Heather E. McGowan Profile

  • Ranked as LinkedIn’s “Number One Voice Globally for Education,” McGowan helps business and academic leaders to prepare their people for the major shifts shaping the way we work.

  • One of the architects of the Agile Mindset learning framework at Becker College, McGowan is a leading specialist in how to develop learning agility.

  • Sought world-wide for her insights on the future of work and education, McGowan has recently presented at the Mackinaw Policy Summit, the World Bank (3x), OEB Educational Summit in Berlin, and AMP Financial Services in Australia.
  • Globally-known futurist Heather McGowan helps business and academic leaders prepare their people and organizations for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The sought-out speaker, writer, and consultant specializes in learning agility, a skill-set that’s indispensable for success in future markets.

    Ranked as LinkedIn’s “Number One Voice Globally for Education”, McGowan’s clients range from startups to Fortune 500s like Autodesk and BD Medical. She and Chris Shipley are co-founders of Work to Learn, a consulting agency dedicated to helping businesses and educational institutes organize for a better future of work.

    McGowan has spoken about the future of work and learning across the world. Some of her recent appearances include presentations at the Mackinaw Policy Summit, World Bank (three times), OEB Educational Summit in Berlin, AMP Financial Services in Australia, Lead In HR Summit in Shanghai China, and XQ Institute (founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs.

    Prior to forming Work to Learn, McGowen served as the architect of the first undergraduate college explicitly focused on innovation, the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering, and Commerce at Philadelphia University. Additionally, she was one of the principal crafters of the Agile Mindset learning framework at Becker College.

    McGowan is the co-author and co-editor of the book, Disrupt Together: How Teams Consistently Innovate. While her articles are primarily featured on LinkedIn, her work has been cited by The New York Times, Forbes, and Inc.. Currently, she is working on a book focused on the future of work and learning.

    • View Extended/Alternate Bio

      Recognized as the 2017 #1 Global Voice for Education on LinkedIn media network, Heather McGowan is an internationally known speaker, writer and thought leader. McGowan prepares leaders to most-effectively react to rapid and disruptive changes in education, work, and society.

      As an innovation strategist, Heather has worked with diverse teams to address these challenges. Recognizing that business innovation begins with education, specifically learning faster than your competition, she has worked with university presidents and corporate human resources managers to prepare both graduates and workers for jobs that do not yet exist. She was the strategic architect of the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering, and Commerce at Philadelphia University (now Jefferson),the first undergraduate college explicitly focused on innovation. At Becker College, she crafted the Agile Mindset learning framework used to prepare students to work in an uncertain future.

      She assists corporate executives in rethinking their business models, teams, and organizational structures to become resilient in changing markets. Her corporate clients range from start-ups to publicly traded, Fortune 500 companies, including Autodesk and BD Medical. Often quoted in the media, notably by NYT columnist Thomas L Friedmanfor her thought leadership in the Future of Work, McGowan also serves on the advisory board for Sparks & Honey, a New York-based culture focused agency focused on the future for brands. Links: LinkedIn Profile and WorkToLearn Website. Heather is a highly sought after keynote speaker with recent engagements for: The World Bank (DC), AMP Financial Services (Australia), LeadIn HR (China), as well as many corporate and educational clients in the United States.

    Heather E. McGowan Speaking Videos

    Bring Heather E. McGowan to Speak Live at Your Event


    Check Speaker Availability

    Heather E. McGowan's Speech Descriptions

    Internationally known speaker, consultant, and thought leader, Heather McGowan helps audiences understand how growing technological changes are influencing the way we learn and work, and how we can better prepare for the coming shifts. Hooking the audience with highly visual presentations, she illustrates why the present and coming transformations are nothing like what we’ve experienced in the past and how the future well being of our society hinges on evolving our mentality towards jobs and education.

    All talks are customized to the audience and may include many of the following elements with greater or lesser emphasis depending on the client need. Talk content is continually evolving so please contact us to discuss your specific need. All content is custom and talks can be configured as keynotes in 20-40 minute increments, shorter provocations at 15 minutes to catalyze panel discussions, and/or fodder spread out with exercises as part of a facilitation or short workshop.

    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.

    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. 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 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, 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 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.

    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 (as illustrated by 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.

    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. Further, if we must learn and adapt our longer and more volatile career arcs, we must be comfortable with being vulnerable in order to learn—a profound challenge if one’s identity is under threat. 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. Purpose, passion, and curiosity are the necessary internal motivational drivers we need to fuel the essential lifelong learning and adaption the future of work requires.

    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.

    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 4th quarter 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 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.

    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 hyperconnected 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.

    Heather E. McGowan on Speaking

    I want people to leave my talks empowered that they can play a role in unleashing the potential of humanity.

    SPEAKING.COM: What do you want people to learn / take away from your presentations?

    MCGOWAN: I want people to be inspired that they are in control of their own destiny. I want to stop the dystopian fear of technology and engage more folks in thoughtful planning about our future.

    In my lifetime we have dramatically reduced global poverty, productively increased global literacy, and last spring, after less than 25 years, we have connected more than half the globe online. If we can make these strives in a single lifetime, imagine what we can do as we have an ever-expanding arsenal of technology tools at our disposal?

    We do, however, need to shift our thinking. In order to thrive we need to think differently about how we engage with work and how we think about learning—two big mindset shifts. I want people to leave my talks empowered that they can play a role in unleashing the potential of humanity.

    SPEAKING.COM: What kind of special prep work do you do prior to an event? How to you prepare for your speaking engagements?

    MCGOWAN: I begin by understanding the host entity and their goals. Every talk I make is bespoke and customized to the audience’s needs on that particular moment in time. So I begin by learning and sorting through my inventory of thought pillars and shaping the story to the audience. I usually have at minimum one phone call with the host stakeholders where I interview them to better understand their needs beyond my secondary initial research.

    Stop waiting for Amazon or any other company to come save you. The third industrial revolution obliterated one-company towns and the fourth is not going to bring them back. You need to think differently about your region, your resources, and how you are going to rebuild.

    SPEAKING.COM: Have you had any particularly memorable speaking engagements / unusual situations arise while on the road?

    MCGOWAN: I spoke at an event comprised of individual stakeholders from a struggling city. The stakeholders were lamenting because they had not been selected as a finalist for Amazon HQ2. I sensed their frustration and listened to their reasoning.

    After a few conversations with stakeholders prior to my presentation I decided to make a declaration at the start of my talk. I said, “Stop waiting for Amazon or any other company to come save you. The third industrial revolution obliterated one-company towns and the fourth is not going to bring them back. You need to think differently about your region, your resources, and how you are going to rebuild. You have tremendous potential. Stop waiting for someone else; save yourself”.

    I think it was the first time I ever received a booming round of applause before I spoke. It was a gamble but I sensed that the stakeholders needed to be liberated from the company bake-offs to forge their own path. I received four follow-on speaking requests immediately following that talk. Sometimes you just have to say it.

    SPEAKING.COM: What types of audiences would most benefit from your message?

    MCGOWAN: Anyone who works can benefit from my message but I find those who are most engaged fall into one of a few categories: executive leadership, senior-level human resources or learning development professionals, strategic executives, and enlightened higher education leaders, particularly university presidents. I do find that, no matter what audience I speak with, someone will ask their question from their own parental perspective with concern for their own children’s future.

    SPEAKING.COM: Which of your keynote speaking topics are your favorites and why?

    MCGOWAN: Speaking about the future of work in all forms is fun for me as it brings a rich discussion of human potential. This is the future we can create together. From my research combined with what I have experienced, I am a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist. I believe we will ultimately unleash the potential of humanity by leveraging technologies to augment human capabilities and that is why I am optimistic. I am pessimistic because I do not see us shifting quickly enough to make the necessary changes to truly thrive and realize our potential.

    SPEAKING.COM: What inspired you to start doing speaking engagements?

    MCGOWAN: I was working in both academia (by accident) and industry as a consultant. My undergrad degree is in industrial design (design thinking before the term existed) and my masters is an MBA with a focus on entrepreneurship. I found myself using visuals from design and business concepts to help people around me understand changes either taking place or changes we needed to make.

    After a decade of this type of translation work I wrote a blog series on LinkedIn called “Jobs Are Over: The Future is Income Generation”. That series went viral and I began getting speaking requests from folks all over the world asking me to deliver facets of that message in a talk. One talk led to another and so on until today where I make almost my entire income from speaking engagements all over the world for which I am very fortunate.

    You can learn something from a story as it is resolved and offers reflection. A narrative is unresolved and it is a call to action that can only be completed when you engage in the resolution. I strive to make my talks include both story and narrative.

    SPEAKING.COM: How much do case studies, personal stories and/or humor factor into your keynote speech content?

    MCGOWAN: Examples, personal stories, and humor always help. A couple of decades ago I took a year of training at Second City in Chicago. At the time I did it to increase my speed and breadth of ideation for design work but it has served me well to increase my adaptability.

    I suggest improvisational training as part of a core curriculum in the future. Humor and storytelling help with engagement and recall. John Hagel of Deloitte says that story and narrative are related but different concepts. You can learn something from a story as it is resolved and offers reflection. A narrative is unresolved and it is a call to action that can only be completed when you engage in the resolution. I strive to make my talks include both story and narrative.

    SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the successes you’ve helped clients make?

    MCGOWAN: My friend and mentor, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, likens his work writing and speaking to being in the heating and lighting business. He believes a successful communication evokes passion (heat) or insight and illumination (light). I have found several instances where people leave my talks with comments such as “I did not see it that way before.” One of my favorites is “All I have heard and read about the future of work is dystopian, but leaving your talk I feel optimistic and I am excited about the future.” Exclusive Interview with Heather E. McGowan
    How to Adapt to the Radically Changing Workplace, with Heather McGowan
    In this exclusive interview, future of work and education speaker, Heather McGowan discusses:
    • The new career model of the 21st century and how it affects businesses, workers, and schools
    • The skills you need to succeed in the coming job market
    • Reinventing the tertiary education system
    Read the Full Interview

    "In the third industrial revolution education was analogous to downloading a single function application that was sufficient for your career arc. Now the change rate is faster while the career arc is longer so you need to focus on the underlying operating system and its ability to run many applications—because that is the future of work—learning and adapting through many work experiences."
    - Heather E. McGowan

    What People are Saying about Seeing Heather Speak

    Rating Entries

    I was fortunate to hear Heather speak at the Innovation in the “Age of Accelerations” Forum. She is an amazing communicator and a driving force, inspiring new relevant perspectives. Her presentation is a “must see” by leaders across government, academia, and industry who should be preparing our society for the future of work and the future of learning...the future of work is learning!


    In a world where we are drowning in information, clarity is power. Many add to the noise and the fears about the future of work; but Heather has done the homework, the thinking and crafted the vision for adapting with supreme clarity. She has been a lone voice tackling this subject with original thinking and substance when I first discovered her blog and invited her to speak in Australia in June 2015, and since then she’s been sought out by the smartest institutions in the world to help everyone from presidents to policy-makers to high school kids understand complex and interconnected trends, and best options, through her amazing and original diagrams. Her straight talk and clear insights will hit the top ratings at your event - guaranteed.


    I have been fortunate to hear Heather speak on a number of occasions. Each time I've been impressed with the level of knowledge she brings to her subject matter. Many speakers rehash topics that been discussed. Heather on the other researches her topics and always has a fresh cutting-edge perspective to offer. She also presents her information not only verbally, but also backed with easy to understand visuals that illustrate her point of view. This multi-modal approach to her delivery engages her audience, appeal to different types of learners, and conveys often sophisticated, high level info in a more understandable and digestible format.


    Heather is a great speaker. She is engaging and presents information in a creative way that audiences really react to. Heather presented to a large group of my clients and the response was entirely positive. The clients followed up with questions such as whether or not she had written a book they could buy and if they could see her anywhere else in person or online.

    She offers great insight into the future of work and how we should look at talent from an employer and employee perspective.


    Heather McGowan is a smart, insightful, original and relatable speaker. Her talks are packed with original thought, clearly explained. And unlike so many in-demand speakers, she tunes each talk to the audience so that every talk is fresh. Heather brings a learning mindset to her participation, understanding that she can learn from other speakers, and reference their material in her talk so that her addresses bring a cohesiveness to the entire program.


    Heather is engaging, inspiring, thought-provoking . She has an ability to make extremely complex subjects simple through her brilliant graphs and explanations. It was a real treat having her present at our big innovation forum


    We were delighted to have Heather kick off our global summit on the Future of Work. Heather not only brings a unique and compelling perspective that is based on her deep research, experience and thinking, but she uniquely delivers it in a way that is both engaging and authentic. She 'simplifies the complex' with stories and visuals that leave people feeling empowered to become adaptable, lifelong learners. As we learned from Heather, 'the future of work is learning'!


    I had the pleasure of hearing Heather's authentic voice at Work Rebooted. Amazingly smart and intuitive, Heather has an uncanny ability to help an audience visualize the complete interdependencies influencing the way we learn, work and live so we can better prepare for the coming technology-driven shifts. As a summit curator, I found her to be a real pleasure to work with and highly regarded among her peers and those involved in shaping the future of work.


    Heather has positioned herself on the front line of the battle as it relates to the future of employment trends. She has a unique ability to pull out the key numbers and visualize so that others can understand these complex situations in a simpler manner. Heather's presentation visuals combined with her insight hit hard at the challenges in the workplace.

    Heather is highly skilled at reading economic indicators as they relate to the employment tea leaves, Heather's focus on how work is being outsourced to automation, and what individuals and employers need to do to ensure future income generation for both the corporation and the individual.

    During her presentations, Heather's hidden competency is her ability to ask questions to entice outside the norm dialogues, along with just listening to let others uncover what they really are considering or concerned about. Audience leave her presentations pondering how to be better prepared for the future, and know they are not alone in the challenge.


    “Heather provided the spark, the insights, and the energy to move our HR team forward. Her talk had something for everyone on our team, from our centers of excellence to our HR partners, from our leaders to our operations team, from our learning team to our compensation group. In particular, her discussion of the future of work and the importance of learning at the heart of organizational life really hit home for all of us.”
    — Robin Pelzman, Biogen

    “Heather has a mind that can hold so much complexity yet combined with her rare gift of making these complex and highly emotive ideas so clear and accessible through her visualizations, models and straight talk – no academic or corporate jargon…just relatable facts, insights and powerful stories and metaphors. No-one can paint the picture of the Future of Work as vividly as Heather McGowan!”
    — Annalie Killian, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at sparks + honey

    “In the war for talent, organizations must be able to offer employees a path that goes beyond typical career progression. Heather presents a compelling and thought provoking vision that focuses on lifelong learning and adaptability for employees, which the pace of technological change essentially requires. Her analysis is comprehensive, yet easily understood. She distills it into actionable steps to help organizations move towards creating an environment in which employees and organizations mutually benefit and are well positioned for an uncertain future.”
    — Charles Moore, Managing Director, Alvarez and Marsal

    “Heather is an academic entrepreneur and visionary. She represents a new generation of thought leaders in higher education.”
    — Robert. E. Johnson, PhD, Chancellor University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

    “Heather has the unique ability to synthesize and intellectualize large amounts of often-disparate data into a cohesive, clear, and actionable strategy while identifying and addressing the inevitable hurdles or challenges in any endeavor. As a university president, entrepreneur, and board member, I have never ever seen anyone better than Heather at demystifying complex information to provide a path to action. “
    — Stephen Spinelli, Jr, PhD, Chancellor Emeritus, Jefferson University

    “I was fortunate to hear Heather speak at the Innovation in the ‘Age of Accelerations’ Forum. She is an amazing communicator and a driving force, inspiring new relevant perspectives. Her presentation is a “must see” by leaders across government, academia, and industry who should be preparing our society for the future of work and the future of learning…the future of work is learning!”
    — James Johnson,
    Executive Director Air Force Human Resilience (Major General) United States Airforce

    “In a world where speakers claim to be experts, Heather is a genuine expert who can speak.”
    — Peter Sheahan, Group CEO, Karrikins Group

    “Heather is in a category of her own—a singularly gifted strategist. She sees the future and communicates it with clarity so others can drive change that matters. Her messages cut through the clutter and offer compelling visualizations that enable her audiences to deeply understand complex topics—and act with impact.”
    — Randy Swearer, VP, Autodesk

    Have You Seen this Speaker? Leave a Star Rating.

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Books by Heather E. McGowan:

    The Adaptation Advantage: Let Go, Learn Fast, and Thrive in the Future of Work

    The way we work is always changing. This has been particularly true in the 21st century. Digital transformation has disrupted virtually all industries and yielded major shifts in the nature of employment. Unfortunately , not everyone has kept up with the changing times. A rigid focus on outdated models of employment and education has prevented some from thriving in today’s economy.

    That doesn’t need to be the case! In The Adaptation Advantage, authors Heather E. McGowan and Chris Shipley explain how both individuals and organizations can succeed despite constant change. Leveraging decades of expertise, McGowan and Shipley offer an empowering alternative to the bleak messages often spread when people consider the future of employment.

    Economic and social shifts are unavoidable. With the lessons found in The Adaptation Advantage, you’ll learn to ride these waves, ensuring continued success for years to come.

    Disrupt Together

    Spinelli and McGowan integrate a broad network of international leaders on innovation to demonstrate the tight linkages between innovation and opportunity recognition. Building on the award winning Philadelphia University curriculum redesign that is reshaping how innovation is taught worldwide, these experts highlight how to identify relevant opportunities more effectively than ever before. The team covers every facet of innovation, including design processes, team development, ethnography, audits and charrettes, opportunity shaping and assessment, business models, value delivery, systems thinking, and more. Master the art of innovation in teams! Disrupt Together introduces a breakthrough transdisciplinary, team-based approach to innovation that integrates business, design and engineering, and can deliver powerful results for both new ventures and existing companies with case study examples from education, healthcare, branding, and consumer product and service design. The book will serve as the definitive companion text for a growing number of innovation and entrepreneurship programs that either follow the Philadelphia University model or have been influenced by it. This guide will also be an indispensable resource for every business practitioner seeking to build innovative new organizations or reinvigorate innovation in existing firms.

    Related Speakers


    Need help filling the seats at your next meeting / event?

    Call us / email us / check availability and fee for your favorite speaker.

    Get in touch
    Call us: (760) 656-8770
    Toll free in the US: (877) 717-5327