HEATHER MCGOWAN

4IR.org TRANSDISCIPLINARITY SKILLS COACH

I am Heather McGowan your 4IR.org Transdisciplinary Skills Coach. I like to look out further on the horizon line connecting dots and spanning domains. Come along….

My own career journey and “what I do for a living” is often hard for folks to grasp. It all started with the selecting Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) to pursue an undergraduate major because it offered study in liberal arts at Brown University as well. I could not decide between psychology (behavior) and design (at this early stage I was only aware of the fields of architecture and graphic design). I stumbled on the field of industrial design, the study of creation of anything (product, service, experience) produced at scale. It turns out that industrial design is the ideal foundation for a transdisciplinary career as it is essentially a non-discipline discipline that relies on the expertise of others and the translation of their disciplinary lenses to create the whole.

I started my professional career designing baby products and then athletic footwear and then medical products. After repeated inquiries about the business aspects of the challenges for which I was designing solutions, it was suggested that I pursue an MBA with a focus on marketing so I could further domain span. Post MBA (Babson College with a focus on Entrepreneurship and Finance)  I found myself more interested in going further afield than marketing working in socially responsible investing attempting to build a private stock exchange for equities valued for their social and environmental resilience, not just their pure financial profit.  A fabulous learning experience.

From there a series of lunch meetings resulted in engagements from re-building The Center for Design and Business at RISD, creating the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering, and Commerce at Philadelphia University (now Jefferson University), establishing the Agile Mindset institutional ethos at Becker College, multiple corporate engagements from Autodesk to Hot Chalk (Ed Tech Startup funded by Bertelssmann)  to BD Medical, and international keynote addresses on the Future of Work from Shanghai, China to Sydney, Australia to Berlin, Germany and all across the U.S. where I am most often based.

I believe we will all be better and happier professionals when we ditch the boxes we have placed ourselves in and begin with more inquiry than answers. Allegedly, Einstein said “If I had an hour to solve a problem I would spend 55 minutes defining it.” Whether he said that or not, I am not sure but I certainly subscribe to a similar formula of more questions before answers.

I include photos of my family and, in particular my nieces, for a few reasons. I was raised in a socially engaged family of interracially adopted siblings that afforded me an immediate global world view. Such a world view does not leave one with simple answers but more complex questions. I do not have children myself but I am a multiple times over godmother and highly engaged aunt because I think children can be our best teachers. They do not know what disciplinary is until we limit them with that view, their favorite word is “why”, and they do not see limits, only possibilities– always charging further out into the “what if” unknown.. I try to keep company with them as much as possible so I can retain my wonder.

I don’t measure my life on what I have done or earned but rather by what I learn and in that sense my life is full of endless abundance. I live between Massachusetts (Boston area and Provincetown) and NYC with my wife Pat and my beloved dog Zippy to whom I report…

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