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Heather E. McGowan

McGowan is an internationally recognized keynote speaker on the future of work and the future of learning. Accelerating disruptive cycles in industry, with rising automation and rapid adoption and scaling of technology, are making traditional jobs frameworks obsolete and demanding new and adaptive skill sets of workers.
McGowan also guides corporate executives to re-think and re-frame their business models, and their understanding of team and organizational structures, to be resilient and successful in changing markets. 

She co-published a book on the future of work in spring 2020: the adaptation advantage, on how the ability to adapt is key to thrive in the Day After Tomorrow.

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Topics

The Adaptation Advantage

Her latest book The Adaptation Advantage, co-authored with Chris Chipley, is a guide for navigating the highly complex and ambiguous Future of Work

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, 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.

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Future of Work is Learning

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, 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. 

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Leadership, Diversity and the Identity crisis

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. 

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The Future Company: Culture and Capacity

The organization of work and focused goals have long been measured by the outputs—i.e. brands, products, services, and business models. Accelerated change driven by exponential growth in technology, as well as a hyper connected 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.  

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The Robot Proof Myth: the Future of Work is Human

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.

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.

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 and 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. 

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Leading in a Post Pandemic World

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. 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, 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.

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