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

      Future-of-work strategist, keynote speaker, thought leader, researcher, and author Heather E McGowan is one of the leading voices on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. McGowan is a sense maker, a dot connector, a deep thinker, and a pattern matcher who sees things that others miss on the topics of future of work, diversity, equity and inclusion, empowerment, engagement, retention and culture. 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.

      Her groundbreaking approach to the future of work and learning has made employees more fulfilled and innovative, leaders more potent and empathetic, and businesses more effective at reaching their goals in a rapidly evolving market.

      Her message is never more powerful than when she’s onstage as your keynote speaker, where her no-nonsense approach creates a fundamental mindset shift across the audience leaving them both transformed in their thinking and clear in their path of action.

    Heather E. McGowan Speaking Videos

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    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.

    The Empathy Advantage: 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 RUPT (Rapid, Unpredictable, Paradoxical, and Tangled) 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 inspirational overview of the post pandemic world comprising an empowered and engaged workforce.


    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 value, 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.

    Creating High Performing Teams without Burnout

    Organizational leaders have far more influence over those they lead and manage than previously understood, recent research shows. The results-oriented management approach that drives productivity at the expense of workers’ mental health and safety reaches far beyond the workplace. In fact, leadership styles can affect the lives and futures of workers’ children.

    A series of recent studies show that leader behavior is impacting society not just in business performance outcomes, but through the daily lives of workers and their children. It is fair to conclude that how one leads today will fundamentally affect the workforce of future generations. Given the magnitude of this impact, we must think differently about leadership. A more empathetic leadership style best serves companies, communities, societies and the formation of the next generation workforce.

    In this talk Heather will share highlights from various studies on the impact of leadership on both mental health, thriving, and performance to help organizations attract, nurture, and retain leaders that create high performing teams without burn out.

    Leveraging the Power of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

    The only thing evolving more quickly than technology is societal and cultural change. Demographic change has long been in bloom, but social and cultural norms are now rapidly shifting with marked changes in gender and sexuality identity, not to mention a broadening of the landscape of diversity.

    While diversity once included primarily binary gender, race, and culture, it now includes neurodiversity, cognitive diversity, age, as well as a long-overdue focus on class and social mobility. Social unrest has moved these long-overdue efforts on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging to the forefront, requiring more of our leaders.

    Leaders today must empathize both with individuals in underrepresented categories as well as those navigating these shifts to create effective teams that can learn, adapt, and create new value. When the inside of your organization, at every level, looks like the markets you seek to serve you are leveraging the power of DEIB.

    Do Not Fear ChatGPT: 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. Humans have an unmatched ability to learn and adapt from living in climates previously uninhabitable to creating tools that can, at first blush, seem to outperform our abilities.

    Consider the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) released about fifty years ago. When ATMs became widespread it was assumed the position of bank tellers would be outsourced to history when, in fact, the position of bank teller has grown continuously and slightly faster than the labor force as a whole. While tellers required per branch location declined, the demand for branch locations increased and along with it the demand for bank tellers.

    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, notably our ability to learn and adapt to emerging technologies. In this talk, Heather will share how the forces of atomization (jobs broken into job fragments addressable by outsourcing), automation (robots, process automation, etc.) and augmentation (humans leveraging technology to extend their potential) will work in concert constantly changing but not replacing human cognitive and physical labor.

    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 individual and organizational capacity and being mindful of the wellbeing of their people.

    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

    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.


    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


    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 is my go-to -person because there are a lot of mirages out there when it comes to the Future of Work and she is the oasis. She is the real deal. Her ability to convey information in both words and visuals together are really powerful.”
    – Thomas L Friedman, Columnist, New York Times + Pulitzer Prize Winner Author

    “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

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    Books by Heather E. McGowan:

    The Empathy Advantage: Leading the Empowered Workforce

    In the decade before the Covid-19 pandemic, change was coming so quickly and across so many vectors that most business leaders – so busy tackling one new challenge after another – missed the trendlines that would collide in the early months of 2020 and forever change their workforce and how they lead it for generations to come.

    In The Empathy Advantage: Leading the Empowered Workforce, Heather E. McGowan and Chris Shipley team up again to deliver a guidebook for leaders navigating the uncertainty of a post pandemic world in a sequel to their successful book The Adaptation Advantage. Leaders today must acknowledge and respond to the fundamental shifts that lay the foundation for effective leadership: From managing people to enabling success, from viewing peers as competitors to seeing them as collaborators, from applying extrinsic pressure on workers to unlocking intrinsic motivation, and from driving productivity with unquestioned authority to inspiring value creation by leading with empathy.

    In this book, you will learn about the five interlocking trends that brought us the empowered workforce: The Great Resignation, the Great Refusal, the Great Reshuffle, the Great Retirement, and the Great Relocation collectively delivered the Great Reset. These trends, building for a decade prior to the pandemic, saw employees leading jobs; restructuring where and how they work, accelerating retirement, and reordering the role of work in their lives.

    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.

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