Advice for Digital Transformation, with SVP of Ziff Davis

Digital transformation involves all parts of a company, from sales and marketing to operations, supply chain, and talent. On this episode, a seasoned leader and author shares practical advice for undertaking a program of digital transformation. Our guest is Anurag Harsh, Senior Vice President and Founding Executive at Ziff Davis.


Dec 16, 2016

Digital transformation involves all parts of a company, from sales and marketing to operations, supply chain, and talent. On this episode, a seasoned leader and author shares practical advice for undertaking a program of digital transformation. Our guest is Anurag Harsh, Senior Vice President and Founding Executive at Ziff Davis.

Anurag Harsh is an entrepreneur, a company executive, a digital and management guru, a blogger, published author of several books, business columnist for leading US publications, an investor, and a classical musician who has performed two sold out solo concerts at New York’s Carnegie Hall. His business blog has attracted hundreds of thousands of readers. His Carnegie Hall concert is one of the fastest growing and most watched world music videos online, with millions of views. Over his 20 year career as a business leader he has led the digital transformation of several companies with programs that have deepened customer engagement, introduced new business models, digitized operational processes, enabled greater employee collaboration, and reimagined the way we work.  His most recent book is Going Digital: Harnessing the Power of Digital Innovation.


Michael Krigsman: Welcome to Episode #208 of CXOTalk. CXOTalk brings together the most interesting, innovative executives [and] business leaders in the world, talking about leadership, technology, [and] disruption. I’m Michael Krigsman, industry analyst and host of CXOTalk, and you know, I have a great job doing this, talking with these amazing folks. And today, we are speaking with Anurag Harsh, who is the Senior Vice President and Founding Executive of Ziff Davis. And that hardly scratches the surface on the things that he has done. He has a music video, a performance from Carnegie Hall, that is one of the most viewed music videos online anyplace, with millions of millions of views. He’s written two books, he’s one of the top LinkedIn technology bloggers, so really an extraordinary person. Anurag Harsh, how are you, and thanks for joining us today.

Anurag Harsh: Hi Michael, hello everybody. Thank you for the opportunity! Excited to share my thoughts.

Michael Krigsman: And you were even a radio announcer for the BBC earlier in your career.

Anurag Harsh: Yeah, that was in a past life. I was a newsreader and a broadcast journalist. I produced programs in science and development for the BBC World Service when I was back in college, in the University of Sheffield in England. And I would take a four-hour bus down to London, and then broadcast a six hour shift. And it was fascinating and I did that for many years.

Michael Krigsman: Well, you’ve done amazing things. So, tell us about Ziff Davis, and tell us about your role. What do you do?

Anurag Harsh: Well, Ziff Davis is one of the world’s largest digital media companies. We operate properties in the technology, gaming, entertainment, health, and men’s lifestyle verticals with iconic brands such as PC Mag, IGN, Everyday Health, What to Expect, MedPage Today, AskMen, and Speedtest. The Wall Street Journal describes us as, and I quote, “The epitome of modern innovative digital publishing.” Each month, our Ziff Sites lead to a third of US internet audiences, and 110 million worldwide consumers in over 100 countries, over 50 international editions, in over 24 languages.

I joined Ziff about 7 years ago ─ it’s almost seven years; and as it’s first and founding hire, and the first executive when our CEO, Vivek Shah, took over the company. Being involved in its complete digital transformation all the way from when it was a small, privately-held media company to now, when it’s a thriving nearly $4 billion market cap. It’s an all public digital enterprise with 1,400+ employees. We are part of j2 Global, and we trade under the stock symbol JCOM. I’ve been involved in the last fix of the company, including internal- and external-facing web, digital assets, and focused on harmonizing efforts across all sales channels, social media, internet, intranet. We’ve done over 20 M&A transactions. I’ve been involved in strategy and partnerships, and new business ventures, sales, marketing, revenue generation, and our actual expansion. So it’s really all the way from the beginning to where the company is right now, from sort of technically Employee #1 to, you know, we might be 1,600 people. I don’t know, but the official number is 1,400 employees.

Michael Krigsman: And, you’ve written a couple books, and your most recent book is, and I’ll hold this so you can see. Your most recent book is “Going Digital,” which is all about digital transformation. It’s a really good book, and please share with us some of the key points. Why did you write the book, and what are some of the key themes?

Anurag Harsh: Well look, we live in a crucial period in time. The rate of technological innovation has, you know, outpaced our ability to see into the future with a reliable degree of accuracy. Yes, we’re able to cope with the vagaries of the world, yet no one can precisely say where we’re going to be five or ten years from now. The 21st century and its people are marked by great change, staggering accomplishment, and unprecedented uncertainty, right? So for all this, we’ve managed to change the course of humanity in ways our ancestors never dreamed. We’ve prolonged human life well beyond what was typical. We’ve engineered machinery and digital technology that reduced the need for human involvement, putting more time and energy at our disposal to pursue happiness inside and outside of work. We’ve deconstructed command and control corporate hierarchy, and created this concept that we now know as “work-life balance” ─ an antidote to the pernicious absorption customary of the workplace.

So, perhaps in equal measure, we’ve opened gaping divides of global proportions, you know? This is a natural fluctuation in human affairs. I don’t think that there’s ever been, and maybe there will never be, a perfect society. We’re flawed in all-too-human ways, and yet, in all those very flaws, when looked at dispassionately and honestly, that can reveal the doorways to a better world for ourselves.

So, when you think about it, the last fifteen or sixteen years, more than half all the Fortune 500 companies have either become insolvent, been acquired by another company, or stopped doing business altogether. And if you just look at last year, 50% of Fortune 500 companies declared a loss. So the stride of transformation has become a revolution. Rivalries have deepened, and business models have been dislocated. So the only constant is the growing severity of digital disruption. That’s why I wrote this book. You know, aggregated many years of experience on the subject of digital, and digitalization, and digitization, and transformation at the corporate, individual, and global level.

So, the topic of digitalization: it’s an incomplete one. To speak on the effects of digitalization will inevitably leave questions [un]answered, and perspectives unrecognized. So, what I did in the book, that you’ve been so kind to show to the audiences here, is to cover these topics from as many perspectives as possible as they relate to the subjects of business, economics - and very important - psychology. My goal with the book was to present the leader with a comprehensive understanding of the myriad ways that digital technology, and the mentality it’s engendered, has changed the course of human history ─ changed the way that people view each other  ─ and has affected business practices. And, you know, provided practical measures for people and business owners alike to create a closer innovation that acknowledges individual differences; and then seeks to harness that, while contextualizing the culture in a broader discourse about the government’s role in digital divides that we see opening with the people today.

So, when you look over the table of contents of this book, and it’s there on Amazon, you can decide where you want to start, based on your interests. You don’t have to read it cover-to-cover. After all, customizability is a hallmark of digitalization, so when a company or a person has truly crafted a digital journey, it matters not where on the path you enter, you will always see repeated, endlessly, every element of the journey; and that really is the guiding spirit of what I think is the next frontier of digital thinking. And that’s what the book is all about.

Michael Krigsman: Anurag, you mentioned two things that I find particularly intriguing. Number one is you spoke about “the growing severity of digital transformation,” and then you talk about the psychological dimension of this. And I find that fascinating because, as I have spoken with many leaders on this show, the issue of culture is a very, maybe the strongest common denominator when people are talking about digital transformation. So when you talk about psychology, maybe you can elaborate on that for us please.

Anurag Harsh: Well, culture is very important. Look, there’s two aspects of culture when it comes to culture: the mindset and the method. And, let me qualify that a little bit. You know, as I was writing my book, reflecting on my years digitally transforming some of the companies I’ve worked for including Ziff, a peculiar allegory occurred to me and some of you may know it. I’m not a Buddhist, but I’m intrigued by world religions, and in Buddhism there is this belief that all of reality is as one. Everything is anything and nothing. Buddhist philosophers will sometimes illustrate this point with the allegory of what they call as “Indra’s net.” As it goes, the universe is a net held together by radiant, bejeweled knots - just follow my thought here. It’s kind of interesting and I think there’s a learning from this. The universe is a net, which is held together by radiant, bejeweled knots. At each knot in Indra’s net, there is a multifaceted reflective gem. You pick any jewel in the net, and then you stare into it; and what you will see is a reflection of all the other jewels in the net. You would see the universe over and over again - it’s sort of like a mirror. So, the edicts of digital transformation are not unlike Indra’s net.

The pervading notion is that no matter where in the business, or in the supply chain you look, you know, you should be able to bring everything about the digital journey - the digital journey being the aggregate of the operational, strategic elements in your digital process. So, that includes your architecture, infrastructure, your management technology, your logistics, your planning, your governance, and everything else. So, the jewels in our net are data. And, the world is all the technology you use to connect. So, you know, at this moment, data is all about information. It’s the blueprint of the physical world, the interactivities, and the lines of causality.

So you know, that’s the culture we’re trying to create, which is the culture that unifies, technologically as well as from a mindset perspective, everything in the network of this invariable communication that can automate, interpret, predict, store, self-adjust, increase the agility, increase innovation and foster collaboration from end-to-end. Right? Now go back to the allegory of Indra’s net. When a company is fully digital, and the culture is fully digital, every element is networked such that a single glimpse at one portion reveals the whole. So, at an abstract level, it’s relatively simple to understand, but in practice, it’s a very different story. And we’ve tried to do that a little bit at Ziff here.

And so, you know, many digital transformation experts I’ve spoken to, they leave a lot to be desired. They don’t provide concrete, implementable solutions from … So for me, digital transformation is really about getting all of those pieces together from a cultural perspective ─ to get the employees and the customers, who are really the building blocks, to digital strategy.

Michael Krigsman: So, the culture and the psychological dimension of connecting all the pieces of the company together, through data, through shared experience … On one level, it’s easy to talk about, but as you said, very difficult to do in practice. And so, what are some of the practical steps that an organization can take, in order to execute a program or initiative of digital transformation?

Anurag Harsh: Well that’s a fantastic question, and let me try to think about this a little bit. Look, companies are spending a lot of money, and why? Because of disruption, there’s despondency, and that’s compelling companies to want these digital initiatives. And they are investing a lot of money, which mostly results in disappointment due to the absence of concrete, components strategy, right? As the markets are shifting downward, many companies try to counter the spiral by initiating these frantic investments and digital initiatives. Some of them are hiring Chief Digital Officers and some of them are looking at their CIOs and CMOs to counter some of these disruptive effects. From my perspective, there are five things, strategically speaking, at the very high level, that companies need to think about, and let me tell you what they are. They’re these buzzwords I’ve created. Well we’ve sort of followed them a little bit here at Ziff, and we seem to be hitting some success with it. The first one is called “the structural swivel.” The second one is “the inverse acquisition.” The third is “the offshoot” and I’ll explain what these are. The fourth is “the coattail rider,” and the fifth is “oiling the hinges.”

So, let me start with the first one, “the structural swivel.” So, when you think about the role of speed, it’s crucial for digital disruption, right? And companies have these legacies. If you talk to any CTO, or CIO, they have all these legacy systems and these techniques that can impede my ability to execute. So, by altering the company’s configuration to spotlight digital initiatives, you know, executives can swiftly escalate the speed of transformation. So that’s a tactic that necessitates earmarking funds, and human resources to digital initiatives, and placing digital executives in command of existing business processes. I’ll give you an example. I can’t give you specific names, for confidentiality reasons, but a lot of these over the course of writing my book, and you know, some of our clients.

This is a bank; it’s a local bank that started to actively swivel. Remember, this is the structural swivel; that’s what we’re talking about here. It swiveled out of a conventional High-Street, branch-driven model by venturing outside by recruiting a CDO (Chief Digital Officer). In fact, the bank empowered this guy with complete corporate supervision, comprising all the High Street branches that were still the lion’s share of the bank’s income. All product, tech, sales outlets, and marketing units started reporting to the new CDO. To push for digital transformation, each regional division also hired a committed CDO at the same level as the local bank president. These changes were then intended to assist the bank in obviously speedening and hastening its conversion to a soup-to-nuts digital enterprise and organizing a pure digital experience across all the business conduits, which echoes everything in consumer and market development. That’s what I call a structural swivel.

The second component of digital transformation is what I call “the inverse acquisition,” when you think about it strategically. Strategically, if you’re not in the right place, tactically you can’t implement it. What is the inverse acquisition? Well, there are a lot of businesses that have unearthed what I call “quick wins” ─ you know, quick triumphs ─ by placing boundaries around the digital products so, they can function autonomously and uninhibited by traditional processes. Just put them in a corner somewhere. It’s like, “Off you guys go!” However, the moment the digital project demonstrates its usefulness, you know, shouldn’t subsequent tasks follow suit? Persevering or preserving the project’s autonomy restricts its influence on other businesses. Furthermore, an individualized gig, as I call it, is not hard for, you know, the traditional business to disregard. So, one possibility is to absorb the traditional businesses into the new digital unit, spreading the transformation business-wide, and then compelling the rest of the company to abandon its archaic approaches. This is what I call “the inverse acquisition. “

This tactic is hard work. It comprises the comprehensive moving and resettlement of technology manifestos, company structures and processes, and ultimately consumers from the traditional business to the new model. Right? Cautious ranking in faith [?] methodology that would guarantee that the company doesn’t collapse into the disorder [while] doing the changeover. I’ll give you an example. You know, this is a British retail store I can name this time; it’s called John Lewis. It acquired a very long time ago in 2001. And it inherited vital technology and talent that it used to quickly erect its only e-commerce business in the year shortly after. John Lewis commenced a gigantic undertaking a few years later to reconstruct its web and e-commerce framework, which involved assimilating over 30 prevailing tech systems. And then they had the e-commerce site which lands…which launches like in 2013, and it’s connected with the retailer, soup-to-nuts, supply chain, and the delivery conduits, and the physical stores. Here’s the thing. The 10-year long dedicated effort increased its online sales by close to 30%. So, inverse acquisition. That works.

The third is what I call “the offshoot.” And there are five of them. And I’ll try to be as quick as possible to explain these digital mindsets, and the companies. Depending on what kind of companies they are, they can sort of decide.

The offshoot is … It’s unrealistic to always expect to be absorbing a traditional business into a new digital operation, especially if the digital business is not yet sufficiently developed to absorb a larger unit, or if it focuses on too dissimilar a fragment of the value chain. So, in these cases, what the businesses can do is they can discover that an optimal way to grow those ventures is to segment the separate fragments into distinct businesses that can then develop outside the principal trade or business. There’s an example here as well. It’s BBVA Compass, which is a Spanish bank. It’s safe to talk about non-US companies in this context. They had a software development division called “Globalnet” for over a decade, and they used that to fuel their technology initiatives. A couple years back, Globalnet, this little software development division, transformed into a BEEVA, which is an offshoot for creating and marketing business web services.

Now, although BEEVA powered the base technology for BBBA ─ the Spanish bank’s transition into digital banking ─ the bank’s executives realized the software division’s innate potential. So as an independent services business, BEEVA helps other banks do what BBBA has done using BEEVA’s groundbreaking cloud technology platform. So in this instance, a structural swivel or inverse acquisition we just talked about would not have worked. Why? Because the bank was ultimately a financial services company, and its software division BEEVA was a web services unit, with functionality that was different from the bank’s core business. So, that’s what I call “the offshoot.”

Michael Krigsman: Okay.

Anurag Harsh: And finally ….

Michael Krigsman: I don’t want to interrupt, but we actually have a question from Twitter, and this one’s more prosaic but everybody’s asking this question. This is from Arsalan Khan, and he’s wondering where does the CIO fit into all this, because we think about digital transformation as involving technology, but as you’re clearly demonstrating, the technology is … it’s a piece, but it’s not the biggest piece. So, address the technology aspect; but where does the CIO fit?

Anurag Harsh: Well, the CIO fits in the middle of all of this, right? But the CIO is responsible for a lot of the traditional legacy systems and technologies, and to be able to maintain the current, sort of, modus operandi ─ the order of business within the company. A lot companies like Fortune 500 and other companies, and larger companies, are actually going through transformations whilst maintaining their KPIs and their stock price and making sure … because the Street is very unforgiving. So if you actually start to slip your stock price, it’s really going to tank. So, the CIO’s job is to make sure that both sides of the equation are well-balanced. So the CIO sits right in the middle of this, because obviously technology is paramount and it’s sort of at the center of this. But, at the same time, it’s also about thinking strategically outside of the confines of the CIO’s office, or the CMO’s office, or even the CEO’s office. This is about …. That’s why oftentimes you have Chief Digital Officers, which are thinking very strategically about not necessarily technology, or information, or data, but they’re thinking, “Well, how the hell do I just completely change the way that we reach consumers, and change the way that the company is structured so that there is a coherent transformative strategy that the customer sees, and interacts with the company in a coherent and concise manner?” So, the CIO is one aspect of everything, but I think that this is a kind of process ─ transformation in digital ─ that requires skills from a variety of different parts of the organization: operations, information, data, executive strategy as well as of course marketing.

Michael Krigsman: So, the key part of this, then, is the fact that the digital transformation is not just about marketing. We tend to think, or often people talk about digital transformation as essentially a marketing activity, but it’s not at all.

Anurag Harsh: Doesn’t have to be. I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s not at all. Obviously, digital sits within marketing oftentimes, but, you know, digital is way beyond marketing. It’s not just about likes and social media, you know? There’s an old Beatles song, “Money can’t buy you love,” and I would like to add onto that, “It don’t even buy you a Like.” And that’s what marketing has become.

Michael Krigsman: I love that, by the way.

Anurag Harsh: Yeah, money don’t buy you love. You know, it don’t even buy you a Like. That, by the way, is “doesn’t;” it’s incorrect grammar but I’m going by the actual song.

Michael Krigsman: But what about Facebook, you know? You can buy Likes on Facebook.

Anurag Harsh: I’ll give you an example. Customers are not what they used to be, right? The internet has given them wings, and you know, given us the power to express ourselves. Marketing is not … Long gone are the days of … Look, we run one of the largest, you know, we’re one of the largest publishers in technology, and health, and men’s lifestyle. Advertising and licensing are huge, huge aspects of the business, right? We stay away from gimmicks, from clever phrasing and seduction, right? The well of false enchantment can run dry. So, consumers are staring down now at attempts at persuasion and flashy advertising because they expect authenticity from corporations and individuals alike, right? The shift in consumer expectation, it comes on the back of what? It comes on the back of digital revolution, right? And unilateral skepticism towards companies and their products. So as consumer psychology changes, then digital and marketing is entering a new era where human needs, the values, and connections are defining success and failure, right? So, it’s a call to action to marketers and advertising executives, and departments who typically have had digital functions to think about how do they change the perspective towards consumers?

You know, companies cannot see consumers as gullible moneybags, or as conquests, right? They have to see consumers as community members, as human beings who crave trust. You see the theme here? We’re talking about technology and digital, but what I’m getting at is the ability. I call it the “relationship era.”

Michael Krigsman: This is great! This is…

Anurag Harsh: Yeah. This is … When I started out, I must have spoken to over 100 companies in the course of writing this book, and it fundamentally came down to … Consumers crave trust; predictability; transparency; respect. And so, this is the basis [garbled word] of the relationship era. In this era, the company’s corporate value when it comes to digital: “Why do you want to transform digitally?’ Your corporate value must resonate at every level [of] that infrastructure. It has to emanate outwards to the company’s employees, the customers, the suppliers, the stakeholders, you know, neighbors, and your relationship towards Earth! So, merely projecting an image is akin to falsity. The companies have to genuinely and steadfastly practice what they preach. So, the ascendant paradigm in marketing and digital is completely natural. It’s almost expected, you know? You look at the history of marketing. It becomes patently clear why this new era with digital came about, right? And, there’s lots of uber-trends in terms of how marketing has shifted, and why digital doesn’t necessarily have to just fit within marketing, but also spread into operations and supply chain, [and} obviously in technology itself.

So, there’s a reason for that: The first reason is that the unsustainability of mass media, and advertising both economically and socially. Look, the cost of advertising continues to increase. Why? Technology allows marketers to reach highly targeted groups of people, and yet consumers are conspicuously opposed to advertisements. Right? They’re perceived as an encumbrance and in some cases, frankly, they’re perceived as invasive. Look at the ad blocking.

So, the second thing is that the internet has dissipated the curtain of shadows that once hid corporate activity. No longer are corporations impregnable fortresses. What remains of corporations is transparent. And it must be, if companies are to win the confidence of their customer bases. You know, these are the underlying psychology and traits that digital has to harness. Then you have the rise of social media channels, right? These are news outlets. People are sharing current events. Look at our President-Elect; the guy’s tweeting all the time. So, people are sharing current events as they happen as opposed to retrospectively. Daily events are like conversations.

Finally, the uber-trend is about the overturn of the morality of consumerism. What do I mean by that? Well, the public cares not only about the cost and quality of the products and services. Look at the Millennials. I mean, people also care about the values, and the conduct of the providers, right? Trust, reliability, ethics often supersede quality and affordability. And so, you have to take all of these things into account when you devise and place your digital department: Should we sit in the marketing? Should we sit under operations? Or should we think strategically, so that the company has a profoundly altered the status quo ─ the strategy and the very sociology of marketing? So the question, really, before us and everybody out there is this: what can we do to adapt while preserving our bottom line, right? And so, you’ve got to figure out some kind of a middle way, and that’s really where digital comes in and where it really needs to be sitting. You’ve got to think about it as a consumer era, you know? An era where it’s relationships and it’s change and values and how do you build that story ─ you know, do things. And that’s what it’s all about.

I mean, let me give you an example. I’m fascinated by this, okay? I did this last week. Type this in Google. Type “I love Apple” into your search bar and you don’t need to do it right now, but if you type “I love Apple” in your search bar, you’re going to get 400 million hits in about 42 seconds, right? Type “I love Starbucks” in your search bar. You’re going to get like 36-37 million hits, an order of magnitude less. And that’s in about just under a minute.

So, where am I going with this? Some companies spend billions of dollars every year, right. They’re getting the attention from customers and they don’t boast nearly as many hits, likes, or love. Companies like Exxon, right? Rex Tillerson is in the news. Citibank, Dow Chemical, I mean…

Michael Krigsman: So what’s the key?

Anurag Harsh: You do the same thing with these companies, and it’ll tell you exactly what I told you, which is money don’t buy you love. It don’t even buy you Likes. So, type “I love Citibank,” and it’s not a potshot at any of these companies …

Michael Krigsman: How about I love Comcast?

Anurag Harsh: It’s a point I’m trying to make. You’re going to get like 12 million hits in 30 seconds, you know? A lot of these companies don’t fare any better. Where am I going with this? And they’re spending about $1 billion, over $2 billion …

Michael Krigsman: So what’s the key? How does a company that is in business, that has operations, that maybe has had an adversarial relationship with consumers … I mean use the term “gullible moneybags.” How can a traditional company, a traditional mindset make this change?

Anurag Harsh: There’s three realities of today’s market. People talk providence and transparency, alright? If you’re in marketing, and you don’t understand this, then this is something that … this is the digital speak in terms of marketing. There are billions of people online, right? Millions of them are talking about brands, experiences, and posting reviews, and they’re reading consumer feedback. So, when customers like your brand, trust me, they will express affection for it, right? People will care about you. That’s how it works. Look at the Apple Fan Club, or look at the Beyhive, after Beyoncé’s whole marketing empire. Right?

The second is providence, you know? These are relationships. And what people say about you online does, in fact, dictate your success. You might not want to accept it, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

The third is transparency. This is both an edict and an admonishment, you know? Be transparent, and should be. What happens in the boardroom is no longer a secret and any discussions can be had, and they’ll probably find a way to a public forum. So it’s not business as usual, and I would rather call it “business unusual.” So, what can companies do to understand these things? The fact that people talk, the fact that there’s relationships that you might not want to accept for this providence, the fact that this transparency matters, you know? You have to figure out digital strategies that take these into account and stitch them together in a way that can really establish that permanent relationship. The company needs to build with its customers, you know, especially the ones that are detached from it. You’ve got to lubricate the relationship.

Michael Krigsman: But how? Because the reason I ask is because what you’re saying is just so much in tune with what is taking place in the market, but companies very often, they struggle with this, they want to do it, they’ll spend millions and millions of dollars trying to do this, trying to buy these “likes” and this relationship, and it doesn’t work. So how do you do it?

Anurag Harsh: In many ways. Look, relationships are built on social media nowadays, right? I mean, always be connected. It’s a boon. It’s a curse and consumers have perpetual access. And so, there’s no relationship we can take for granted. So, consumers are connected to their friends, their families, coworkers, everyone else. So, what companies need to do is understand how social media works, especially Facebook actually, and use them in a way that can establish these relationships with these customers. Understand the observations, the ideas, their concerns, their hopes, their dreams, their fears, and their opportunities and their failures. And connect with them in a way that can establish the genuine relationship.

You know a consumer complains about a product or a company somewhere on the internet. There are bots available now where you can actually go and harness that conversation and engage with that customer. Companies don’t do that! And if you were to do that, and just channel the customer’s complaint, and address it, you might have the customer for a very long time. I wouldn’t say for life, but for a very long time. And so, you know, you don’t have to spend billions of dollars in marketing in order to do that. So, you have to establish trust. And, it’s important that you have to humanize the institution. Digital is about humanizing your institution. It’s about humanizing the corporation, right? Making it predictable, reliable, you know, honest. Loyal, respect, and shared values and empathy ─ that’s what this is all about. It’s about establishing credibility.

And then you’re asking me, “Well, how do I establish credibility? How do I establish congruency and care?” Well, you know, these are not very hard things to do. It’s just that you need to use social media channels, and you need to use technology to figure out (and marketing) to figure out how to create the credibility. You know, the presumption of reliability and dependence must take primacy. You know, and care, which is about caring for your customer ─ you know, engaging with your customers. Their lives matter! It’s about constructing your business around their needs and addressing them happily, you know?

And then congruence, which is, consumers are consistently reading into the actions of corporations, you know? You’re trying to define true motivations ─ the beliefs, values, and purposes. That’s what this is about.

So, how do you create this? You use technologies and social media, and the tools that are available ─ apps and whatnot ─ in order to create a brand, which is relationship-driven, and which is all-encompassing. That is the only way that Fortune 500 companies, and even smaller companies which are trying to disrupt them, can be around, because you know … Look, Satya Nadella, who was there [with the] President-Elect on Wednesday; he wrote a blog on LinkedIn a couple of months ago that basically said that if you lose 30% of your customers, you’re done. And, 50% of the Fortune 500 companies are done, you know, because they didn’t see it coming. You had a new kid on the block that just came and swept the entire industry away. This is happening more and more.

Back in the day, we had the industrial revolution, which was 20 years, 25 years, and you had the textile revolution. Now you have the digital revolution, which is 5-7 years. So, it’s evolving. It’s changing. It’s fast. It’s in your face. People are there; they’re always connected. How do you actually do it? Well you get in front of them, and you basically, you’re transparent. And, you’ve got to live your life in front of your consumer, and you can’t have the shadow of this veil in the back. And you’ve got to establish this relationship, and once you have that circle of trust, it’s about establishing that. Once you have that circle of trust, that is what digital is about. It’s about establishing a circle of trust, and money will flow. Everything else flows. And so, that’s how you’ve got to look at it.

Michael Krigsman: So it begins with the strong intention to do the right thing. But, we have only about five minutes left, and there’s something else that I wanted to [ask]. This conversation is very important, we could go on for another hour, but we’ve got just a few minutes left, and there’s one other thing that I wanted to talk with you about, which is, and you have to explain this: You are in the star of one of the most highly-viewed music videos of all time. It’s gotten millions and millions of views from a concert you recorded at Carnegie Hall. So, very briefly, tell us about that and are there leadership lessons that can be learned from the musical experience?

Anurag Harsh: Well, I’m going to answer this question using the form of music that I have personally known, and this is Indian classical music, the music of North India ─ the classical music of North India. It’s also called Hindustani music. By the way, this is not the … You’ve been very kind, Michael, this is not the most-watched video of all time. In the genre of world music, this is among the most watched. It’s got about 2.5 million views over the last eight months, so …

Michael Krigsman: I happen to love world music, and I love Indian music, so that’s my frame of reference, and millions of views for that kind of music is pretty darn extraordinary.

Anurag Harsh: Yeah. Normally the template is a few thousand over the course of years. Look, let me start by saying what Indian classical music is, and how my … And then I’ll give you my sense of leadership and management.

Michael Krigsman: Okay, we’ve only got about three minutes. [Laughter]

Anurag Harsh: Okay, okay. I’m going to be very, very quick. Leadership is about the ability to change the central core from which an organization functions, right? Efficient leaders, they redeploy the make up of shared focus. So, you’re altering personal space where individuals and organization center on the ecosystem in themselves. So, there’s three things that leadership comprises: feeling, enthusing, and inventing, right? You’re exposing oneself to the outer ecosystem. You’re embracing the world within, and you’re nurturing and developing potential into existence.

So, you know what’s interesting when I performed at Carnegie Hall is it’s about a shared system of performance that in many ways can be equated with building and playing a musical instrument. Leadership. Three things need to happen for a musical instrument to create its best music: the frame of consonance; the motivation of the music; and lastly, you’ve got to play with the macro voice. So, when I gave my first concert at Carnegie Hall - I did two there (solo concerts). The first one was in 2007. I felt the hall kick me out, for I was young and I tried to perform as I always did. You know, I was just singing. But then I came to realize that at Carnegie, you actually have to use not only your micro-vocals, you’ve got to use use your macro-voice, which is the small voice ─ the instrument that’s inside of your vocal chords. The macro, and this is my point, the macro-voice is the whole Carnegie Hall that surrounds you. The Hall is entirely built according to musical principles, so playing the macro-voice requires you to listen, and to play from another place, which is to think about your audience ─ in other words your customers. You’ve got to move your listening and your playing from within to beyond yourself. Right?

And that is when the music, in other words, the leadership … It’s not about inverted. It’s not about leadership. It’s not command and control. It’s about thinking about your audience, you know? It’s thinking about how do I move from micro to macro, and how do I form this frame of consonance, and play from a macro voice? So when this occurs in an organization ─ and Ben Zander actually, Boston Philharmonic, has done some phenomenal speeches on this, and discussions ─ but when this occurs in an organizational society, concrete changes can be witnessed. There’s a decentralization of societal space. There’s a reduction in societal time to be motionless. And there’s a breaking down of the precincts of ego. Right? The visible results of this practice include an amplified understanding of self, of vigor, of beauty, of continuing authenticity that can be recruited and galvanized in the future, and of course, very long, deep changes - long-term changes. So, that’s the core of leadership.

And so, when I do music, when I perform, that’s how I’m thinking about it from the point of view of onstage, and how do I actually recruit the audience in order to participate with me in a way that it becomes a macro ─ the frame of consonance. And that’s musical leadership.

Michael Krigsman: We’ve had guests on CXOTalk who have spoken about the concept of servant leadership, and it sounds very harmonious with what you just described.

Anurag Harsh: Yes. Thank you.

Michael Krigsman: And with that, I’m afraid this very interesting and engaging conversation … It’s time for this episode, Episode #208 of CXOTalk, to draw to a close. We’ve been speaking with Anurag Harsh, who is Senior Vice President and Founding Executive at Ziff Davis. Anurag, thank you so much for being here today.

Anurag Harsh: Thank you very much. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Michael Krigsman: And I hope you come back, and we’ll have to continue this conversation another time.

Anurag Harsh: Absolutely!

MIchael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching. Next week, we have a show; and we have a show the last Friday of December as well, because CXOTalk never rests! Thanks everybody for watching, thanks for your support, and we look forward to seeing you soon. Bye-bye!

Published Date: Dec 16, 2016

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 405