our homes, curate our news, observe and analyze our vitals, and grant more and more access to our intimate spaces, it is imperative that we take the time to analyze and discuss. Digital technology poses fundamental questions about the way we live, the way we structure organizations and institutions, the way we build up communities and its members, and the way governments are dealing with increasing digital divides around the world. On the one hand, digital technology presents us with opportunities to connect, work, think, and interact in ways we never thought possible. And yet, as innovation sweeps across the world, companies, people, and governments alike are exposed as ill-equipped to keep up with the pace of change. For me the challenge has always been to understand and explore the mindset behind how businesses think about the future – an interconnected way of seeing reality and the people in it, in order to create adaptive, agile, and amicable work environments that champion innovation by harnessing individual differences, all while navigating a fractured macroeconomic landscape, revealing disruptive trends and new ways to thrive in business.
Where do you think AI fits into those tech trends?
AI is existential, more than any other technology on the horizon. It is the general-purpose technology of today along the lines of the steam engine, electricity, and the internal combustion engine. Perhaps I can explain via this amateur video I recorded?
What trends have you seen in the industry that can be achieved by AI today?
Well, lots of things – voice recognition, image recognition, vision systems like those used in self-driving cars, cognition and problem solving, intelligent agents, malware detection, money laundering etc. If we were to publish my response to your question in text format, we would need several pages, so let me try to explain using this informal video.
We have seen the words machine learning, cognitive computing, neural networks and AI being used interchangeably and rather liberally. How would you explain machine learning?
Indeed, the AI vocabulary is in disarray. This is actually not that complicated. The most important thing to understand about machine learning is that it represents a fundamentally different approach to creating software: The machine learns from examples, rather than being explicitly programmed for a particular outcome. Let me explain using this video.
So, what can companies do with AI and machine learning?
There are three pieces of good news for organizations looking to put machine learning to use today. First, AI skills are spreading quickly. The second welcome development is that the necessary algorithms and hardware for modern AI can be bought or rented as needed. The final piece of good news, and probably the most underappreciated, is that one may not need all that much data to start making productive use of machine learning. Let me explain via this video.
You wrote another book on the modern workplace based on a company you co-founded 8 years back that you grew to over 2,000 people. What did you learn about people in the workplace?
The modern workplace is recognizably different from the workplace of just 20 years ago. From the tools, the culture, and the demands to the career aspirations, leadership styles, and employee expectations, the landscape is an Oz of surprises and transformation. For those born in the midst of digital transformation, the changes are part and parcel of learning how to succeed in today’s market. For those taken by storm, the turning tide signals a commensurately radical shift in the way business has been done for, well, a very long time. Some things haven’t changed though. People are people. Today’s workers are no different from the workers of a few decades ago in crucial senses. Workers today want to better themselves, make money, support their families and make time to enjoy them. They want healthy work relationships and once, in a while, their hard work lauded. In essence, at the personal level, the gap between then and now is not so vast. At the business level, though, it’s a whole new world. A single company can have employees in different time zones, with expansive technological infrastructure supporting productivity and requiring new skills and expertise. That same company probably uses automation, AI, machine learning and robotics to offer new products, respond to market changes faster, and maintain highly coordinated supply chain segments operating in synchronicity. All the while, employees expect diversity, upward mobility, sustainable work relationships, job fulfillment, and furthering education. All of this in the context of a disruptive market terrain where competition is ruthless, and global. For those legacy workers who came of age just 50 years ago, the modern workplace presents a tremendous challenge. They must constantly reevaluate their leadership style, develop genuine relationships with co-workers, be better salespeople, and learn how to market themselves, be innovative and entrepreneurial, achieve lofty project goals and maintain company priorities. They must learn new technology, new methods, and new business models, constantly reinventing themselves to remain relevant.
What is the one thing you learned about leading people and teams that you think you can share with us?
I believe in the power of the carefully directed collective. A group needs two things to become a tribe: a way to communicate, and a shared interest. The first question has been comprehensively solved in my opinion, but arming a group with a sense of a shared interest is much harder. People can connect with each other and connect with their leaders, but unless they are connected to an all-encompassing idea, sooner or later their bonds will loosen. Their shared interest in each other is only meaningful if they have something (and not only someone) to follow. I have often seen that it isn’t always the strongest ideas that win. In a battle between two ideas, the best one doesn’t necessarily win. No, the idea that wins is the one with the most fearless heretic behind it. Leaders play a huge role in painting the picture of the future for their team, only to then let the team themselves contribute to the painting. Those ideas that are painted with passion and zeal are the ones that will drive the tribe forward. In this way, leaders allow the tribe to connect with one another. If they are all contributing to the same painting, they will have a vested interest in the final outcome. You must have heard of this concept of “heretic” leaders – those with a fearless belief in their idea and those who can inspire the same fearless belief in their teams. “Heretics must believe. More than anyone else in an organization, it’s the person who’s challenging the status quo, the one who is daring to be great, who is truly present and not just punching a clock who must have confidence in her beliefs. Can you imagine Steve Jobs showing up for the paycheck? It’s nice to get paid. It’s essential to believe. The ultimate goal is to create a pseudo-religion around your idea, to have people so committed that they will never leave, to have them so involved that even the smallest discrepancy will be picked up and amended with fervor. When people care, they can move mountains. The key with all this lies with creativity and storytelling. People have been telling stories to foster a sense of belonging for many millennia, and leaders should learn not only to tell the stories to their people but to let the stories go and develop a mind of their own within their people’s heads. Only when the story is a collective story can it truly be called a “shared interest”. When it is strictly dictated by the big boss, it’s hopes of survival live on only in the head of the boss. A shared interest takes a while to evolve. It works best when there is a small core of believers – which can communicate clearer and quicker and the vision will soon solidify. Then is the time to “spread the word.” Ask yourself the question – does your “tribe” have a shared interest? Actually, do you even see each other as a tribe?
There has been a lot of talk lately about AI taking people’s jobs and about the whole topic of automation causing mass unemployment in many sectors. What is your opinion on this and what do you tell people when asked this question?
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford
It is my belief that analysts are increasingly getting it wrong: “it” being economics, politics, and social trends. The all of it, wrong. Why is this? Let’s start with this recent 12 min live radio discussion I had on this exact subject where I have tried to offer an economic explanation for automation leading to job creation. We are now deep into a digital transformation, and a new way of thinking and working and living. The business models of our past are faltering. Legacy thinking is virtually unfit for this age. The reality is that the conditions within which humanity operates are not what they used to be. Yet, thousands of self-proclaimed experts continue their important work with obsolete methods and mindsets, outdated hardware and software. Almost every newspaper and media outlet warns of an apocalyptic future when technology will fracture the employment landscape. As a result, many fear that technology is creating job-stealing robots. On that score, there are many lessons to be learned from our past. For example, the industrial revolution taught us that as traditional jobs disappear, we need to ensure that people of all ages are sufficiently educated to prepare and take advantage of the new emerging roles in our immediate future. Burying our heads in the sand and arming our children with skills for roles that will no longer exist is certainly not the answer. Neither is clinging to business models of the past or recreating the good-old days. The times demand new skills, new mindsets, new competencies, and new institutions. It is impossible to go back in time or to recreate the past. Building a better and brighter future is the only way forward. If we compare the jobs of one hundred years ago to the jobs of the present, we would be stunned by the standard of living and the thankless work. Creative directors, content strategists, app developers and social media managers are a product of our times. The mentality of doing what you love is also a product of the epoch. Indeed, hundreds of traditional roles have disappeared over the years, but they have been replaced with new job titles for our digital age. Despite the big scary headlines, we are not running out of work. The challenge that faces society and government is that many people see the available jobs as, on the one hand, unworthy of them. On the other, they see themselves as lacking the skills to qualify. It is true that the growing demise of middle-skill jobs could cause employment polarization where lower paid workers serve the more affluent without upward mobility. This dynamic would undoubtedly be a step backward. However—once again—the lessons learned from past economic transformations suggest it does not have to be this way. For example, today it is difficult to imagine that people once blamed the tractor for killing agricultural jobs. In fact, this new machine left an entire generation without work on farms. It also led to the inception of the “high school movement”, which then led to greater investment in education and ultimately created tremendous prosperity. Whether they be the Luddites of the early 1800s or the analysts and journalists of 2017, the issues are essentially the same. The fear of machines, robots, and technology rendering humans obsolete and taking away our jobs. Make no mistake that many traditional roles we hold dear will slowly disappear. The transition from an analog to a digital world will not be easy. To thrive, we will need to invest in ourselves rather than in things. We will need to secure for ourselves the relevant skills to succeed. This transition is as it should be for the same reason that we probably don’t want to carry on the work of our grandparents. Not to say preserving a legacy is entirely unwanted, but it is not a sustainable policy for an entire society—especially one in flux like ours. As technology continues to pervade every aspect of human life, change—within us and around us—will remain the only constant. Sure, there are challenges and difficult decisions ahead of us. Take heart. Our destiny is in our hands, not in the hands of the machines we create. Don’t let any publication tell you otherwise.
You’re an executive, writer and a musician, as well as a marketer. How do you see all those roles working together? Are there leadership skills you’ve learned from your concerts at Carnegie Hall that you’ve taken into your corporate roles and vice versa?
When I gave my first solo concert at the Carnegie Hall in March of 2007, I did not feel the personal euphoria one does when performing at a venue like that. Although the concert was sold out, but somehow I felt like a leader of an organization (a musician) that didn’t quite connect with its people (my audience) despite receiving a standing ovation. Life moved on. With time, I gained wisdom about the world and its ways, especially as I started to lead an organization that required connecting with and earning the trust of its employees to enable a shared vision of where we were going together. Some more time passed. Eight years after my first concert, I gave my second solo performance at Carnegie in April 2015. It was then that I realized my naivety of performing as I always had, by simply singing. My music was lonely till then. At this concert, I didn’t just use my micro vocals; instead I used my macro voice. The micro voice is the instrument inside you – in my case my vocal chords. The macro voice is the entire hall in front of you with everything and everyone in it. Playing the macro voice requires you to listen and to play from another place. You must move your listening and playing from within, to beyond yourself. In other words, the music comes not just from within you, but in a way, gets created by the shared spirit of the audience, the hall, the stagehands, the audio crew, and of course the musicians. This involves connecting with the audience through storytelling, music and visual at a superficial level, and much more on a spiritual level. A good example of this concept is Sting’s Live Concert in Berlin where he was accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. What I did in my second concert was change the shared focus of my music to make it universally inclusive. For the first time, I felt I moved people the way I had never experienced before. It was personally meaningful in a Victor Frankl sort of way. Leadership is the ability to change the central core from which an organization functions. Efficient leaders redeploy the makeup of shared focus. They alter the personal space from where employees and organizations center on the ecosystem and themselves. Changing the configuration of focus does for organizations what introspection does for individuals: it heightens the sequence of becoming conscious and escalates the possibilities for reacting to a situation. Leadership, from this viewpoint, is about streamlining the practice of shared focus. Consequently, the most imperative instrument is the leader’s self, her ability to accomplish that change. The practice of leadership comprises three diverse phases of consciousness:
- Feeling: exposing oneself to the outer ecosystem: embracing the planet.
- Enthusing: embracing the world within. Becoming one with one’s innermost foundation of upcoming opportunity.
- Inventing: nurturing the developing potential into existence.
An organization is like building and playing a musical instrument. The evolution that shapes a new-shared system of performance can be equated with building and playing a musical instrument. Three things need to happen for a musical instrument to create its best music.
- Frame of Consonance: First, its construction must be robust giving it a solid form, tone and timbre; otherwise good music cannot be created. A musician would not play in a concert with an instrument whose construction tone or timbre was damaged. However, in organizations, that’s precisely what goes on. Groups of employees recurrently try to confront problems without relevant knowledge or proficiency. This is indeed why it is all about widening and expanding the shared body of knowledge.
- Accepting the Musical Motivation: Second, the musician must have a profound instinctive sincerity towards the motivation of the current instant, realizing an inner sanctorum of quietude to jointly explore the basis of motivation and consciousness. Here the experiences comprise a united frame of consonance that, if focused on from an inner place of listening, permit us to become cognizant of the fresh music that wants to erupt.
- Playing the Macro Voice: Third, the musician must have the capability to remain in consonance with the evolving eruption of new music while conveying it across the musical instrument.
When this occurs in an organization or society, concrete changes can be witnessed: a de-centralization of societal space, a reduction in societal time down to being motionless, and a breaking down of the precincts of the Ego. The visible results of this practice include an amplified understanding of self, of vigor, and of duty; a continuing genuineness that can be recruited and galvanized in the future; and deep long-term changes.