Heather McGowan

heather mcgowan contact

Heather McGowan

heather mcgowan contact


Future-Of-Work Strategist, Speaker, Executive Consultant, Lecturer, and Author.

Speech Topics Include:

  • Generation Resignation: Leading An Empowered Workforce
  • The Human Capital Era
  • Adaptation Advantage: Leading In A Post-Pandemic World
  • Learning: The Real Future Of Work
  • Purpose And Play: The Future Of Identity
  • Leadership, Diversity, And The Identity Crisis
  • The Robot-Proof Myth: The Future Of Work Is Human
  • The Future Company: Culture And Capacity

Heather is a future-of-work keynote speaker, innovation thought leader and advocate for the strategic advantage of a more diverse representation in the workforce. Her future of work keynote message can be tailored to a range of conferences, events, and audiences— from startup keynotes to intimate and sensitive board or executive discussions to large conferences for established organizations. Book Heather E McGowan today to discover how her authentic and relatable approach can transform you and your business for the better.

Through her wide range of roles and projects, she helps individuals and organizations lay 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.

Heather is best known for her unmatched ability to bring pure and memorable clarity to this incredibly complex topic, often through her illuminating graphic frameworks and powerful metaphors— all backed by deep and proven research.

Heather performs 75 keynote events a year all over the world for clients in every industry and sector from the military to the beauty industry to financial services to publicly-traded flagship technology companies and everyone in between. 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.

Heather’s academic work has included roles at Rhode Island School of Design and Jefferson University, where she was the strategic architect of the first undergraduate college focused exclusively on innovation. Launched a decade ago, the award winning, core undergraduate curriculum designed by Heather is now the foundation for navigating the VUCA world with courses in design and propositional thinking, human behavior, business models and science-systems thinking.

Heather is also the co-editor and author of the book Disrupt Together: How Teams Consistently Innovate (Pearson, 2012) and The Adaptation Advantage: Let Go and Learn Fast to Thrive in the Future of work (Wiley, 2020), and regularly contributes articles to Forbes.

McGowan holds a BFA in Industrial Design from Rhode Island School of Design, an MBA with a concentration in Entrepreneurship and Finance from Babson College, and she was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Pennsylvania College of Art and Design in 2022.

Generation Resignation: Leading An Empowered Workforce

The global pandemic did not only change where work takes place, it is altering where work fits in our lives. The combination of a shift in leadership from Boomer and GenX to GenX and Millennial and the entrance of Generation Z into the workforce is altering the fundamental values around work. Labor shortages show no signs of abating and are shifting the power from employers to employees. In this VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world, leaders can no longer be unquestioned experts driving productivity with fear. The leadership profile shifts to a humble and curious learner who can inspire potential, help talent connect with their own internal drive and motivate with culture, love, and belonging. The factory default settings have all been removed from who works (diversity as a norm), where work takes place (home, office, anywhere, hybrid), what we do for work (exploration over routine tasks), how we lead (inspiration over fear), and why work in the first place. In this talk, buckle up for a fast paced and inspiration overview of the post pandemic world comprising an empowered and engaged workforce.


The Human Capital Era

For much of the history of work, talent was defined by the things you could make. In this new era, talent will be defined by what you can make out of your people.

Research shows that human capital comprises 90% of all enterprise value in the S&P 500. As we hand off more and more mentally routine and predictable tasks to technology, human talent and ingenuity will be the true competitive advantage.

We’ve entered the era of human capital, an era in which humans are seen as assets to develop rather than costs to contain. In this talk, discover how to navigate and master this challenging yet thrilling new world.


Adaptation Advantage: Leading In A Post-Pandemic World

When Heather E McGowan and Chris Shipley wrote The Adaptation Advantage (April 2020, Wiley) even they didn’t realize just how quickly their predictions would come to pass. Then the coronavirus global pandemic required an immediate and dramatic shift in work, learning, and leading, and 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 organizations. Entire university and school systems adopted virtual delivery exclusively, something many said they would never do. This new normal requires a laser 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 creation, and placed an even greater burden on leaders to inspire and motivate human potential. Even as the pandemic subsides, our new ways of working will remain. With Heather’s strategies in place, those transformations can be for the better.


Learning: The Real Future Of Work

We live in times of accelerated change driven by exponentially growing technologies paired with a hyperconnected global market economy. As a result, work tasks as we knew them in the past have become fragmented, automated, and augmented by technology. 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.

In the past, we learned to work. Tomorrow, we’ll work to learn. Discover how with Heather in this stunning and actionable keynote message.


Purpose And Play: The Future Of Identity

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 our work or aspirations at a moment in time. But that moment is becoming shorter than ever. According to research, as change rates accelerate— driven by technology and globalization— many of us will work numerous jobs from many different industries in our lifetime.

So why do we keep limiting our definition of career to one “occupational self?”

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 and a desire to learn and create through play.

In this keynote, discover how to make purpose, passion, and curiosity the drivers for lifelong learning and adaptation that will make us all more prepared for the future of work— and the world.


Leadership, Diversity, And The Identity Crisis

The only thing evolving more quickly than technology is societal and cultural change. Demographics and social and cultural norms are rapidly shifting, while social unrest has moved long-overdue efforts on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to the forefront.

Leadership through this accelerated evolution requires acknowledging and empathizing with individuals navigating these shifts in order to help them build the resilient and adaptive skills necessary to learn and thrive.


The Robot-Proof Myth: The Future Of Work Is Human

Today and in the future of work, the most in-demand skill will never be the one you have now— it’s the one you can develop tomorrow.

Upwork, a leading online platform for freelance work with 12 million registered freelancers and 5 million registered clients, recently released its list of the twenty fastest growing skills. 75% of those skills were new to the index in the 4th quarter of the previous year.

That’s right— 3 out of 4 of the fastest growing skills didn’t exist in the registry just one year before.

What does all this mean? That the future of work is human. Once we escape our outdated seeking of single-disciplinary skill sets in fear of being replaced by technology, we can focus on developing our uniquely human skills to unleash the potential of humanity.


The Future Company: Culture And Capacity

Brands, products, & services. Time and productivity. These are the benchmarks of the past.

But in this hyperconnected and constantly evolving world, we can no longer focus on the outputs. It’s time for us to focus on the inputs: culture and capacity. Culture is the internal operating systems of how the organization creates value. Brand is the external expression of the culture. Brand is how your customers experience your culture. Capacity is the organization’s ability to respond to challenges.

Discover why the companies that endure and thrive will be those that can clearly articulate and nurture their culture, while continuously expanding their capacity and being mindful of the wellbeing of their people.

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