Thinkers50 in 50 Seconds: Noah Askin

An assistant professor of organizational behaviour at INSEAD, Noah Askin’s research interests include social and cultural networks, status, the production and consumption of music, and higher education. Askin’s TED talk, “The recipe of a hit song” examined what makes a song reach the top 100 billboard chart. He is suitably chart-topping in this Thinkers50 Q&A.

What book are you currently reading?

“Creativity, Inc.” by Ed Catmull & “Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty” by Ben Ratliff.

How do you describe what you do?

I think about, study, and teach connectivity and its consequences. Whether between people, groups, organizations, or pretty much any other objects (like songs, for example), I’m interested in the dynamics of what happens between entities that are connected. And those connections don’t necessarily have to be direct or immediate, they can be perceived as well.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration?

Professionally, it’s my 9th & 10th grade English teacher, Mike Murray, who remains a close personal friend and mentor to this day. Personally, it’s my wife.

What does success look like?

The ability to spend your time doing what you want to do, rather than feeling like you have to do what others want you to do. All while loving and being loved.

What is your competitive advantage?

The people I am closest to and interact with on a regular basis.

How do you keep your thinking fresh?

Trying to maintain passions and interests outside of my main areas of research and teaching, and interacting with as many smart people as I can.

How much time do you spend travelling?

A lot. Upwards of 10 days/month. That’s starting to feel like too much.

What is the secret of a great presentation?

2 things:

An authentic voice. Be yourself and let your personality come through. Any attempt to match someone else’s style will typically be sniffed out by an audience, which doesn’t go well.

Passion for whatever it is your presenting. Even if you have to push yourself to find it, your enthusiasm for whatever you’re presenting will shine through and help raise the enthusiasm (and interest) levels of your audience.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Be open and try out a bunch of different stuff. Finding out what you don’t like is almost as important as figuring out what you do like, so don’t be afraid to move on if something doesn’t fit. Be ambitious without being overly committed to one path. Follow my father’s advice: “do what you can to put yourself in a position of opportunity and opportunity will present itself.”

What is your next goal?

Be as good a father as I can possibly be (we’re expecting our first child in August).

Describe yourself in three words.

Fortunate. Enthusiastic. Grateful.

For more information about Noah Askin please see or follow him @naskin.

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