NEW YORK—Author Rohit Bhargava kicked off the morning session as the VM Leadership Summit’s opening keynote speaker. Bhargava is the three-time Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of eight books which focus on his concept of “non-obvious thinking,” or, as he told the audience at the Summit, “somebody who sees the details that other people don’t see.”

Rohit Bhargava is the bestselling author of eight books which focus on his concept of “non-obvious thinking,” or, as he told the Summit audience, “somebody who sees the details that other people don’t see.”

For Bhargava, the power of non-obvious thinking grew out of an engineering camp experience at just 17. Although he didn’t enjoy the engineering side of camp, he did enjoy the friends he made at camp. He organized weekend and evening activities with his fellow campers, and at the end of the summer he won the “good citizen award.”

He explained to the Summit audience, “what was fantastic about that experience was that it taught me something really valuable about me, which is that I wasn’t so good at the science or the math, but I was really good at people. And time after time, I saw this happen in my career: that the people who understand people always win.”

Bhargava went on to work in advertising, where he applied the power of non-obvious thinking to his work. One technique Bhargava uses to think outside the box is what he calls “the haystack method.” He explained to the Summit audience: “The haystack method is the idea that if you spend enough time gathering everything together, you can start to identify the patterns that happen.”

Once he has identified patterns, Bhargava will attempt to identify themes within these patterns, and then curate these themes into trends. He explained, “what I’m trying to do is pull all these things together and figure out what it means. So when I do get to that point, I start to realize that we’re shaping what’s coming next. And the challenge of doing that is not predicting the future. It’s anticipating the normal.”

Once we anticipate the normal, we can think bigger and innovate outside that future normal, Bhargava said. He cited innovative ideas from a variety of industries that disrupt the normal: a British supermarket’s “slow” checkout lane for those who want to have a conversation, Fender’s groundbreaking platform to help users learn guitar faster than ever before, a robotic lawnmower, Herbal Essences’ shampoo and conditioner bottles designed for those with visual impairment, Crayola’s expansion into makeup and much more.

Bhargava explained, “What all of these things point to is this idea that we can make things with empathy. We can make things with human understanding. And if we can do that, we can make these products more valuable for more people.”

Another way Bhargava uses non-obvious thinking is when writing his own book. After seeing the boom of AI and ChatGBT, Bhargava and his co-author decided to “feed” a chapter of their book to the chat bot and ask the bot to write a one star review for the chapter it read. He explained, “What it wrote gave us some ideas of some arguments that we might need to flesh out, some things that maybe weren’t clear, some things that a real reader might have read that chapter and thought, ‘oh, they didn’t talk about this at all.’”

Throughout his career, Bhargava has seen the ways non-obvious thinking opens up new avenues, creates more value and forges new ways for people to connect. He closed by saying, “What it tells us is that we have to be focused on what’s happening around us. We have to build that habit to not just send that last message and almost run into something. We have to be able to understand what’s going on in the world. We have to be more observant. That’s the power of non-obvious thinking.”