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

It is often hard for people to grasp “what I do for a living.”  My career journey started when I opted to attend Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) for my undergraduate program because it allowed me to study liberal arts at Brown University, too. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to study psychology (behavior) or design (which at that stage in my life meant architecture and graphic design). I stumbled into the field of industrial design, the study of creating anything (product, service, experience) produced at scale. It turns out that industrial design is the ideal foundation for a transdisciplinary career because it is essentially a non-discipline discipline that relies on the expertise of others and the translation of their disciplinary views to create the whole.

I began my professional career designing baby products, then athletic footwear, and then medical products. I asked so much about the business aspects of the design challenges I had been given, that my mangers recommended I pursue an MBA with a focus on marketing. That way, they reasoned, I could expand the scope of my domain. I got an MBA (Babson College with a focus on Entrepreneurship and Finance) and found my interests migrating from marketing to the field of socially responsible investing. I wanted to build a private stock exchange for equities that could be valued for their social and environmental resilience, not just their pure financial profit.  It was a fabulous learning experience.

series of lunch meetings led me to a series of consulting engagements 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; and a number of engagements with corporate clients, including Autodesk, Hot Chalk (Ed Tech Startup funded by Bertelssmann), and BD Medical. As a result of this consulting work, I’m often called on to give keynote addresses on the Future of Work across the world, 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 that often define us and begin to ask more questions than we can easily answer.  Albert Einstein reportedly once 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 embrace that advice.

I’ve included photos of my family and, in particular my nieces with my profile for a few reasons. I was raised in a socially-engaged family of inter-racial adopted siblings and that afforded me an immediate global world view, one that left me with no simple answers and many complex questions. I do not have children of my own, but I am a godmother to many others’ kids and an engaged aunt because I think children can be our best teachers. They do not know what a “discipline” is until we limit their world view. Their favorite word is “why”. They do not see limits, only possibilities– always charging further out into the “what if” unknown. Keeping company with children helps me retain my own sense of wonder.

I don’t measure my life on what I have done or earned but rather by what I learn. That measure of life is 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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