Future-of-Work Strategist & Author
Future-of-work strategist Heather E. McGowan helps leaders prepare their people and organizations for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Third Industrial Revolution was marked by computerization and automation of physical labor, laying the foundation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will be notable for the rapid advancement of technology tools into the domain of human knowledge work. In this world, humans must continuously learn and adapt, and with this transition comes information overload. Heather gives lucidity to this topic through her illuminating graphic frameworks and powerful metaphors, all backed by deep research. In 2017, LinkedIn ranked her as its number one global voice for education. Pulitzer Prize–winning NYT columnist Thomas Friedman frequently quotes Heather in his books and columns and describes her as “the oasis” when it comes to insights into the future of work. Heather’s sessions help employees and leaders alike prepare for and adapt to jobs that do not yet exist. Read More >
Future of Work & Learning
Multi Generations in the Workplace
Future of Work
Throughout much of our history human talent was primarily a function of the production of tangible, physical assets. Recent research has revealed that over the past fifty years the source of value creation shifted from tangible, physical assets to intangible assets, notably human capital. Today intangible assets, primarily human capital, comprises 84% of all enterprise value in the S&P 500. Additionally, as we hand off more and more mentally routine or predictable tasks to technology, human talent and ingenuity become increasingly important. In November 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission began requiring all public companies disclose their human capital in order to provide investors insight into the operating model, talent planning, learning and innovation, employee experience, and the work environment. As a result, I predict we have entered the human capital era, an era in which we realize that humans are assets to develop rather than costs to contain—a profound shift in how we think about work and learning.
When Heather McGowan and Chris Shipley wrote The Adaptation Advantage (April 2020, Wiley) they did not realize how prescient their advice and predictions would become when the coronavirus global pandemic required an immediate and dramatic shift in work, learning, and leading. Predictions they made for the next three to five years, occurred over the following three to five weeks. Overnight companies remapped supply chains, pivoted product lines, and transformed to distributed work-from-home organization. Entire university and school systems adopted virtual delivery exclusively, something many said they would never do. This new normal, or normal of now, requires a focus on culture, purpose, trust, and psychological safety as we embark on the largest social experiment in human history. The virus has accelerated our future of work, expedited our human transformation to digital creating, and placed an even greater burden on leaders to inspire and motivate human potential. Even when the virus subsides, many of our new ways of working will remain and we will be the better for this forced transformation.
We live in times of accelerated change driven by exponentially growing technologies and an increasingly hyperconnected and interdependent global market economy. As a result, work tasks as we knew them in the past have become atomized (broken into job fragments that can be done anywhere around the world), automated (achievable or solvable by computerized technologies) and augmented(as illustrated by technologies that extend the human physically or cognitively). This reshaping of tasks requires that we rethink our systems of education and workforce development, our organization of work and workers, our process of talent attraction and retention (including learning and development), and even ourselves.
We ask children and young people “What do you want to be when you grow up?”; we ask university students “What is your major or area of study?”; and we ask each other “What do you do for a living?”. These questions refer to an application of knowledge and skills at a moment in time. That moment in time is rapidly decreasing. According to research, as change rates accelerate--driven by technology and globalization--it is possible for us to work numerous jobs from many different industries in our lifetime. Despite this, we continue to limit our definition to one occupational self. Studies have shown that the loss of a job can take twice as long to recover from than the loss of a primary relationship. Further, if we must learn and adapt our longer and more volatile career arcs, we must be comfortable with being vulnerable in order to learn—a profound challenge if one’s identity is under threat. In order to create a society and workforce that can learn and adapt to leverage rising technological capabilities, we must free ourselves from a definition derived from one occupational self and instead define ourselves through purpose. Purpose, passion, and curiosity are the necessary internal motivational drivers we need to fuel the essential lifelong learning and adaption the future of work requires.
The only thing developing faster than technology is culture. The questions “Who are you?”, “What do you do for a living?” and “Where are you from?” are becoming unmoored and less dependable tethers to our core identity. Demographics and social norms are rapidly shifting worldwide, and our once reliable occupational identities, once spanning multiple generations, must now endure a much longer career arc due to increased human longevity. In the developed world, we spend more than 50% of our time and attention online creating connections and community in areas different from our physical location. These shifts create friction and, for some, an identity crisis. Leadership through this crisis requires acknowledging and empathizing with individuals navigating these shifts to help them build the resilient and adaptive identities necessary to learn and thrive in the future of work. The future of work requires learning and adaptation, which is not possible if the identity is not resilient and connected to purpose.
There is no killer app that will endure. A technical, single disciplinary skills list for creating a future proof workforce does not exist. Using our factory pipeline to work where we merely substitute STEM, or any other skills, to create a robot-proof workforce is faulty logic. For example, Upwork is an online platform for freelance work with 12 million registered freelancers and 5 million registered clients. In early 2019, Upwork released its list of the twenty fastest growing skills—75% of those skills were new to the index in the 4th quarter of 2018. From this, we can see that our old model of codifying and transferring existing skills and predetermined knowledge used to create a deployable workforce once worked in industrial revolutions but falls apart with this speed of change. Advancing technological capabilities will soon be able to achieve anything mentally routine or predictable—perhaps more than half of all current human work tasks. In this reality, the solution is both learning and adapting with a focus on uniquely human, nontechnical skills that enable more meaningful work through augmentation of computerized technologies. The future of work is human. Once we stop lunging at single disciplinary skill sets while in fear of being replaced by technology, we can focus on developing our uniquely human skills and leverage rising technological capabilities to unleash the potential of humanity.
The organization of work and focused goals have long been measured by the outputs—i.e. brands, products, services, and business models. These units of value created became our very own North Star. Accelerated change driven by exponential growth in technology as well as a hyperconnected and interdependent global economy has dramatically reduced the lifespan of a product, service, or business model. In this reality, we can no longer focus on the outputs, or the exhaust, and but should instead focus on the inputs: culture and capacity. Culture is the external expression of the brand and the internal operating systems of how the organization creates value. Capacity is the organization’s ability to respond to challenges. Waves of digital transformation and exponentially growing technological capability will demand continuous expansion of capacity. The companies that endure and thrive will be those that can clearly articulate and nurture their culture while continuously expanding their capacity.
"A truly inspired and uplifting presentation. Thanks to Heather McGowan and all presenters for providing substantial guideposts to navigate the future of education and work. There are a multitude of silver linings out there and educators are in the position to make great things happen for all community members. Bravo."
"Not only was working with Heather an absolute pleasure, but her virtual keynote address was beyond compare. Her speech secured our largest audience to date and attendees unanimously praised her inspiring and engaging message. We cannot recommend her highly enough!"
"Heather has a unique ability to communicate complex information that is accessible to the public AND credible to the expert. She gave a superb online talk at the record breaking 'Brainfood Marathon 2020', which was not only the most watched of the 80+ sessions across the 24 hours, but 'most requested' by those missed it. If you are looking for an expert analyst on the future of work who can speak to the widest possible audience, look no further than Heather McGowan."
"I was fortunate enough to hear Heather speak at the Innovation in the 'Age of Accelerations' Forum. She is an amazing communicator and a driving force, inspiring new relevant perspectives. Her presentation is a 'must see' by leaders across government, academia, and industry who should be preparing our society for the future of work and the future of learning… The future of work is learning!"
“Engaging content. Articulate and personable. Well researched. Interactive and fun! Heather brought all of this and more. We needed a speaker who could address the future work, and Heather’s message about adaptation touched on a number of topics relevant to our workforce, such as learning, distributed work, collaboration and leadership. In this 'new normal' of work from home and virtual meetings, Heather adapted her content to our needs in an interactive and meaningful way.”
“The power of a presenter is in their message, their knowledge, and their connection to their audience... Heather will deliver a keynote over video and of the many things I am concerned about, her impact on the greater CAEL membership is not one of them. She will be a star, instructive, up-to-date, and will give a sense of hope that is imbued all throughout her talks. As we all pivot to the new COVID normal, I am looking to Heather to provide latest thought leadership and information to keep me thinking about the future for my organization. I recommend her to everyone, and she is one of the few speakers who would do as well via video as Face to Face. Part of that is her direct, congenial, self-sharing personality. Seeing her on video actually enhances her engagement with the audience, rather than having to focus on a speaker hundreds of feet away. Give me Heather virtually any day. Her message, immense knowledge and synthesis, and her connection to the audience — all hi fidelity via video. She is my go-to futurist.”
"Heather has the unique ability to synthesize and intellectualize large amounts of often-disparate data into a cohesive, clear, and actionable strategy. I have never met a person with greater ability to craft clear actionable vision and strategy from ambiguity and complexity and to lead diverse teams towards a common vision."
“Heather is my go-to person because are a lot of mirages out there when it comes to the Future of Work and she is the oasis. She is the real deal. Her ability to convey information in both words and visuals together are really powerful.”
“In a world where speakers claim to be experts, Heather is a genuine expert who can speak.”
“As a university president, entrepreneur, and board member, I have never ever seen anyone better than Heather at demystifying complex information to provide a path to action.”
“Heather is in a category of her own—a singularly gifted strategist who sees the future and communicates it with clarity.”
“Heather provided the spark, the insights, and the energy to move our HR team forward. Her talk had something for everyone on our team, from our centers of excellence to our HR partners, from our leaders to our operations team, from our learning team to our compensation group. In particular, her discussion of the future of work and the importance of learning at the heart of organizational life really hit home for all of us.”
“I was fortunate to hear Heather speak at the Innovation in the “Age of Accelerations” Forum. She is an amazing communicator and a driving force, inspiring new relevant perspectives. Her presentation is a “must see” by leaders across government, academia, and industry who should be preparing our society for the future of work and the future of learning...the future of work is learning!”
“In the war for talent, organizations must be able to offer employees a path that goes beyond typical career progression. Heather presents a compelling and thought-provoking vision that focuses on lifelong learning and adaptability for employees, which the pace of technological change essentially requires. Her analysis is comprehensive, yet easily understood. She distills it into actionable steps to help organizations move towards creating an environment in which employees and organizations mutually benefit and are well positioned for an uncertain future.”
“In a world where we are drowning in information, clarity is power. Many add to the noise and the fears about the future of work; but Heather has done the homework, the thinking and crafted the vision for adapting with supreme clarity. Her straight talk and clear insights will hit the top ratings at your event - guaranteed.”
“Heather 'simplifies the complex' with stories and visuals delivered in an authentic and engaging manner that leave people feeling empowered to become adaptable, lifelong learners.”
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