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Restoring the Soul of Business

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Restoring the Soul of Business

Staying Human in the Age of Data

HarperCollins Leadership,

15 min read
8 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

To create meaningful workplaces, balance the story and spreadsheet.

Editorial Rating



  • Applicable
  • Concrete Examples
  • Inspiring


Rishad Tobaccowala, an expert on innovation and business growth, urges leaders to “restore humanity” to workplaces by promoting a community atmosphere that fosters empathy, vulnerability and trust. To attract the best talent, he says, invest in lifelong learning, cultivate employees’ skills and make meetings more meaningful. While some of his advice and his concerns about the dominance of technology aren’t totally new, the counsel that Tobaccowala provides – that organizations should model empathy and fairness – is indispensable. He recounts that as a child he told his mother and father he wanted to grow up to be a writer. At the time, he says, “My parents steered me to mathematics instead and said one day when you have something useful to say you can become a writer.” Clearly, that day has come.


Facing the problem of “too much math, too little meaning,” leaders need to balance the spreadsheet and the story.

With data proliferating, ignoring your company’s story in order to focus on the numbers is tempting. But it’s a mistake. Too much reliance on data draws attention away from the intangible factors that make a good business great, such as agility, innovation and inspiration. Data can tell you that your company will be more productive if you cut 10% of your staff, but the ensuing losses might not be worth the trade-off.

Data can provide valuable insight into customer preferences, accelerate continued improvement and provide competitive advantages, but ask if the information generates real meaning? Can data define a brand, define happiness, or shape a company’s mission and values? Can data measure employee engagement? People’s preferences and desires aren’t so quantifiable. Use the “Six I approach” to delve for the human facet of your data:

  1. “Interpret” – Let the data tell the story. Look for patterns and outliers.
  2. “Involve” – Welcome diverse...

About the Author

Rishad Tobaccowala was the chief growth officer at Publicis, where he spent 38 years in marketing, strategy and change management. He is a frequent keynote speaker.

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