Jill Finlayson: Welcome to the Future of Work podcast with UC Berkeley Extension and the EDGE in Tech Initiative at the University of California. Focused on expanding diversity and gender equity in tech, EDGE in Tech is part of CITRIS, the Center for IT Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute.
So here we are. Who is steering the ship as we go back to work in January? Today’s workforce is more empowered than ever, with many finding that maintaining a work-life balance is an important part of how we work.
The pandemic opened the door to enabling greater flexibility around where and when we work. Job seekers are prioritizing company mission, values, and participation in diversity, equity, and inclusion when they evaluate a potential role. Employees have shown that work can be done, and done well, remotely.
So why are we seeing many, many calls back to the office? Why are products like automatic mouse-movers hitting the market? Where and why did the trust go?
To kick off the new year, let’s talk about going forward, not backward. Let’s help managers and leaders of all types shift from driving productivity through force and move toward inspiring and motivating this empowered workforce. Joining us is Heather McGowan, a future-of-work strategist who helps leaders prepare their people and organizations for the postpandemic world.
LinkedIn has ranked her as number one global voice for education in 2017, and in 2020 McGowan was listed as one of the top 50 female futurists in Forbes. McGowan is the coauthor of The Adaptation Advantage, and the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote the book’s foreword, where he said, “Your next job starts where the robots stop. Learn to embrace that handoff,” and that we need a regular reinventing of ourselves. So let’s talk about that, and as Heather says, we need to let go, learn fast, to thrive in the future of work. Welcome, Heather.
Heather McGowan: Hi there. Thanks for having me.
Jill Finlayson: So break this down for us. Why do we need to learn fast? What is rapid learning, and how did you get to this futurist line of work anyway?
Heather McGowan: When I wrote that book, The Adaptation Advantage, I wrote it in 2019. It came out in 2020. More specifically, it came out April 2020.
That’s not really the ideal time to launch a book tour, if you recall what was happening about then, but many of the things that Chris Shipley and I predicted in 2019 to take place over three to five years unfolded over three to five months. There was an acceleration, a further acceleration of technology. There was embracing a lot of tools and resources that have always been around us.
If you really look at the first 60 days we went into lockdown from the pandemic, we leapt forward five years in our digital transformation. We doubled the speed we were migrating to the cloud. And now, almost a thousand days later, for some reason I cannot figure out, we’ve lost the trust that we had in our people during that period of time.
That’s one I don’t have an answer to, but I think it’s a question that maybe is not framed properly. I don’t get it. I don’t think that all work’s going to be remote, but I want to know what that march back to the office, without real reason, is for. I can’t quite figure that out.
Jill Finlayson: Yeah, it’s a really challenging question, and I think a lot of times people will go to what was comfortable, what was known. And there is this sense of wanting to go back to normal postpandemic, and maybe people are equating the office with that.
Heather McGowan: For the past year or so, I started all my talks by saying, you know, psychiatrists say it takes 66 days to form a habit. If you want to go to the gym, go every day for 66 days. You want to learn to do something new, do it sequentially for 66 days.
And every day that I did my talk — and I started at day, like, 400 and something — I would say, well, today is 438 days since the World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic. We’ve formed some habits. And I got all the way up to, like, almost 900 days through the different talks, and the reality is, is going to the office isn’t a habit anymore.
You’re making folks do a new habit, and depending on what generation you are, if you’re Gen Z, you don’t have the habit of going in the workforce. That was never a norm for you because you graduated university or finished or whatever post-high-school training you did and started work in a global pandemic, so that wasn’t a norm. I think it has more to do with leadership, frankly, insecurity in some sense, and habits in another sense.
You know, if you were successful in an arena where it was FaceTime, it was presenteeism, you showed up every day, people saw you making long hours and big sacrifices, and suddenly you see that’s not valued anymore, you’re a little out of sorts. And you start to not perhaps trust the people, and you kind of wonder, are they doing a side hustle? Are they working for two different people? Are they not really working?
Well, why are you not trusting them now if you did trust them for so long when you had no other choice? Sure, some folks probably are doing a side hustle. They probably were all along.
Don’t make the rules for the exception. Make the rules to maximize human potential. And there are some things that are better done in isolation, and there are other things that are better done in collaboration. So it depends on what type of work you’re trying to do. So if you’re calling folks back to the office just so they could sit in a cubicle on a Zoom meeting with somebody who’s not in the office that day so you can see them, frankly, that’s pathetic.
Jill Finlayson: Yeah, I think you’re right, and this is not anything new. I think these insecurities have existed in leadership before. I remember 20-odd years ago, I was working at eBay, and seat time was a thing. They wanted to see you there into the night because it was a startup, and they wanted to see that were committed.
And so people would leave their backpack right on a chair to show that they hadn’t left the office. So is this a virtual equivalent of needing to show performance work? Can you say a little bit about why performance work exists and what we can do about it?
Heather McGowan: Just to give a plug for our next book, Chris Shipley and I wrote a book that’s coming out in March 2023 called The Empathy Advantage, Leading the Empowered Workforce. This is specifically around these issues, and one of the things we found doing our research is it was — there was a study done that presenteeism has transitioned into digital presenteeism, which is maybe perhaps why you’re seeing sales of things such as mouse jigglers, which is a complete waste. You know, that’s landfill. It’s just absolute landfill.
But at any rate, they found on average people were spending 67 minutes a day sending absolutely unnecessary emails at odd hours to prove they were working. Now, so for every one of those 67 minutes in those emails, however many it generated, there’s somebody receiving those emails, answering those emails, perpetuating this large digital exhaust of completely wasted energy. It hasn’t gotten any better in the virtual world. We need to get back to trusting our people.
Jill Finlayson: So as we start to think about this new work, this new norm, one of the things that — you know, we had a chance to talk beforehand. We were talking about how there was a need for a different type of normal, where rapid learning was going to be part of what we needed to do. Can you kind of tell us what is rapid learning, and why it is that part of this new normal?
Heather McGowan: Sure. So it used to be, not that long ago, a couple decades ago, you wanted to have a workforce that was what I would call deployable, ready to go. You would hire for skills. I need certain tech skills, and this person has a degree or a certificate in them.
Now, we take it from a degree standpoint, it takes about 10 years to go from identified need to deployable workforce because you’ve got to build the curriculum, you’ve got to ramp up the curriculum, and then it takes four to six years to put somebody through the curriculum, if it’s an undergraduate curriculum. Might be a little shorter if it’s a master’s degree, even shorter if it’s a bootcamp or certificate.
But that period of time long eclipses the shelf life of a lot of those technical skills, so the model of what I call “codify and transfer” — figure out what the skills are, codify them into a curriculum, transfer them into a new human, and then you have a skilled workforce — that model isn’t going to work for the most part. We need to train people with foundational skills, fundamental literacy, ability to learn, understanding of technology skills as well as human skills, and then the ability to learn and adapt, because in any organization today, from the time you identify a need to the time you get need relief, often that need has changed.
So you can’t hire. A lot of times you cannot hire. So I say the skills gap may never close, and that’s OK because a skills gap forms when a human demonstrates a skill and the market values that skill in excess of supply. That’s actually progress, if you assume learning is part of work.
So our model used to be education, work, retire. Now it’s learn, leverage, longevity, because learning is across the lifespan, where — as opposed to education ends when you are educated. It requires an end state. “Leverage” signals that work and learning are a combined act, and then “longevity” is a reality because we didn’t plan for, save for, nor can most of us afford a 30-year retirement. So we’re going to remain engaged in different ways later in life if a hundred, a century becomes an average age eventually.
So with that framework, we all just have to get used to the fact that today is different than yesterday, and tomorrow is going to be different than today, and learning is just part of how we live and work. The let-go part of it is we used to say to folks, what’s your major, or what are you studying, or what’s your industry, or what’s your trade, and then what do you do? And those are all focused on a singular, set occupational identity, which is long outdated.
And so that’s why we named the last book The Adaptation Advantage. It was the idea of getting past the set occupational identity. This next book is, the workforce is now empowered, we’ve had a lot of changes, some of them decades in the making, and now we need leaders that are not unquestioned experts driving productivity, but empathetic, caring leaders who can inspire potential, because the workforce is now empowered.
Jill Finlayson: Huge fan of teaching empathy and making that a core skill for emotional intelligence, for effective management but effective leadership as well. I love that “learn, leverage, and longevity,” but at the same time, when you say “adaptation advantage,” that implies change. Change is hard. People are resistant to change. How do you help people get over that hump of thinking about their workplace and their career differently?
Heather McGowan: I think we’ve got to drop the idea of, life has no change, then change, then no change, that kind of old model of freeze, unfreeze, freeze. There’s no freezing anymore. Change is now the norm.
This pandemic may be the last of my lifetime because I’m 51 years old. It probably won’t be the last of, like, my nieces’ lifetime because they’re in their 20s. They’re now saying the hundred-year pandemics might happen every 50 years.
We’ve got economic uncertainty. We’ve got climate change. We’ve got labor shortages, in other parts of the world, labor surpluses.
We’ve got geopolitical instability. We have political polarization. So we have all these factors that are going to create — not to mention technology — constant cycles of change that are just accelerating. So the idea of, like, how do you get used to having to change — well, change is now the norm.
Jill Finlayson: What about for the companies and the management at companies? How are they looking at change? How do they measure productivity, and what needs to change for them?
Heather McGowan: Probably what needs to change for them is the idea that change is not a thing that happens or something you have to get through, or batten down the hatches and then we’ll be back to normal, because I’m really surprised in some ways how many companies have said, OK, pandemic’s over, let’s go back to 2019. And what a mistake of a tragedy that is, because this experience — and it was an existential experience, where we started to wonder where work fits in our lives, not just where it takes place, but also, we learned so many things about ourselves. If you had told me — I’ve worked in academia and corporate, so I’ve worked on the supply side and the demand side of talent. I’ve seen the challenges from both sides.
And in the academic side, I’ve worked for a couple of different universities. I’ve built a college focused on innovation that was the first in the nation, that I know of. And so I’ve been through a lot of that sort of change-management stuff on the corporate side and on the academic side, and if you told me on the academic side that suddenly an entire university would go online in two weeks, I’d say that, well, that can’t ever happen.
But it did happen, and many of the faculty members preferred teaching online now, the ones who were the most resistant. And then many leaders said, you know, I’m not sure about remote teams, I’m not sure about talent that doesn’t live in the same zip code or come in to the office every day, and they were suddenly comfortable with it. And now I see a greater retraction on the corporate side than I do see on the academic, which I never would have predicted.
So why are we dismissing what we learned? We rose to the challenge of a very difficult situation with very little business — loss of business continuity. But we’re throwing it all out, and I don’t know why.
Jill Finlayson: Yeah, I agree with you. This — crisis brings about change that otherwise wouldn’t happen. We have this incredible opportunity for reinvention. That’s the opportunity, right, to take advantage of the fact that we had to try all these new things. Now let’s go forward with some different thing that didn’t exist before.
So if we were to look at — companies measure productivity. They look at the outputs. We talk about KPIs, Key Performance Indicators, so that’s how we’ve measured productivity. What do you see as measuring productivity in the future?
Heather McGowan: We’ve let productivity be a marker for far too long. What productivity are we measuring? What are we measuring? We’re measuring hours that people work.
Well, we work eight hours a day because Henry Ford discovered in 1914 that all the accidents happened on the production line the 9th, 10th, and 11th hours, so he capped the workday at eight hours. And now we still look at eight hours, and we measure hours in terms of productivity, when a lot of evidence — after a certain number of hours, you have a profound loss of productivity. What is productivity? Is it output?
Now, I wrote a book in 2019, and it took me four or five years to write that book. So I could’ve written six or seven books during that period of time. I wrote one, I think, decent book.
I could’ve written six or seven crappy books. Would it’ve been more productive if I wrote six or seven crappy books? We measure what we think we know how to measure, and these are leftover things from the second Industrial Revolution at best.
Our measures of mental health are off the charts. Our mental health rates are off the charts, and they’ve been growing for decades. Our unhappiness has been growing.
And Gallup’s been studying engagement, which I think might be the new measure, although lagging, to look at instead of productivity, because all the value in organizations now comes from human activity. So if you look at human engagement as one of the indicators towards a better measure of productivity, we’ve done almost nothing to move engagement over the past 20 years. I think we’re frankly just measuring the wrong stuff.
Jill Finlayson: So what should we be measuring? What are the inputs that are needed to get the engagement?
Heather McGowan: I think things like wellness, better measures of wellness — there’s a five-year study that’s starting now in human flourishing, because we tend to think of human wellness as the absence of disease, which is the floor, not the ceiling. And so this looks at five measures of flourishing, just your overall engagement and wellness as humans, as a society, not our ability to — the speed in which we can produce stuff. We tend to think look at that. I think we’ve moved past that.
Now, there was a recalculation of the S&P 500 looking at the enterprise value of all the companies on the S&P 500 and the source of that value. So in 1975, 83% of that value came from property, plant, and equipment, tangible stuff, and in that, humans were only 13% of it because it was the intangible capital. So we treated humans as a cost to contain. And we had the Milton Friedman shareholder value error that reigned for 50-some-odd years, and we looked at containing the cost of humans. You know, as long as we keep the cost of labor low, we’ll be all right.
Well, now we’re realizing that 90%, as of 2020, 90% of the value is intangible, so humans are a source of all the value. So if humans are the source of all the value, what measures would you look for? You’d start to look at things like wellness and engagement and happiness, and those as more leading measures of how you figure out value creation.
Those may become the new KPIs. Because the purpose of a company used to be to create value, and then humans were the means that’d create the value. Now I think the purpose of the company is to increase the potential of the humans, and the value will be the byproduct, but a better byproduct because you’re focusing on the inputs, not the outputs.
Jill Finlayson: So how do you increase the potential of the human? How do you do capacity building to enhance this opportunity?
Heather Mason: Well, first we look at things like maybe it’s fewer hours, not more hours. So all the studies on the four-day workweek are largely finding that they’re getting better levels if you just look at things like productivity. They’re looking at getting better levels of wellness. You’re getting better levels of life balance. You’re getting more people doing more education, so people are getting more degrees and certificates and looking back and thinking about what they want to do.
Now, you look at something like the pandemic, well, over those two years, between 2021 and 2022, 53% of the people who quit went to new industries and new jobs. That was people retraining and going in to do what they want to do. That’s better, when people are aligned with what they’re interested in.
So I think we need to make more of those kinds of moves where people are aligned with what they’re interested in, and you get more human potential because they’re naturally interested in it. We’re never going to get people to learn and adapt at the speed, scale, and scope we need by punishments, threats, and rewards, so we have to align people with their natural interests so they become self-propelled.
Jill Finlayson: And do we do this through cultural change? Is this diversity, equity, and inclusion? Are there structural changes? Like, what are the puzzle pieces here?
Heather McGowan: Sure, I mean, the fact that DEI — and which is really DEIB, so it’s Diversity, which is representation; Equity, which is fairness; Inclusion, which is action; and Belonging, which is the feeling. If you don’t have belonging, you don’t get the power of DEI.
And what is DEI about? Is it doing the right thing? Sure, it is, and it’s long overdue. But what it really is from an investor standpoint is making the inside of your company look like the market you serve.
And increasingly, the market is diverse, and if the market is global, it’s absolutely diverse. So making your organization look more like that market you’re serving means having different decision-makers who have different views on things, checking your blindspots, and you’re getting better performance. Diverse companies have beat the S&P 500 for 20 years, you see in every study that shows diverse companies.
So yes, certainly, diversity is a piece of it. Having people do things like job sculpting, which was an idea from the ’90s, which was that we have — there are eight deeply — DELIs, Deeply Embedded Life Interests, and if you structure jobs around things people are interested in, they will naturally learn on their own, so making organizations that are basically self-propelled organizations aligned with human interests.
So it’s a restructuring of the organization. It’s moving away from fixed jobs and moving more towards projects and tours. It’s making DEI a central business strategy and driver, not just an HR strategy.
It’s reframing leadership, which is what our latest book is about, from moving from the unquestioned expert who can make decision in certainty — you know what? That person’s a liability now because most people are managing teams full of people who have skills and knowledge they don’t have, so you need a leader who can move from reliance on their own individual intelligence to their ability to harness collective intelligence.
So there’s a lot of structural changes, from organizational structure to leadership structure to how we train people. You know, that whole kind of “you’re good at math, so you’re going to be a computer scientist” — no. What are you interested in? What do you care about? And it becomes much more intrinsically driven.
Jill Finlayson: So there are two things you said that I’d like to learn more about. The first was fixed jobs, and that fixed jobs are going away. Say more. What does that mean?
Heather McGowan: So right now if you have a job opening, you tend to write all the things on the job opening that are based upon the last occupant of that job, and you could probably put a line through half those things if you really asked your — if you’re honest with yourselves, because they’re basically old biases that really had to do with the last person who had that job and the things that she or they did, as opposed to the things that you might need somebody to do in the future. Fixed jobs worked when you had an assembly line. Fixed jobs worked when you had a slow rate of change. Fixed jobs worked when you had a deployable workforce that could come in with the skills and plug in to the slot you needed.
Now when you have this rate of change and the speed of new skills and knowledge that are emerging and evolving, you need people who can come in to your organization and learn with you. So I don’t know exactly what it looks like yet. I’m looking at some of the theories people have had out there, things like job sculpting, things like tours of duty. And these are ideas that are decades to 30 years old, but when they came out, they just — the market wasn’t ready for them. The market is ready now for them, so we need more solutions like that.
So it isn’t simply saying, OK, hey, we need another person in this box on the org chart. Well, how relevant is that org chart? When was it written? It really generally implies a reliance on individual intelligence when you really need “this person has a component, this person has a component,” and you need a leader who can stitch those components together and look at the horizon, which is rapidly changing as well.
Jill Finlayson: So for a person who’s in a job, how do they figure out a career path if the boxes aren’t there anymore?
Heather Mason: Career paths have been gone for a long time, if you’re honest. I mean, it is — the escalator is gone. It’s been gone.
Ask most people, I mean, there are people out there who’ve been in the same industry their entire lives. There are people who’ve been in the same company, but that’s not the norm anymore. You’ll talk to people who are like, oh, I was in investment banking and then I went into consulting and then I went to the university, or people who say, you know, I started in engineering and then I went into sales and then I switched industries.
Ask them how they did it. They found their way through it probably most likely through networking and mentorship and opportunities. So maybe you did a project within an organization and you were like, ooh, I want to do more of that, and you pivoted within your organization, and then you pivoted again when you left the organization and went to another organization. The idea that there’s a lockstep thing, that’s decades gone, but we’re still acting like it’s there, particularly in higher ed.
Jill Finlayson: You mentioned networking and mentorship. Those two things are not evenly distributed. How do we help level the playing field so that everybody can leverage those resources?
Heather McGowan: That’s something that we need to be much, much more intentional about. If you are the lottery winner and you go to an elite university, you have an automatic network. You’re in the club, and you have people you can call on in powerful places who can help you out. If you go to a community college or you don’t even go to university and you start working, it’s much, much more difficult because you have to make that network brick by brick.
I think tools like LinkedIn are really helpful. Some of the social media tools, I’m not a fan, or Twitter these days, I’m off it at the moment. But I have been — for me, LinkedIn has been incredibly important, not as a place to find a job, but as a place to build a learning community.
And there are probably other places. People could do it through TikTok. People could do it through Instagram.
Some people could do it through Facebook. Some people can do it through newsletters and Substack and that kind of thing. So there’s a variety of different technology tools that can help you do it, but being out there, beginning by saying, what is it that I’m interested in that I know about, that I can share?
Just before I got on this call, I did a post on LinkedIn on some research that I knew about on the age of a successful founder. So successful founders, we tend to think of as, like, the 25-year-old guy in the hoodie. Statistically, your likelihood of success increases with age all the way to the age of 60.
So while we think the most successful startup founders are 25 and under, though really the median age is about 42, 40–35 to 40 on unicorns because they might be more tech based, but if you look at startups that create long-term success, they’re really 50-plus. So I shared that research on LinkedIn. Someone else will send me an article, and then from there, I’ll have a community of people who will be talking about startup founders, age bias, leadership qualities, that kind of thing.
Jill Finlayson: So putting yourself out there enables you to then discover more information and more networks. It’s interesting, the example you gave about startup founders hearkens back to what you said earlier about aligning with your interests and passions, right? And so people who are starting companies in their 50s have found something that they want to do and that they care about, so that may also contribute to their startup success as well.
Heather McGowan: Yes, definitely, and I think one of the reasons that people are more successful older is they have people they can call as resources. They have contexts from their experiences. They have networks. They’ve worked inside organizations, so they know how they work and how a startup might disrupt that. But for the folks who are out there who are listening, there is something you know, something unique that you know that you could share that could start a conversation that could build your network.
Jill Finlayson: Absolutely, and you know, this, it actually brings me back to the other thing I wanted you to explain a little bit more about. You said that your peers and your leaders all have different knowledge. There isn’t redundancy, right? Like, people don’t have the same knowledge, so can you say a little bit more about how we’re all leaders in different ways? And I think it ties in with what you were just saying, that everybody has an expertise.
Heather McGowan: Yes, undoubtedly. So if you’re in an organization right now and you’re at mid to senior level, you absolutely have people reporting to you who have skills and knowledge that you don’t have, maybe all of them. And as you say, rarely do you have redundancy in that knowledge.
So how do you organize towards a goal on a project if there isn’t a hierarchy of decision-making based upon expertise and certainty of knowledge? So if it’s a project that’s reliant on data analytics and cybersecurity or knowing a certain market, knowing a certain industry, knowing a certain culture, everybody has a different piece of that. And when you go towards the goal, you can’t have somebody who doesn’t have that depth of understanding making a unilateral decision.
So you have to lead in a way that sort of has what I call role fluidity, where you kind of pass the talking stick and say, OK, you’re the expertise in this area, how do you see success happening? You’re the expertise in this area, how do you see this? And the leader then becomes the person who can listen.
And somebody used this example, that every time Obama made a decision, he would go to his cabinet and say, tell me what you think, tell me what you think, tell me what you think. And he’d listen to all of them and say, OK, this is the path I’m deciding to make based upon listening to all of you. Because he would listen to all of the people who knew — obviously knew more than he, because he was a very young president, and then he said, I’m going to take this path of action because — you know, probably, in his head he weighted different people differently depending on the situation, but that’s what you do as a leader.
Jill Finlayson: Yeah, I think that that is really key, and it ties back to our earlier conversation about trust, right? If you’re a leader, you have to trust that the people who have the expertise can make an informed decision. You have to give some level of autonomy and agency.
So as we look toward the future, what does this mean for hierarchies? Is this flat organizations, or how is this changing the structure? You talked about the boxes are going away.
Heather McGowan: Yeah, I’m not sure that the hierarchy has made sense for quite some time. And I remember seeing an organizational chart for, I think it was, like, the ’30s, maybe ’40s, with Walt Disney, and it was circular. His name was at the top, and right under his name, it said Story. Like, so he was the mastermind of everything, so everything did flow through him.
So it was a little bit of a dictatorship, but the idea was that everything they did, from products to theme parks to everything — you know that at the time they were building all that — started with the story. How do you reinforce the story? How do we create the story as part of — and every organization, there’s some version of “story,” because the products and services that we buy are just souvenirs from the experience that we have, which is generally around some sort of story, something that we’re buying into.
So how do you organize around? What is the central thing for you? It’s not the leader. It’s not the CEO. They’re in a position that’s going to change all the time. Somebody new will come in to that probably every 7 to 10 years on average, something like that, so how do you think about what is central to the organization?
Like, Patagonia is absolutely inspiring to me because they went from “do no harm” to “we are in the business of saving the planet” to “Earth is our only shareholder,” because Yvon Chouinard said, I can’t trust people, frankly. I cannot trust people to work in the best interest of the planet unless I make the planet the only shareholder. So he turned it into a nonprofit.
But before that, they funneled everything they did through, how is this supporting — like, when they found out that their vests were being weared by investment bankers in New York that were — many of the businesses they were doing were pillaging the planet. They were a symbol of — you know, a status symbol. And they were like, no more. We’re not co-branding anymore with any organization that doesn’t believe exactly what we believe. So that’s where they made that story center of everything they did, and then every job becomes in support of that mission.
Jill Finlayson: So values being very central to the company and making that central to attracting and retaining the workforce — what other things would you say need to happen now to reinvent the workplace?
Heather McGowan: Well, certainly starting with that — you know, why does this organization exist? How does this world look differently because we exist? It’s sort of the “belief, behaviors, and benefits,” I call it. So, you know, what is it we believe, what are the behaviors that we exhibit that support those beliefs, what are the benefits of our activities, and are they fully supporting our beliefs?
So it’s really a restructuring of the organization, and we do this right, we will not have a problem with profitability. Maybe profitability won’t be as high. Maybe it’s not as important. Maybe we’ll be more sustainable. But we’re really focusing on the how do we align with the hearts and minds of people so you get the full share of their passion, as opposed to a fractional share of the energy they have that’s depleting every day because they’re ground to a stump, right?
JIll Finlayson: Exactly. Well, for the individual, then, as Thomas Friedman said in your foreword, we need a regular reinventing personally. What does that mean to you?
Heather McGowan: Well, different people, different phases of their lives — so you know when I was talking about moving from “education, career, retire” to “learn, leverage, longevity,” when you get to longevity, you may go into a period of — that’s considered retirement in the past, but it’s really now encore for folks. So maybe in the early part of your life, you’re in hustle mode, or the middle part of your life you’re in the hustle mode. And then you’re raising a family, so you go into a different position.
And so it’s a reinvention of how you spend your time, what you care about in terms of impact. And maybe when you get to longevity, you’re like, you know what, I want to work in a job where I can work part time but I can really share the things I learned through work, and you become much more of an elder in organizations. We haven’t had that approach.
We’ve kind of thrown out our elders, to our peril, when we could really be tapping them for that wisdom. There’s a reason the success increases as you age, as startup founders, and that’s going to be consistent with organizations as well. So how do we tap into that, in terms of what people care about at different phases of their lives?
Jill Finlayson: Yeah, I think one of the phrases you said when we had a chance to discuss this earlier — we previously were learning to work, but now you’re saying we have to work to learn. What does that mean? How do we work to learn more?
Heather McGowan: Well, it used to be learning is over, and now I’m in the work mode, and I don’t have to think again, I don’t have to reinvent myself, I don’t have to — that left all these really uniquely great qualities out. It left out curiosity. It left out passion.
It left out purpose, because it was like, OK, you can learn those things to figure out what you need to learn, and then you work, and then you retire and die. And now it’s much more like, OK, what are the things you care about, and now you’re — learning becomes part of work. So you’ll be working, but really in order to learn, because working is now learning.
Jill Finlayson: So here we are, January 2023. What are your hopes and fears for this new year?
Heather McGowan: Well, I say I’m a belligerent optimist in the lemonade business, so I can see the upside of everything. My hope is that even if we have a retraction, which I still don’t think is absolutely clear, that we won’t be so stupid that we sort of resort to 2019 and say, OK, everybody, back in the office, I’m the boss, let’s lead through humiliation and fear and domination. Instead, we say, what are the things we learned through this existential crisis, and how can we unleash more human potential? And it’s not about where work takes place, but let’s figure out where work should take place based upon the tasks and the fairness and the activities and the human potential, rather than sort of a knee-jerk reaction.
So my hope is that we will continue on what I see glimmers of happening, especially around things like DEI. DEI was a thing that I’ve been hearing about for 30, 40 years, at least when I look back in the literature. But it’s something that now is becoming much more central and strategic, as opposed to sort of a check-the-box thing, and that suggests some real — a real march towards progress in terms of human potential.
Jill Finlayson: In your last book, you accidentally, or perhaps fortuitously, predicted a change that was going to happen and, as you said, happened much quicker than we anticipated. What are you predicting will happen in the next five years? What are the big trends?
Heather McGowan: I think we’re going to see just a profound change in the leadership model. Women have been outearning men in terms of degrees since 1982. For every hundred master’s degrees earned by men, 140 are earned by women, 10-million-plus more degrees. But so much of that is sitting on the sidelines because we haven’t figured out childcare infrastructure, and so women will leave the workforce to have children, and then lose their spot and never get back on the path they were on. We also tend to funnel women into roles that don’t have P&L responsibility, so they never get on the path that gets them into the C-suite. So fixing some of those things — because I think a lot of what we need in terms of leadership, women are quite aligned to do, and people who come from diverse backgrounds have the ability to check our blind spots. They have cognitive diversity in terms of what the norm is in the C-suite.
So I expect that we’ll see changes in how we think about leaders, the leadership profile itself, how we refer to each other, and how we build our society, because it used to be that you would get a job, and that job was in a set city. And then you’d buy your home in that city, or rent your home or whatever, make your home in that city, based upon commuting distance to work and school systems, and then out of that accidentally would form community and belonging.
And I’m really inspired by the changes that have taken place through this pandemic, but also Gen Z coming online and Gen Z saying, I’m not playing hustle culture. I’m not putting my life last and my job before everything. So they’re saying this is where and how I want to live, this is where and how I want my children to be educated, this is where and how I want to build community, and how does my work fit into that?
And so it’s a complete reorganizing of what’s central, and I think when we do that, we’ll make better value. We’ll make a better society, too. And I think I see glimmers of that happening, too.
Jill Finlayson: You mentioned that women are outpacing men in degrees. I actually have a concern about that. Why are we losing men in our education system? What’s going on there?
Heather McGowan: Yeah, so the flipside of that, for sure — so, one, I wanted to emphasize women have been outearning men in terms of degrees, but they’re not reaching the level of human potential. So that’s the piece I’d like to see corrected. It’s not that I don’t want to see men get degrees. In fact, that’s a great concern as well, so I’m glad you brought that up.
There’s an estimate that in the next five or six years, for every two female graduates, there’ll be one male graduate. That’s a huge problem, because our men are — we’ve lost about 10% of males in the labor-force participation rate in the last 50 years. And men age 35, about 6% of them are unemployed, and about that 6%, 64% have a criminal record.
So we have some things to fix here, and there’s examples of just two. One, we have not done a good job transitioning from a manufacturing to a knowledge society and keeping men in the workforce. And I don’t know why that is, but we need to figure that out.
Men are dropping out of the workforce. They’re dropping out of university. They’re not entering university at the same rates they were and should be.
We also have a problem with — we have a problem with opioids. We also have a problem with, you know, you can smoke a joint in, like, half the states right now, in one way or another, but we haven’t expunged the records. Biden tried to do it at the federal level. It also needs to be done at the state level because if you have any sort of criminal record, your application can get spit back out by the robot that reads it over something really stupid. I think we need to look at doing that so we get more men in the workforce and succeeding at their potential as well.
Jill Finlayson: And when we think about the future and give us a little sneak preview of the next book, what is it the next leaders of the future need to have as core skills? And this aligns with the gendered roles, and how do we remove the gendering of these leadership roles and just say this is what a good leader does?
Heather McGowan: Sure, so just a quick snapshot of the book — so there really have been two transformations. One is a changed relationship between individuals and organizations, and the second is a movement from linear to complex. So I’ll start with linear-to-complex first.
When we lived in a linear world, things moved more slowly. We could have an organizational structure that was hierarchical. Now we have what looks kind of like a spaghetti knot because we’ve got the emergence of skills and knowledge, so most leaders are managing teams full of people who have skills and knowledge they don’t have. That requires a different type of leadership.
The changed relationship between individuals and organizations, it was really kind of encapsulated for a lot of folks in this idea of the Great Resignation. So Anthony Klotz coined that term a couple of years ago. He’s been a little surprised at how much it’s taken off. We interviewed him for the book, and it’s not an idea that happened in 2021, as most folks think it did.
It really is something that started in 2009. Churn has been increasing since 2009. So what does that mean?
That just means talent is mobile. You no longer need to stay in an organization for 10 years in order to have a justifiable or respectable career there. You can flip-flop every couple years, and that’s starting to happen.
So churn is increasing, and the Great Resignation is really one of five “greats.” The Great Retirement — boomers are retiring, and we acted like we weren’t planning on that for some reason. So that’s going to cause labor force shortages for at least a decade, so that’s going to create a real pressure, and then also empowers the existing workforce.
There’s the Great Reshuffle. As I mentioned, 53% of the people who left jobs in 2021 went into new jobs or new industries. So that’s good news. That’s people working to their potential.
There’s the Great Refusal. That’s people saying, you know what, I’m not getting punched in the face for $7.50 anymore. If minimum wage had kept pace with pre-pandemic inflation, it would be about $23, $24 an hour, so we’re well behind on that. That’s going to drive up inflation for — some level of inflation’s going to stay because we’re way behind on paying people fairly.
And then the Great Relocation is people moving to — Upwork estimates about 20 million in the US are looking to move to a new location, either because work is not their number one determinant on where they live, or they’re tapping into the availability of remote work, or both.
Jill Finlayson: So you’re saying quiet quitting is a misnomer, then. That isn’t what’s happening.
Heather McGowan: No, quiet quitting’s a stupid term because it’s not quiet and it’s not quitting. It’s what — people who are saying, I’m going to put guardrails on what I’m going to do. I’m rejecting the hustle culture.
You know what? That’s OK right now. That might be OK for some folks.
Some folks may embrace the hustle culture. That’s great. I kind of do.
I run all over the world all year long. Other people might say, I’m not doing that. It’s going to be what’s right for everybody.
And we have to realize we’ve been through a traumatic event that we haven’t really grieved. We lost over a million people. One of every 500 kids is an orphan. We haven’t really processed what we’ve been through, and for people to say, you know what, I’m not putting this over my life right now, is OK. And I think we need to understand that.
But collectively, those five “greats” give you the Great Reset, and it’s an empowered workforce that’s basically saying, I’m not going to work the way I worked in the past. So you’ve got you’re leading people who don’t — who have skills and knowledge that you may not have, and you’ve got a workforce saying, mm, not — I’m not playing by those rules anymore, I’m empowered.
You’ve got to lead differently, and when you lead differently, you need to make four changes. The first is a change in mindset, basically managing process and people to enabling success, because when you’re that unquestioned expert, you could really just drive the process as opposed to treat the individuals as individuals. The second is a change in culture from one that peers are competitors, so when everybody in your team had redundant knowledge, you could pit them against each other to see who performed better. Now everybody’s got unique knowledge, so you need to create a culture where peers are collaborators.
The third is a change in approach from that extrinsic pressure, you know, the carrots and sticks to drive everything, to intrinsic motivation. You’ve got to help people become self-propelled. And then the fourth is a change in behavior from driving productivity with domination or fear to creating effectiveness through inspiration, caring, and even love.
Jill Finlayson: I love that, and this idea of just really reflecting for the individual that you have this unique knowledge and you have this unique opportunity. So what are your final thoughts and recommendations for how to thrive, for all the individuals out there?
Heather McGowan: Well, that’s — I can just tell you my story. So I have bounced around. I worked in product design. I have an undergraduate degree from RISD. I went back and got my MBA.
I worked in finance for a while, then I stumbled into academia. I built a new college, then I went to another academic appointment. I built a curriculum for the future of work. Then I did a lot of corporate consulting all throughout there.
And then I wrote an article on LinkedIn in 2014, and I said that the — jobs were over, that the future was income generation, to think about yourself as a value-creating individual that has to be aligned with your purpose and passion. And back then I said, you know, we’ve got to move from “education, career, retire” to “learn, leverage, longevity.” That was almost a decade ago. About 100,000 people read the second installment of that series, and I started getting speaking requests from all over the world.
Fast-forward to today, all I do is speak. I’m represented by bureaus all over the world. I fly around the world and speak to companies about these issues, but that’s not a job I applied for. That was not something I went to school to do. It was, I’m curious about this. I’m going to knit these pieces together. I’m going to put something out there. People responded to it, and I evolved from that.
I think a lot of people are going to find their career paths that way, through experimentation, following your curiosity, paying attention to what you’re passionate about. It’s not for everyone. I’m definitely privileged, but there’s some piece of that that I think will exist for most folks.
Jill Finlayson: I love that, following your curiosity. Thank you so much for joining us, Heather.
Heather McGowan: Thanks so much for having me.
Jill Finlayson: Well, with that, I hope you enjoyed this latest in a long series of podcasts that we’ll be sending your way every month. Please share with family and friends who may be interested in taking this Future of Work journey with us, and make sure to check out extension.berkeley.edu to find a variety of courses to help you answer that call of curiosity and thrive in this new working landscape. And to see what’s coming up in EDGE in Tech, go ahead and visit edge.berkeley.edu. Thanks so much for listening, and I’ll be back next month to continue our Future of Work journey, 2024 edition. Until then.