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Aseem Chandra, SVP at Adobe, on the 5 Trends in Digital Content Consumption and Content Creation

I had the pleasure to interview Aseem Chandra. Aseem is the senior vice president of Digital Experience Strategic Marketing at Adobe. He is responsible for all go-to-market strategy and execution for one of the largest SaaS business in the world, Adobe Experience Cloud. In addition to being part of the leadership team that has grown Adobe Experience Cloud to a $2B+ business, Aseem is on the board of Gaja Capital, a private equity fund based in Mumbai, and serves as board chair for the Hydrocephalus Association.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since joined Adobe?
 
 After Adobe acquired Omniture in 2009, a few of us visited several Adobe offices around the world. Our trip to Copenhagen is one that I’ll always remember. We went power-boating one afternoon. These things go about 110 km/hour and while you’re skimming the ocean, you’re also holding onto a tiny saddle for dear life.

A sign that read “Don’t Panic” was upside down on the side of boat in big bold letters. When I inquired, the boating instructor said they’re prone to flip over when they are going fast. If that happens and a boater is thrown into the water, he or she can read the sign clearly while swimming back. This really resonated with me because at the time, right after the acquisition, a lot of things felt new and a little overwhelming, and it was a great reminder to stay calm, and not panic.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
 
 To me, it’s Adobe’s core values that make us standout: to be genuine, exceptional, innovative and involved. They represent a way of living, both personal and professional, and manifest themselves through every team and individual at Adobe.

As a leader, I believe that it’s important to practice these values, and ultimately, instill them across my team. While each one impacts me, the two that personally resonate on a daily basis are being genuine and innovative.

A great example of this is our “Adobe Sneaks” program, where we invite all Adobe employees — from interns to engineers — to present new innovations. Employees that invent the top ideas show their work at Adobe Summit in front of thousands of people (13K this year). This is a great way to build organic innovation and empower people at Adobe regardless of years of experience, background and job role. Some of the top Sneaks even make it into product. For example, Smart Layout, which automatically generates the most effective layouts and assets for individuals, was a Sneak at Summit 2017. Due to high customer interest, we productized Smart Layout and unveiled it as part of our latest version of Adobe Experience Manager last month.

What advice would you give to other execs to help their employees thrive?
 
 Invest in your people. We recently went through a reorganization on the go-to-market team for the Experience Cloud business. To make great decisions for the team and for the greater business, leaders must understand what drives and motivates each individual on that team. It’s critical leaders connect with people on their team, and not just talk business, but actual conversations that help to get to know them. Get to know the person, not just the role.
 
 Make it a priority to identify the strengths each person on your team brings to the table, where they see opportunities for growth and what makes them excited. Knowing what what makes each individual tick helps you understand where to place them to drive the best business results, but also helps retention and happiness. I’m a firm believer that you must lead through and embrace change. What really impacted me was the one-on-one, personal interactions with my colleagues and key stakeholders in the business. As one of my mentors shared with me years ago, the band must come together first before the music can play.

Taking it one step further, another principle that shapes me as a leader is the concept of horizontal leadership. What that means for leadership is simple but sapient: the essential relationships are no longer ‘vertical’ relationships held within corporate silos, but horizontal ones that connect people across organizational confines. The new leadership isn’t vertical, it’s horizontal. Everyone within the team has something unique to offer — that’s why it’s called a team.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
 
 Two people immediately come to mind: the gentleman that granted me access to the U.S. and my mom.

I’m originally from India and applied for a U.S. Visa to start my career after college. At that time, you only got two shots for a U.S. Visa. During my first visit to the U.S. Consulate, my Visa was denied. Rejection, especially in this situation, can either push you down, or it can empower you to work that much harder. The next time I entered the Consulate I was fully prepared for the intense grilling, ultimately gaining my U.S. visa. This experience taught me the value of being prepared, and challenged me to rise to the occasion. 
 
 The second person I’m most grateful for is my mom. She was a radio personality in India during a time in our culture where women weren’t encouraged to work. My mom quit her job after having children to care for the family, sacrificing something she loved. While raising us, she really enforced importance of embracing positive values and to constantly strive to better oneself. Today, her life lessons would be recognized as a ‘growth mindset.’ I can directly attribute my work ethic to the lessons my mother taught me growing up.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One cause near and dear to my heart is Hydrocephalus. One million people in the U.S. live with Hydrocephalus and it’s the most common reason for brain surgery in children, yet it is largely unknown. I got involved with the Hydrocephalus Association (HA) many years ago, and realized that I could help in ways beyond financial contributions. What this organization and many others like it sorely need are particular skills. I found that I could personally help with that.

In my early years with the association, I helped HA with marketing and digital channels. Currently I serve as the chair of the board of directors, where the primary role is to work with the CEO to help set the organization’s long-term vision and strategy, and to ensure that donor funds are used effectively to support our mission. Each person on our 21-member board partners with HA staff and serves on several committees. As active volunteers, we leverage our personal and professional experience and networks to help the HA achieve its goals. Despite the demands on my schedule between Adobe and family, I always make time for HA.

Can you give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“Nothing good in life comes easy.”

Adobe is at the forefront of creating so much of the world’s content. What are the 5 trends that you see with regard to digital content consumption and content creation? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. AI and big data — the ability of technology to intelligently automate and improve the creation of content is a game-changer. We now live in a world where, for instance, a marketer could enter basic criteria for a piece of brand content into a platform and the technology automatically delivers a fully baked image, optimized for the audiences the marketer has targeted in the past.

2. Importance of creativity — automation is not about replacing human creativity. On the contrary, it amplifies it and becomes even more important. If technology can do the “heavy lifting” of content creation, the value a human adds is all about creativity and how a person can transform content to do something that has never been accomplished before.

3. Personalization — with the massive amounts of consumer data available through trillions of interactions, true personalization is finally possible. Many brands now have everything they need to personalize content on a 1:1 basis. The challenge here is avoiding the “creep factor” — consumers want brands to know them — but only up to a certain point!

4. Proliferation of devices and channels — there are already so many ways consumers can encounter different types of content — and this trend is only going to increase more exponentially as Augmented and Virtual Reality improve to the point where they are frequently used by the average consumer.

5. “Consume Anywhere” environment — we’re always plugged into our devices. Whether it’s on the go, during work, at home, even our kids are constantly plugged in. At some point there will be a diverse back-to-basics shift in humanity, and at the end of the day, human experience and human actionability will be the most important. The human element is largely overlooked, but at the end of the day its where true creativity originates.