Heather McGowan | Championing Humans in the Learning-Centric Future of Work

Heather McGowan

Championing Humans in the Learning-Centric Future of Work

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Heather McGowan

Future-of-work strategist Heather E. McGowan helps leaders prepare their people and organizations for the Post Pandemic world of work. The last few years have forever changed where we work, who works, how we work and measure work, what we do for work and, most importantly, why we work. McGowan is a sense maker, a dot connector, a deep thinker, and a pattern matcher who sees things that others miss. Heather gives people the courage and insight that illuminates their path forward. She’s transforming mindsets and entire organizations around the globe with her message about how the next phase of work will focus on continuous learning, rather than simply learning once in order to work. 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. In 2020 Heather was recognized as one of the top 50 female futurists in the world by Forbes. Heather’s sessions help employees and leaders alike prepare for and adapt to jobs that do not yet exist.  
McGowan has provided keynote addresses for audiences from start-ups to government organizations to universities to publicly traded Fortune 100 companies, including AMP Financial, SAP, Abbvie, Biogen, Fidelity, FIS, Mastercard, AT&T, Financial Times, Siemens, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Kaiser Permanente, JPMorgan Chase, Lockheed Martin, MassMutual, MetLife, Best Buy, Raytheon, The US Army, Accor Hotels, Paramount, Chevron, AARP, Zendesk, Tableau, Fidelity, de Beers, Professional Beauty Association, and The World Bank among hundreds of others. Heather addresses audiences in person from small summits for C suite executives to large events in the tens of thousands. Her virtual talks have reached hundreds of thousands. 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, and Jefferson University, where she was the strategic architect of the first undergraduate college focused exclusively on innovation. In 2019 Heather was appointed as a faculty member of the Swinburne University Centre For the New Workforce in Melbourne, Australia. In 2022, McGowan was awarded an honorary doctorate from Pennsylvania College of Art and Design in addition to earning her MBA from Babson College and her BFA in Industrial Design from Rhode Island School of Design. McGowan is the co-editor and author of the book Disrupt Together: How Teams Consistently Innovate and a Forbes contributor. McGowan’s first book on the future of work, published in 2020: The Adaptation Advantage: Let Go, Learn Fast, and Thrive in the Future of Work, reached number three in business management books on Amazon and was named one of the best business books of 2021 by Soundview.  McGowan’s most recent book The Empathy Advantage: Leading the Empowered Workforce published in March 2023 and is a finalist for the Next Big Idea Book Club and identified as a top ten business book to read in 2023 by Business Chief. 

Heather McGowan
Featured Videos

Current: The Importance of Curiosity in Building Organizational Capacity

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Heather McGowan
Featured Keynote Programs


Amidst the turbulence of today's rapidly changing societal, cultural, and technological landscapes, leaders face a compelling imperative to adopt a radically different approach to leadership. The question arises: should leaders prioritize the engagement of their employees or solely pursue tangible results? It's a nuanced issue with a seemingly paradoxical answer: both are essential, as they are mutually reinforcing elements required for superior performance.

Whether focusing on the future of work or simply on the task at hand, today's leaders must adeptly undertake three key responsibilities to foster high-performing teams: establishing conditions for thriving (craft culture), navigating imperfect and evolving information (decision making), and nurturing talent (build organizational resilience).

Crafting Culture involves creating an environment conducive to growth, which necessitates fostering trust, transparency, and psychological safety. In a world plagued by various distractions, from the loneliness epidemic to political polarization, recognizing shared values can alleviate tensions without delving into divisive discussions. Trust serves as the foundation for achieving optimal performance.

Leadership Decision-making, once a straightforward process for those deemed unquestioned experts relying solely on individual intelligence, now requires the adeptness to harness collective intelligence. Many leaders find themselves guiding teams composed of individuals possessing skills and knowledge they themselves lack.

Building Organizational Capacity: Previously, leaders were primarily assessed based on immediate results. However, in the current landscape characterized by a tight labor market and the departure of baby boomers, prioritizing talent development is imperative for navigating uncertainty and ensuring sustained business continuity.

Today's leaders must concurrently drive exceptional performance while fortifying organizational resilience. Through sharing insights, research, analogies, and case studies, McGowan's discourse elucidates why embracing this three-pronged approach is both the future of work and the pathway to superior performance today. 


The success of any organization hinges entirely on the performance of its people and, more specifically, their ability to collaborate. We are uncivil and increasingly dysfunctional. Our increasing polarization is robbing performance. Loneliness, spanning across all demographic groups, has been intensifying for decades, culminating in what the surgeon general deems an epidemic. As social beings, our collaborative nature has propelled us to the top of the food chain. It is now believed Homo Sapiens emerged ahead of other human ancestors not because we were stronger or faster or had larger brains, we did not, but because of our ability to both communicate and collaborate.  However, our growing isolation is reshaping our brain function. When individuals feel lonely, their amygdala triggers a "fight or flight" response and activates our sympathetic nervous system, fostering an "us" vs. "them" hostile response. Moreover, a rapid amalgamation of social, cultural, and technological shifts, though inherently apolitical, has been politicized, exacerbated by social media echo chambers that reinforce our biases, reducing our ability to trust and collaborate. In the end civility is lost and with it trust, engagement, performance, growth, and profitability. 

To navigate your organization through inevitable change cycles—whether adapting to AI, restructuring, launching new products, or simply sustaining success—it's imperative to keep your team focused and cohesive, through minimizing interruption and internal conflicts. Heather's presentation delves into the origins of our current state of distraction and division, drawing on research to pinpoint key factors contributing to distraction, while offering strategies to foster cohesion and concentration within your organization.

Note: This discussion does not revolve around politics or personal views, but rather explores the biological and cultural factors that have divided us, alongside practical leadership tools for managing an increasingly fractured and distracted workforce with techniques to lead profitable growth and performance through focus on shared vision and purpose. 


Throughout much of the history of work, talent has traditionally been gauged by physical outputs. Despite the advent of transformative technologies such as generative artificial intelligence, one undeniable truth remains: the defining characteristic of this era is the ability to harness the potential of your workforce to drive profitable growth.

Research consistently highlights the pivotal role of human capital, which contributes a staggering 90% of enterprise value in the S&P 500. While technology, particularly generative artificial intelligence, increasingly handles routine tasks, the real competitive advantage lies in the performance of augmented human talent and creativity.

We've now entered the era of human value, where humans are recognized as assets to cultivate rather than expenses to minimize. No matter how impressive technology may be, its effectiveness is ultimately determined by the humans who utilize it.

In this presentation, explore strategies for navigating and mastering this challenging yet exhilarating new landscape, where we not only learn from technology but also collaborate and innovate alongside it. This paradigm shift encourages us to view technology as a partner in our journey, rather than a mere tool to be wielded.


In today's dynamic and rapidly evolving work environment, maintaining peak performance while preventing burnout is paramount. Ignoring societal polarization does little to mitigate distractions. To help our teams stay focused and excel, it's crucial to realign them with shared values, their desired impact on the world, and a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves—offering profound opportunities for growth.

This enlightening discussion explores the art of cultivating resilient teams capable of thriving amidst adversity while prioritizing well-being.  Drawing on cutting-edge research and practical approaches, this presentation delves into the transformative potential of authentic leadership, effective communication, empathy as a performance driver, and fostering a highly performance workplace culture. Discover actionable strategies to nurture resilience through emphasizing the importance of trust-building and psychological safety, both crucial for organizational health and sustainable, profitable growth.

Heather McGowan
Featured Books

The Empathy Advantage: Leading the Empowered Workforceby Heather McGowan

The Empathy Advantage: Leading the Empowered Workforce

by Heather McGowan
The Adaptation Advantageby Heather McGowan

The Adaptation Advantage

by Heather McGowan

A guide for individuals and organizations navigating the complex and ambiguous Future of Work

Foreword by New York Times columnist and best-selling author Thomas L. Friedman

Technology is changing work as we know it. Cultural norms are undergoing tectonic shifts. A global pandemic proves that we are inextricably connected whether we choose to be or not. So much change, so quickly, is disorienting. It's undermining our sense of identity and challenging our ability to adapt. But where so many see these changes as threatening, Heather McGowan and Chris Shipley see the opportunity to open the flood gates of human potential--if we can change the way we think about work and leadership. They have dedicated the last 5 years to understanding how technical, business, and cultural shifts affecting the workplace have brought us to this crossroads, The result is a powerful and practical guide to the future of work for leaders and employees. The future can be better, but only if we let go of our attachment to our traditional (and disappearing) ideas about careers, and what a good job looks like.

Blending wisdom from interviews with hundreds of executives, The Adaptation Advantage explains the profound changes happening in the world of work and posits the solution: new ways to think about careers that detach our sense of pride and personal identity from our job title, and connect it to our sense of purpose. Activating purpose, the authors suggest, will inherently motivate learning, engagement, empowerment, and lead to new forms of pride and identity throughout the workforce. Only when we let go of our rigid career identities can we embrace and appreciate the joys of learning and adapting to new realities--and help our organizations do the same.

Of course, making this transition is hard. It requires leaders who can attract and motivate cognitively diverse teams fueled by a strong sense of purpose in an environment of psychological safety--despite fierce competition and external pressures. Adapting to the future of work has always called for strong leadership. Now, as a pandemic disrupts so many aspects of work, adapting is a leadership imperative. The Adaptation Advantage is an essential guide to help leaders meet that challenge.

Disrupt Together: How Teams Consistently Innovateby Heather McGowan

Disrupt Together: How Teams Consistently Innovate

by Heather McGowan

Heather McGowan
Featured Reviews

Heather McGowan
Featured Articles & Resources

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