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.
McGowan’s clients range from start-ups to publicly traded Fortune 500 companies, including AMP Financial, Autodesk, Biogen, Citi, Accor Hotels, AARP, The World Bank, and BD Medical. Often quoted in the media, notably in the New York Times, McGowan serves on the advisory board for Sparks & Honey, a New York–based culture-focused agency looking to the future for brands.
McGowan’s academic work has included roles at Rhode Island School of Design, Becker College, and Jefferson University, where she was the strategic architect of the first undergraduate college focused exclusively on innovation. Heather advises and gives keynote addresses for organizations all over the world and, with her colleagues, provides bespoke consulting to help organizations adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Her think tank is called Work to Learn because McGowan believes that in the Third Industrial Revolution, we learned (once) in order to work and now, in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we will work in order to learn (continuously).
McGowan is the co-editor and author of the book Disrupt Together: How Teams Consistently Innovate and a Forbes contributor. She is working on her latest book on the future of work, The Adaptation Advantage, due out by Wiley in spring 2020.
- The Human Capital Era
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.
- Adaptation Advantage: 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.
- 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. These units of value created became our very own North Star. 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.
- The Robot Proof Myth: The Future of Work is Human
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 4thquarter 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 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.
- 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 and connected to purpose.
- The Future of Identity is Purpose
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. In order to create a society and workforce that can learn and adapt to rising technological capabilities as well as the global human talent cloud, 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 motivational drivers we need to fuel the essential lifelong learning and adaption the future of work requires.
- 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.