Permission to thrive: work’s future

by The TogetherDigital Team

S3 E01

Permission To Thrive: Work’s Future

Dive into the future of work and leadership. Uncover insights on values, trust, and professional evolution in this empowering event.

Tamkea Vasquez

Founder & Principal, 
The Future Quo

About Tamkea
Tameka Vasquez is a social futurist, foresight strategist, professor, and speaker. She is the Founder & Principal of The Future Quo, an incubation partner for organizations focusing on designing better futures. Currently, Tameka is Associate Faculty for the Future of Work course at Columbia University and an Ambassador for the Better Arguments Project by The Aspen Institute. Prior to her current roles, she spent over 12 years as a marketing strategist, including being the first head of marketing for Sidewalk Labs, a Google unit focused on urban innovation and sustainability.

 

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The meeting featured a conversation between Amy Vaughan, Chief Empowerment Officer at Together Digital, and Tameka Vasquez, founder of The Future Quill, about the future of work. Tameka discussed her journey from the tech industry to becoming a social futurist, emphasizing the importance of understanding societal impact and the human experience in shaping the future of work. The conversation delved into the evolving identity of work and the overlap across generations, as well as the skills and qualities required for roles in foresight strategy and social futurism. Additionally, the discussion explored the shift towards authentic aspects of the human experience in professional spaces and the positive changes that softness and compassion can bring to the workplace.

The conversation also touched on the convergence of roles across different sectors in society, envisioning a future where organizations play a larger societal role beyond traditional profit-driven or non-profit distinctions. Tameka and Amy engaged in a discussion about the necessity of breaking down silos to promote collaboration and diversity of thought. They also addressed a thought-provoking comment from a listener regarding the historical roots of American capitalism and the impact on work culture. The discussion underscored the importance of navigating change and designing a better future at both individual and organizational levels.

Tameka Vasquez challenged the traditional notion of the future as a distant destination, instead framing it as a space and a story that is continuously shaped by daily contributions. She stressed the need for organizations to shift their focus towards the inputs as much as the outcomes, advocating for a culture of co-creation and intentional contribution to the future. Tameka also delved into the Better Arguments Project at the Aspen Institute, underscoring the need for improved communication and discourse in various sectors, including government, academia, and religious institutions. She emphasized the role of effective communication in shaping the future of work and fostering positive change.

Finally, Tameka Vasquez reflected on her experience as the head of marketing for Sidewalk Labs at Google, emphasizing the complexities of urban innovation and sustainability. She discussed the need to embrace complexity, balance long-term vision with tangible steps, and build trust through highlighting achievements to engage diverse stakeholders. Tameka underscored the importance of considering divergent viewpoints and creating a compelling narrative about the future of cities, while also addressing immediate, tangible steps that impact people’s everyday lives.

Key Questions

  • What led you to dive into the area of the future of work?
  • What are some other skills needed for those interested in social futurism and foresight strategy?
  • What are some trends that you foresee having the most significant impact on the future of work?
  • What are some key elements organizations need to consider when designing a radically better future for people?

Key Takeaways

  • Continue to look at how you can “Double Click” on what is happening in society
  • Invest in mental, physical, and emotional well-being
  • Foster a curious mindset
  • Reevaluate organizational mission and initiatives
  • Consider the role of technological advancement and usage beyond productivity or efficiency

Amy Vaughan
And welcome to our weekly power lounge. This is your place to hear authentic conversations from those who have power to share. My name is Amy Vaughan and I am the owner and chief empowerment officer of Together Digital, a diverse and collaborative community of women who choose to share their knowledge, power, and connections. Join the movement at WWW.Togetherindigital.com today, we’re diving deep into the future of work with our remarkable guest, Tamika Vasquez, founder of The Future Quo. Tameka is a social futurist, foresight strategist, professor, and speaker. But before we unravel the future of work, let’s get to know our guest a little better. Tamika Vasquez is currently the founder and principal of The Future Quo, an incubation partner for organizations committed to designing radically better futures for people and our planet. Tameka is also an associate faculty for the Future of Work course at Columbia University, bringing her expertise to the next generation of leaders. Additionally, she serves as an ambassador for the Better Arguments Project, a civics initiative led by the Aspen Institute. Before launching The Future Quo, Tameka spent over 12 years as a marketing strategist, leading brands and growth programs for global technology startups and enterprises. Her last role was the head of marketing for Sidewalk Labs, an urban innovation and sustainability unit at Google. Welcome, Tameka. We’re so excited to have you here with us today.

Takema Vasquez
Hey, everybody. Thank you so much.

Amy Vaughan
Of course, of course, we’ve got a lot of good stuff to get into today. We’ve got some great questions here for you, but then we’re also looking forward to hopefully some commentary and questions from our live listening audience that we have with us today as well. But Tameka, let’s start with a little bit about your, more on your background, because you’ve got such a rich and interesting background and, you know, title, I would say, as a social future sorry, social futurist and foresight strategist. What led you to dive into this area that is the future of work? And how has this journey helped to shape your perspective?

Takema Vasquez
Yeah, it’s, I think, so interesting and meandering and all of that. But I would say primarily because I set out after undergrad to be a journalist. So I have this kind of natural curiosity, you know, I’m the person that’s like driving over the bridge and I’m like, how did they build the bridge? Or, you know, I’m just like naturally always curious about how things come to be, why things are the way they are, how we’ve evolved as people. And so I think when you take that sort of mind, and I didn’t become a journalist, right, so I ended up working in the tech industry. So when you take that sort of personality and that instinct, and you put it in an industry like the technology industry, I think it just becomes this thing where you just have so much to grapple with and so much to consider. And at the same time, your job, my job was to be a strategist, was to be a marketer and to think about ways that I can bring products and services to the marketplace. But I think for me, while you’re doing that, what happens is if you’re paying attention, you’re also seeing in real time the effects that that takes on society. And sometimes it’s not immediately obvious, But you can start to kind of get a sense of, is this good? Is this bad? Is this, you know, is this something that we want? Is this something that’s just shiny and cool? You kind of just have like a little bit of a closer perspective, I would say, working in an industry like that. So I think for me in the season that I’m in now, in this chapter of launching my practice called The Future Quo, So for me, it was just like a natural evolution at that point to look a little bit more at how can I double click on what is happening in society. And it’s interesting because, you know, obviously I’m alive and I’m living through it the same time as everybody else. So I’m certainly not an expert in what is happening in the world the same way that we’re all sort of just spectating and trying to figure things out. But for me, I think I see, I’m excited by just how much opportunity there is to not just be a student and sort of a spectator of what’s happening, but to sort of be the kind of person that wants to more directly spearhead where we can and should go. And so, you know, I think I, I am interested in tech. I continue to be interested in tech, but I’m certainly also burnt out by just the volatility and the pace of change. And so I’m not really interested in moving and shaking and disrupting for the sake of it. I want to understand why, I wanna be intentional, I wanna help people figure out ways that we can shape life for the better. And yeah, I think all of that is sort of rooted in this whole notion of the future of work because work isn’t just work anymore. It’s not just the thing you do for a paycheck for many of us, it’s core to our identity, it forges a lot of our social connections and so, I think a conversation about the future, a conversation about work, all of that stuff becomes pretty deeply intertwined.

Amy Vaughan
It really does, you make such a great point over the years, and I know you do, we’ll get to it more too, but cross generationally speaking, you know, I think those of us in the last several decades, you know, I would say, you know, Gen X actually even up, we have such overlapping sense of identity with work. But there was a time when in which our grandparents, our great grandparents, like your identity was not the work that you did. And now you can’t walk into a room and a social gathering and not be asked, what do you do? At least not in American culture. So I think there is a lot of interesting kind of evolution and overlap there. And I think it’s really great that you’re being aware. I’m gonna ask a follow-up question to that because I think what you’re doing is so interesting. And for those who might be interested in kind of foraying into this kind of a space, you talked a lot about like, You know double clicking on society you don’t seem like a passive person you don’t just observe things and let things go by you actually observe what’s happening around you what are some other skills would you say for anyone that wants to get into. Work that that kind of doesn’t you know for sites strategy or social futurists.

Takema Vasquez
I think what’s interesting about it is like, The technical skills, if you will, are no different than the skills that you would need as a strategist, right? So you have to sort of be analytical in nature, good at looking at sort of data from a variety of sources and just trying to understand like, is this just noise or is this actually signaling what is actually changing around me? Is this something that I need to pay attention to for the sake of the industry that I’m in. So a lot of the technical components of what you’re doing is deeper analysis. It’s trying to identify points of departure potentially or areas for innovation and things like that. But I think what’s interesting for me is the reason I call myself a social futurist is because I wanna make it very abundantly clear that like when all is said and done, the thing I care most about is not just what’s happening around us, but what’s happening like within us. And so from that perspective, I think the skills you need are very much rooted in, you know, the classes we all had to take in high school, you know, history and communications and just being able to, you know, understand and incorporate elements of psychology or sociology. You know, I think like the social sciences in general have become significantly less cool over the years, but I am here for like the uprising of all the social scientists all over again, because I truly think those are the skills, you know, the cultural intelligence that you need to have to not just look at data at surface level, but to be able to apply some level of meaning to, you know, what does this mean for us as people? What does this mean for, you know, how the city I live in may evolve or how this demographic that I’m a part of may react? I think that intelligence that comes from just having deep empathy, having cultural sensitivity, like those are some of the skills that we don’t necessarily, you know, boast about, but I think those are the skills that certainly differentiate you in this profession.

Amy Vaughan
I agree, yeah. Anything that can help us make us all realize how much, how human we are, especially when in the age of where we’ve got a lot of AI and technology kind of becoming more pervasive. Let’s stick into that a little bit more though and discuss the shift towards the authentic aspects of the human experience, especially in professional spaces, which is kind of what you started to allude to there. So it’s such a nice lead into this next question, which is how do you see things like softness and compassion impacting the workplace and what positive changes can they bring?

Takema Vasquez
Yeah, I love this question. I think, you know, one thing if you guys get to know me beyond this podcast, you’ll learn I always sort of zoom out and then I zoom back in. And so my zoom out is, you know, I think a lot about systems design and I think about how that then creates cultural norms and how a lot of the cultural norms that we subscribe to are actually rooted in our ability to survive that system right, so I think something that. Is hard to grapple with, but it is the truth, is that much of the current work world was designed for a very specific reason, right? And that reason, for all intents and purposes, is control, predictability, speed, profits, and things like that. And so when you have our cultural norms be formed around elements like that, What happens is it lays the foundation for people to survive based on certain attributes, right? Like toughness or your resiliency or how competitive you can be, how aggressive you can be. So these traits become synonymous with your work ethic and with your ability to succeed. And again, that’s all rooted in the fact that all intents and purposes, we were trying to survive this sort of system, right? And so when you look at, if you go back into history, the industrial eras that we’ve gone through as a society, you know, you move from farms to factories, from factories to offices, from offices to now being in this sort of like remote kind of cloud world, a lot of it changed, but the elements of what would allow for your survival and your thriving in those environments did not necessarily change. And so, you know, having strict schedules, You know, having hierarchy, having very rigid or standardized processes is part of how organizations and the business world at large has been able to move through these different industrial eras, right? When that hasn’t necessarily evolved too much, then the cultural dynamics don’t evolve too much either. And then I think that just creates this sort of mentality that, you know, there are people, but then there are professionals. And I think that what I’m trying to say is so obvious that I almost feel bad saying it, but professionals are people. And people have holistic needs, and people are not machines, and we’re not neatly binary. So it’s not a this or that. And I think we need nuance, we need fluidity, we need room to stretch and to grow and to just be. And I think a workplace that you know, can at least aspire to softness and compassion, I think would see a lot of the immediate benefits that come with that. And I think one of those immediate benefits is like, honestly, creativity. I don’t know anyone who’s produced anything brilliant by sitting in a cubicle and staring at a box. Like that’s not how we’ve had art and literature and film and all of these amazing things that we’ve produced as a human species. We didn’t do that in this sort of like, rigid environment. It comes from being out in the world. It comes from empathy. It comes from lived experience, being able to express yourself, hopefully without judgment. It comes from being able to embrace perspective, which again, comes from just lived experience. And I think just being able to be yourself. So I think like environments where there is a push for softness, a push for compassion, because it is so counterintuitive to how the business world is set up, I think those organizations will really see just a difference in how people interact in those environments. And I think that in and of itself, I mean, it goes without saying, but it truly does lead to more innovative solutions, more decision-making, more democratic decision-making at that, just better approaches simply because you’re not subscribing people to the status quo. You’re not saying that just because it’s always been this way means it will continue to be this way. And I think that’s also just sort of a more feminine attribute, you know, just, it’s like raising a child. It’s allowing  that child to sort of evolve and become something and, you know, having some rules and some things in place for its protection, but not being in a space where that then prevents that child from blossoming. And I think, you know, it’s the same thing as an organization. These are growing organisms. These are living beings and we’re all contributing to it. So I think the more we’re, allowed to feel, and the more we’re allowed to contribute, who we actually are into that system and into that space I think the better will yield results that’s that’s just something I, I just believe.

Amy Vaughan
Yeah, you can tell that. And I know nobody can, like anyone that’s listening to the podcast right now cannot hear, but if you had all, if I had like rocks in my head for all the head nodding, I just did. You wouldn’t have been able to hear Tameka. Cause I’m like, yes, yes, yes. To all of these things, I think. So we gave such a gift of untangling what has felt like a very kind of large and complex problem. And you’re right. It is the systems that have been established in the ways this is the way we’ve always done it. And I think, you know, businesses, cultures and society in general, we just need to start looking at that and saying, you know what, we’ve evolved over thousands and thousands and thousands of years. Why should we ever stop? Evolving or embracing that. And you’re right, those businesses and companies that do kind of sit and lag are going to find themselves starved for talent and starved for results and those things that they used to depend upon systematically speaking. So I think, yeah, everything you’re saying, I’m like, yes, yes, my head’s nodding so much. Let’s get on to the next question now, because I want to hear more of your brilliance and your foresight work that you’ve been doing. What are some trends that you foresee having the most significant impact on the future of work? And how can organizations be prepared for these shifts if they are in that little bit of a lagging space?

Takema Vasquez
Yeah. I mean, like, I mean, there are so many, my goodness. Um, I think like two things I’m interested in just right now, because they just happen to be top of mind. Um, I started working remotely in 2018, I think so. Couple years before the pandemic and you know remote work has been around for a long time it’s not new but it obviously became a bit more common as a result of the pandemic but you know as a person who was kind of working remotely before that I had to get used to distributed work models you know at a certain point I was managing a team and we lived and worked across four different time zones and like you know, I did that job for two, three years, like you just got accustomed to having to build relationships in that way, having to collaborate in that way. And so I think it’s interesting because even though now it’s so commonplace, it still continues to be a challenge. And I think to the extent that remote work and distributed work continues to persist, I think like one of the things I’m keen on understanding is how are organizations looking at that Obviously, as an opportunity to engage people in different regions of the world, but more so as an opportunity to really like allow for a little bit more of a holistic work life experience. I’m interested in that component because I think like, you know, there’s there’s more to the equation than just like, oh, I can hire talent in other places. It’s also I mean, as you’re speaking to me, you’re looking at my guest room, you know? So it’s like, you’re sort of in my life in this moment because we’re experiencing each other in a different way. And I think there are some ways that obviously that creates challenges, like anything else that’s new, it creates challenges. But I think in other ways, it’s kind of, I think for me, at least, it’s kind of allowed me to drop my shoulders a bit and to just kind of more so be myself simply because you are staring at my house. And there’s something about that that I think allows for people to be a little bit more of themselves and how they may more organically move through the day than if you were getting up at six, having to hop on the train, having to commute to the office. And I just don’t know that that’s necessarily at the forefront of the conversation around remote work, but I certainly see a lot of value in how do you just start to cultivate a more holistic understanding of who your employees are, what their day to day needs are. And you’re not necessarily going to cater to every single thing in every single scenario. But I think just allowing for a bit more flexibility, allowing for people who are mourning people to be mourning people and the folks that are not to be most seductive at the time that they are. Like, I just think that that’s a from a cultural and social layer, you know, we talk so much about the future of work being remote or being distributed. But for me, it’s more like, what does that mean so that we can stop talking about work-life balance? Because clearly that conversation has just not, it’s not landed us in a place where there actually is balance, right? There is no balance. And so I think what people are trying to solve for is can I do this podcast because this is part of my work, this is something I care about, but can I leave now and after this is over, go make breakfast before my next call? Like that fluidity and that flexibility I think is just something that’s really important. The other thing that came to mind I think is something I’ve been thinking about more personally because the nature of the work that I’m doing now. Requires that I am not sector specific. And so I’m working with people in the private sector, large organizations, startups, but I’m also working with people who are in these more like public or social sectors, if you will. So people in academia or people who are running like community organizations and things like that. And so something I’ve been thinking about that I think is potentially a trend is the ways that the roles of these different sectors in society are going to start to converge more and more. Because we’re having conversations with businesses in real time. I’m having these conversations where I’m like, what’s your purpose? And trying to help them understand that there’s a larger societal role that you can absolutely play as an organization. And then simultaneously, you’re having these conversations with non-private sector companies, like companies that are not or organizations that are not rooted in having to make money, for example, they’re nonprofits. And the conversation is like, things like organizational development and other things like that. And so it’s really interesting to me because I think because I am sector agnostic, in my work and in doing foresight, I have to look across all these areas and I’m starting to see the ways that the conversations are actually quite similar. So what could that possibly create for us if those worlds do start to converge? What does that mean in terms of, how we can see the organization that we are part of as not just like, oh, we’re for profit, therefore we must act like this, or we’re nonprofit and therefore we must act like that, but to really look more so at what is the role that you are playing within your industry, within the area of work that you’re doing, you know, within society overall. And are there areas where there could just be, I don’t know, maybe like a larger scale impact? Are there areas for more collaboration across these sectors? So that’s something that I think is just very close to me because of the nature of work, but I do feel like that could create a significant shift in how we do our work because then your work becomes more about, you know, the output and the value that you are creating and less so just like the restriction of, Are you this or that? Are you government? Are you academia? Are you this or that? Cause the roles are gonna start to converge.

Amy Vaughan
I love that, yeah. I love the idea of breaking down silos and creating more collaboration, because that’s going to lead to innovation and hopefully more diversity of thought as well. Yeah, I was never one for silos within roles, companies, or industries. It always kind of bothered me. I’m like, there’s so many commonalities and opportunities for collaboration. It’s like, why would you build artificial walls where there really ought to be none? I love that so much, Tameka. I wanted to call out a comment that one of our live listeners shared, because I wanted to see what you thought of it. This is from Tricia. She says, if I may, I was shaken to my core when I came across the point that current American capitalism was literally based on the economics of slavery. The ability to determine and ruthlessly extract as much value, using air quotes there, out of people. So that means the rigid schedules and the hierarchy that Tameka mentioned. No exceptions for any kind of time off or lack of consideration, lack of support. Empathy, et cetera. I feel like you probably would agree, but I wasn’t sure if there’s anything you wanted to address in there. It was a brilliant comment.

Takema Vasquez
What was the listener’s name?

Amy Vaughan
Tricia.

Takema Vasquez
Yeah. Tricia. I’m right there with you. It’s just true. And, you know, as I mentioned in my response, it’s one of those things that we don’t talk about, right. And because we don’t talk about it, it becomes really hard to then grapple with, well, why is this this way? And why is this happening? And I think, When you’re in a space of trying to understand you really have to be willing to peel back the layers and a lot of the times history comes with it comes with uncovering a lot of pain and a lot of darkness. And I think, you know, we just have to be open and willing to do that because it’s part of the story. And I think, you know, I’m certainly, I’m always, I’m always in these conversations somehow. So I’m certainly sensitive to the ways that, you know, we can get bogged down and we can get tied up in like, oh my God, is everything as terrible as, as, as we were learning and as it seems. And I don’t want us to get bogged down in that. I really just want us to acknowledge, confront, you know, embrace and then use that as fuel to say, okay, well, how do we move forward now that we know what we know? We certainly can’t erase the past, but we can rewrite sort of the direction of the future.

Amy Vaughan
To me. It does have a really great insights and trends report that we’re going to share the link here in the chat for you all who are live listening and in the show notes as well. All right, let’s get to our next question. Thanks, Tameka. And thank you, Tricia, for your comment. We appreciate it. And for sharing the source in which she got that. We’ll be sure to share that in the notes as well. So as we collectively anticipate a lot of change, what advice, you know, over the next several years as we’ve experienced a lot of change, obviously, like impacts, and then it’s like that ripple effect, right? It’s going to take us a while before we kind of see how everything evolves. What advice do you have for individuals and businesses looking to thrive in an evolving work landscape? And embrace a culture of more exploration. Because I think, you know, as hard as it is for organizations, I think it’s just sometimes as hard for individuals, right? We’ve become accustomed. Our brain likes these shortcuts.

Takema Vasquez
Yeah, I’m learning. Um, I think it’s an important question. I think the thing I would just like to say as a, as a disclaimer is like, I typically don’t say like we’re, we’re sort of anticipating profound change because I think the thing is, we’re always in a place of profound change. Um, this entire human experience is wildly confusing and disruptive and uncomfortable and like dramatic in every way possible. So I like to say that just to kind of like level set us a little bit, because I think, you know, I think. I don’t know why now feels different for most of us, myself included. Um, I don’t know why now feels different because we’ve always been in this space. I think the difference is like, the revolution wasn’t always televised. And prior to 2007, we weren’t tweeting about it. So I think there’s an element of exposure and just having so much information coming at us that I think is just overwhelming. And I have a great deal of empathy for that. But I also just want to, I also just want to remind us all like we are always in this place of profound change. So I think like, because now feels different for whatever reason it does, I would say at an individual level, honestly, my advice is to invest in your mental and physical and emotional wellbeing. Your body is the only place you have to live. And within that body, there lies a brain that will produce what you put into it. It will replicate what you put into it. And so I think for me, you know, fostering a curious mindset, I get bogged down just as much as the next person in things that do not matter sometimes. And I think it’s just so important that if we’re gonna make room for imagination and curiosity and things that sound like fluff, but I truly think those are going to be our survival skills. Those will continue to be the tools of how we navigate change and how we move forward. And in order to do that, you gotta be okay, right? And I think just, it’s not something that I take lightly. We have to be okay. I think while we’re investing in more knowledge, while we’re trying to understand things, while I’m hoping we’re engaging in conversations because we are living in a very polarized society, it is not productive. So while I hope that we are stepping outside of that, challenging our perspectives and engaging in conversations that sort of can broaden our own understanding of things. I hope simultaneously we are taking care of ourselves as much as possible. So that’s my advice because I don’t know what else matters at an individual level right now. And I think at an organizational level, I think like Honestly, I really think that now is an amazing time, if you haven’t already, to reevaluate your organizational mission, To reevaluate what initiatives, what ecosystems you are part of, what networks you’re building, what changes you are fueling in society. I don’t think every business needs to be here saving the planet and saving the world. And not every business can exist for that reason. Not every organization can align to that. But I think what’s happening is people are, we are increasingly exposed to information. And with that comes a level of distrust and a level of expectation that organizations that say they are about something are actually about that. And I think what’s going to happen is, you know, if you are creating mission statements, you are putting out communications out there that suggest that you are something, Then we, as the folks that are just looking on and cheering you on, cheering for your success, we’ll need to see that you actually are about that life and you really do take it seriously. And so I think now is a great time for organizations, you know, because we are in this space where the change feels different. That you really start to contend with who you are and what are elements of things that you can do to more positively contribute to the future that you’re trying to foster and you’re trying to create and the changes that you actually want to see come to life. And I would say the last thing on that note would be, I would also say now is a great time to sort of, we are embracing technology in so many different ways. But I would say alongside that now is a great time to really think about, is there more to technological advancement and usage beyond productivity or beyond efficiency, right? Are there elements that could be more aligned to human-centered principles? Are there ways that we could be a bit more ethical? Are there ways that we can make sure that the systems that we are designing and the technologies we are using are not furthering harm. And I think that’s important. So, you know, those are just some things that came to mind, but certainly, again, change is always afoot, but what change are you fueling? What change are you contributing to? What change do you believe in? And how does that align to everything that you’re doing at an individual level and at an organizational level?

Amy Vaughan
Yeah, we’re all going through like this awesome little midlife crisis, it feels like, It’s like a super generational midlife crisis. It’s really weird. And I don’t know if it was brought on by the pandemic or just a confluence of events, but it does really feel like we’re in that space of reevaluating, reassessing. And then the next generation, Gen Z, research is already showing that they’re very much about understanding and knowing brands. And have loyalty where they feel like it’s not performative, that those brands really stand for what they say. And so as a marketer, I think it’s a really important time for us to kind of be aware of what messages we’re putting out there. Not that we didn’t need to before, we absolutely needed to before, but now more than ever. If you want to capture the next generation, they’re not going to kind of stand for the sort of fluff that used to be able to be like thrown out there in the realm of like femme washing or green washing we used to see out there. We’re literally beyond that time now, I’d like to say. So this leads nicely into our next question, and you might have already answered most of it, but if there’s anything you wanted to add, I still want to ask it. As the founder of FutureQuo, what are some key elements organizations need to consider when designing a radically better future for people? Because like you said, this isn’t necessarily a place everyone has to play. But if somebody here is listening today and they’re like, OK, what do I need to take back and start to reassess and do? What would be some of those key elements you recommend they take a look at?

Takema Vasquez
Yeah, so fun fact, the reason I called the business The Future Quo is to offer sort of a springboard away from the status quo. And so that’s actually what the name of the company is about. And so by virtue of that, what I would say is, I think organizations need to consider what is the status quo and in what ways might you be subscribing to the status quo. And when I say the status quo, what I’m referring to are the existing state of affairs that may not be serving the society that we’re currently living in or the society that we’re trying to build. And so for me, I like to say like the future is not a time or a place. It’s not something we’re gonna get to, right? The future is a space, it’s a concept, it’s a story. It’s the story we tell ourselves, but it’s the thing that we are contributing to and developing every day. And so I think for, you know, for organizations, I say radically better futures because I think sometimes you need sort of that extremity on the other side to sort of pull people to. But there are there are very incremental and everyday things that you can do as well. So I’m certainly not suggesting that it has to be bold and big and loud to be impactful. But I think one of the things that I’m currently in conversations around is How do you start to focus on the inputs just as much as you’re focusing on the outcomes? And I think we try to control for the outcomes. And then when we do that, we sort of shortcut the inputs. But again, those inputs are largely rooted in the status quo. So we talked about this earlier, just work culture and the things that we’ve normalized and the characteristics and the attributes that most organizations have. How do you start to circumvent that? How do you start to reshape that? You know, how do you not just get into this kind of solutions focused mindset, but how can you be more open? How can you actually co-create things with people that are currently working at your company, with stakeholders, with communities, with experts, like, how do you start to create that? So one of the things I’ll give you guys kind of a sneak preview of what I’m working on right now. It’s certainly not solidified yet, but I’m working on sort of bringing in a group of folks in sort of a collective that would allow me as, you know, the founder of The Future Quo, to be able to bring people into more active co-creation opportunity. Because the reason I think this is important is because typically as a business owner, as a consultant, you go in, you make a pitch and there are some solutions, there are some steps that you can take to get to a certain outcome. And that’s great because a lot of that is rooted in best practices and my own experience and all of that stuff. But I always like to leave room for what can we co-design and what can we co design and what can we co create and sometimes the expertise that you need to do that may not necessarily be at your company, it may not necessarily live within me. And so I’m trying to sort of create this sort of collective of folks where you have a point of more active engagement to just say, how can I participate more actively and how do I get folks at my company, for example, to participate more actively in something that we can solution, but it’s not a, you know, I deliver this box to you, you open it up and like all your problems are solved, but we are literally going to sit there and try to figure out, is this a cultural friction point? Is this a communication thing that we can help you solve? You know, is this a design challenge? Is there something in the user experience, for example, that is not conducive to what you want people to do? So one of the things that I’m working on is literally what does co-creation actually mean in the context of futures work? And I think this is something that is important. It’s going to be important for organizations because none of us have any idea what the future fully has in store for us. But I do know with certainty that there are ways to contribute and develop and design and create and just contribute more intentionally to what that future ends up being. And so I think those are some of the elements is it’s fostering that culture, you know, where you can have people be more actively engaged. It’s having better communication so that people know like, what are you actually working towards? What is the point of all of this, right? It’s investing in the role that you as an organization actually wanna play in the future. Some of that requires research, some of that requires insights and some of the foresight work that we do. But some of it also just requires a conversation around leadership, a conversation around trust. A conversation around how can you step forth? What are those actions? And a lot of the times that’s the stuff that lives beneath the surface of the solutions that you provide, but that’s the stuff that really makes a difference. So hopefully that’s helpful, but those are some of the elements that I’m in active conversations around now and would love to continue to have those. Asked.

Amy Vaughan
It. I’m so glad I. That question instead of skipping over it because you gave us so much more insights. One of the biggest things I want to call out is, and I’ve seen kind of happen over and over again, a lot of times we want to create impact or change, we don’t think it starts with the systems, with the foundation. It’s always some kind of initiative, right? This is like how ERGs, employee resource groups, were born. There is a band-aid for a deeper-seated problem, is that the fact that our systems within our organizations are broken, and they are biased, and they are sexist, and they are racist. And rather than addressing the systems, we think, ooh, We’ll just create a program and an initiative, and we’ll have this wonderful, beautiful outcome. And it’s about the output, like you said, not looking at the input. That’s just so brilliant, Tameka. I think that’s just a big misstep for so many. Companies and organizations and cultures that are broken. We think that there can be some band-aid solution, but it’s really looking at those deep-seated systems and figuring out where have we gone wrong and how can we begin to write what’s been kind of established in a way that creates biases so that we can work towards a better future. And then I love the whole concept of the co-creation and collaboration. I mean, I’m all about that. So Yes, thank you.

Takema Vasquez
Yeah, I’m grateful that you asked as well, because I’m excited to talk about these things, as you can probably tell. But it’s also like, I was just smiling when you were talking, because I was remembering a conversation I had right before the holiday break. And the person’s reaction was literally like, oh my god, we have so much work to do. This sounds like so much work. And I was just like, I felt bad, because I was like, wow, I didn’t I know I said a lot, but I didn’t think I was making it sound like it was going to be more work. But I think where that landed was the realization that, OK, if I’m really trying to be the kind of company, the kind of organization that’s going to be around, I really can’t skip over these things, These factors. But now that I realize those factors are going to require work, OK. Let’s just get started somewhere, you know, and it was so interesting because that was like an actual, like, I just remember feeling so stunned because I was like, oh my God, I’m supposed to make this sound easy, but I would be lying if I said this was easy. This is hard, but this is the point. This is the world. You know, we’re not doing that, we’re actually doing.

Amy Vaughan
Right, exactly. I mean, why are we wasting time, energy, and money on things that are, again, just Band-Aids versus actually doing what might be a little bit harder work but actually gets us towards the future that we all want to be in. So, I love it. I love it. Sounds like an interesting conversation. I can see how some people might feel overwhelmed by it. But you know, there’s opportunity there. And again, the idea of collaboration, the fact that everybody takes a part in it should also hopefully ease that burden. Let’s chat a little bit about your work at Columbia University. You are an associate faculty for the Future of Work, the course at Columbia University. What are some of, you talked a little bit about leadership, so this is a good next question. What are some of the most pressing topics and discussions among the next generation of leaders regarding the future of the workplace?

Takema Vasquez
So just for context, so you guys know that the course was created by Dr. Ed Hoffman, who is a mentor. He was the academic director of the program and prior to that you know he spent like over 30 years at NASA doing organizational development work and he is very people-centered, like his LinkedIn bio literally says people, people, people. And so he brought me into the course because, like primarily I think, you know, the course is called Navigating the Future of Work. And he was just kind of like, we need to steer conversations around this future part, and what it actually means, and help students basically develop a point of view. Because I think one thing about academia, like I love teaching, I was raised by teachers, I’m always teaching something part time. So I love doing that. But I think the thing about academia that can be a bit frustrating is, you know, oftentimes you kind of live in this container of taking in all this information and then like, you know, the folks that are part of this program, for example, are all working professionals. So they’re all budding, rising leaders in their organizations. So by the time they get back to work, it’s just kind of hard to translate, you know, some of the more academic concepts and principles. So one of the things that we do in the lectures is we actually really focus hard on like competencies. And try to focus on actually having them bring their real life scenarios into the actual work. And so when Dr. Hoffman brought me in, the lectures that I do primarily focus on, so the leadership competency, how do you actually develop a point of view about the future by understanding what some of the changes may mean? How do you start to analyze what these changes are? How do you look at these different forces of change and all of that stuff? And then actually developing a narrative around that. So the work is really, I mentioned it earlier, but like, how do you actually tell a story of the future that you’re working towards? And then how do you usher in change and a different way of thinking, a different way of feeling being in this era? And so what happens is like a lot of the topics, it’s just, it’s crazy. Cause like so many of the topics that come as a result of that, have been so interesting and like half the time I have a hard time teaching because I’m trying to learn because I’m listening and just like taking in all this stuff but I mean we’re talking about stuff like how do you engage a neurodiverse you know workforce, you know, like, recognizing and embracing neurodiversity in the workplace like that’s real, that’s relevant, you know, how do you look at social innovation has been a topic, you know, how do you look at this evolving landscape of kind of what I mentioned before, businesses are starting to intersect with the role that you would historically think the government needs to play or a nonprofit needs to play. And so how does that change, you know, the practices that you have at the organization. So things like sustainable practices, sustainability, have been continuing to be relevant in this course. And then we go all the way left into concepts and topics like quantum computing, for example, was like another topic that came up and understanding some of the ethical implications. So I think what happens is because we’re sort of talking at this layer of future you know future work how do you navigate what happens is how you navigate is subjective because it’s based on the individual it’s based on their seniority it’s based on the industry that they’re in how conservative or how sort of open-minded that that organization might be and so you’re dealing with all of these like deeply nuanced topics that just are coming up because this is really about, you know, how do you now as a rising leader position yourself to be a part of this thing? How does it change even probably some of the stuff you thought you would be working on at work? You know, like a lot of our students are in the people, HR sort of functions. And so like the things that they probably thought they would be working on are like a slither of what they’re actually working on. And so I think what happens is you know, this course is allowing them to have a space to apply things in real time, which I think is a differentiator and I think it’s really helpful. But by extension of that, it then becomes the place where they’re like, what about this? What about that? What are you thinking about this? And so as part of the course, like we’re constantly bringing in subject matter experts, researchers, like folks that are just doing a variety of things because the nature of work is so multifaceted now that There is no way to talk about it. Just within the context of a textbook in academia.

Amy Vaughan
We’re no longer bullet points. Congratulations, everybody. That’s so fun. Oh my gosh. I could nerd out with you for a whole other hour about all of it. It sounds very fascinating. And I love that courses like that even exist in the world today, because when I was in college, I can tell you they didn’t. I’ve got a few more questions, and I want to make sure that I leave time at the end. Our listeners, you guys have been super active in the chat. Feel free to add a question if you have one for Tameka. Otherwise, I’m gonna go through these last few questions and then we’re gonna wrap it up. So you also are an ambassador for the Better Arguments Project. How do you see effective communication and discourse playing a role in shaping the future of work and fostering positive change?

Takema Vasquez
So the thing about the Better Arguments Project at the Aspen Institute, it’s a really fascinating program because the premise of it was literally as the name suggests, it was how do we create better arguments?

Amy Vaughan
I love it.

Takema Vasquez
How do we just create opportunities for people to have better arguments, better communication, basically. And so I was a little bit of an outlier in the program because most of the folks work in government, work in academia, work in spaces like religious institutions and spaces where they’re dealing with it, I mean, head on, like they are in the weeds of dealing with polarization, dealing with, just having to bridge divides in real ways. And so I’m just like grateful to be in company with folks that are like doing that nature of work. But I think, you know, even with the stuff that we’re talking about with, you know, the work that we do, for example, I think just the ability to engage in meaningful discourse is really important. And a lot of the principles and stuff that we learned in the Better Arguments program are really about that. It’s like, How do you just get people to disagree? How do you get people to consider different viewpoints? And it’s so very simple in nature. But in practice, it’s so hard. And so I think what’s happening is we’re in a place where leaders, for example, leadership has now become more about being a good moderator. And being able to guide discussions, which again, going back to what we were talking about at the beginning, is so counterintuitive to what we know to be true about leadership. Typically, leadership is like, I’m going to stand on this podium and I’m going to tell you guys where we’re going, how we’re going to get there, how quickly, who needs to do what, and then you probably won’t see me for a while. That is completely changing. And so one of the things that I’m in conversations with them about right now, we’re actually all going to be together in DC next week, to try to figure out like what are some opportunities to help leaders actually just be better moderators and actually create an opportunity for people to just feel that they’re being empathized with because the fact is we are in this world where, you know, if you say something that’s subject to Cancellation. If you don’t say something, that’s subject to cancellation. You’re just in this space where people don’t know the role that they can play or the role that they should play. And so a lot of the work around communication and all of that, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. It’s the context in which you say it. It’s allowing for dissent, allowing for disagreement, and all of that. But I think for me, the opportunity, like once we get away from that space, like let’s say we do that well, the opportunity that then creates is like, you’re just building a more, it’s just contributing to the more, just the collective wisdom, I would say, of an organization. You know more now, you have deeper and more enriched perspectives now. What that yields in terms of what you know as an entity and as an organization, I think can open up a lot of doors. But again, the first step is meaningful discourse. That is the first step.

Amy Vaughan
I love it. That’s such a cool program. I’m going to have to look more into it. As an Enneagram 9 and a person who typically does not, I have a strong sense of justice. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be running a women’s organization, obviously, but I am one who does not care for conflict and argument for the sake of argument. I want it to be constructive. I want it to be like empathetic and understanding. So this idea of better arguments, sign me up, like help me be better at you know, not just listening and empathizing, but even stating my points, because not everyone is overly voiced or assertive. I think that’s another area in which I think we’ve lacked the voices of others, you know, in a democracy when we don’t have people who feel comfortable speaking up, we’re missing out on hearing some pretty important voices. So I think all this work that you’re doing, Tameka, is so fabulous. All right, I’ve got two more questions. No questions yet in the chat. So I’m going to go ahead and ask these next few questions, but ladies, don’t be shy, folks, about just letting me know if you’ve got a question. You’ve led some marketing teams, especially for global technology startups. How has the intersection of marketing and the future of work evolved? And what changes have you kind of noticed emerge? We’ve touched a little bit on things that might impact marketing, but what else have you seen?

Takema Vasquez
I think, marketing is such a, it’s the thing I did for 13 years, right? So it’s like, it’s such a big part of like how I think and how I do even the work I’m doing now with foresight and futures work. But I think one of the things that I am excited about in talking to marketers is, And you mentioned a little bit of this earlier when you were talking about the research around Gen Z. I think it’s getting away from this idea that you just have to continue to sell solutions, better, faster, cheaper solutions, right? And I think one of the things that I’m interested in is how do you start to champion ideologies? How do you start to challenge traditional norms? And how do you start to actually move people and inspire people and get them to reimagine the world that they’re living in within the context of what you’re doing? Because you could be selling just about anything, but I think there’s a conversation to be had about human potential, about social responsibility. There’s a conversation to be had about our relationship to the planet. There are conversations that are connected to what you’re selling, even if it isn’t at the surface, right? Because let’s say you’re just selling shoes. Okay, that’s just shoes. They serve a function. But connected to that opens up opportunities, I think, for marketers to be able to say, like, look, you know, sustainable sourcing is a thing, right? Opportunities to, in lifestyles that are more conducive to enhancing their own potential, that’s a thing. Like whatever those things are that I think are connected to what you’re selling are opportunities for more storytelling, are opportunities to just embrace more authenticity. You mentioned that earlier as well. I’m totally aligned to that. And I think for me it’s like it’s important because. There needs to be some values orientation, and we talked a little bit about that earlier as well. But, you know, being innovative or future-proofing or all these sort of buzzwords that I think we can get bogged down by, it doesn’t mean anything if people are not understanding, like, what does this yield on the other end, right? What is the shift from to that is happening? We’re moving from this to what? And I think embracing some of that I think is an element of your own responsibility. I think marketers are the stewards to the future in many ways. And so not to create more work for my peers, cause I get it, it’s a hard job, but I think just being able to kind of reframe some of these conversations and offer a little bit more storytelling, a little bit more communication, a little bit more of a wider understanding outside of just the thing that you’re selling, I think could be really compelling.

Amy Vaughan
Yeah, fall in love with the problem, right? Not the solution or the product. I love it. Awesome. All right, I’ve got my last question for you, Tameka, and then we’re going to wrap it. You’ve also done some work as the head of marketing for Sidewalk Labs at Google. How did you navigate the complexities of urban innovation and sustainability, and what lessons were you able to draw from that experience? It sounds like it was an amazing project, by the way, and something to be working on. So kudos again to you.

Takema Vasquez
Thank you. No, they are. It was the smartest, most passionate, interesting group of people I’ve ever worked with in my career, truly. I think I’ll make this brief, because I know we’re going to run out of time. But I think the one thing I took from that experience, because the nature of what we were doing was really complicated, when you talk about urban innovation, it’s not as simple as, what’s the future of cities? It’s not that simple, right? There really is a lot of layers to that. There’s government involvement. There are communities. There are people’s everyday lives, there’s mobility, there’s the impact to the planet. I mean, just the nature of complexity alone is like enough to write books and produce movies about. It’s really deeply intricate. But I think what I took from that experience is embracing the complexity is half the battle. Like just accepting that like, okay, I can’t snap my fingers and create a future city that looks and feels and operates like this. I have to be inclusive and be considerate and engage all of these different stakeholder groups and consider that not everyone thinks that technology has a role to play, for example, in a city or in a public spaces. And so just considering those divergent viewpoints I think for me, it’s very locked into the work that I do now, for example, because it’s all about creating that longer term vision, but understanding what those smaller tangible steps could be. And so I think the thing that I took from the experience at Sidewalk Labs is like, how do you balance that? How do you balance the longer term vision with some of the more crucial kind of immediate like down to the ground small steps that people actually feel in their everyday lives while you continue to tell this compelling story about what a future city could be and how people may live and dwell. The reality is 60% of the earth lives, the people on earth live in urban centers. And so there’s a mass, mass concentration of human life and diverse people and various problems that come as a result of us just trying to figure this thing out and co-existing and co-creating with each other. And so I think just being able to highlight some of those tangible milestones and achievements I think is a big part of how you build trust, how you establish credibility, how you can forge a conversation that otherwise could feel too daunting, too big, too overwhelming. So that was a huge lesson that I took from that, that I mean, honestly, until you asked, I didn’t even realize, but that is so integral to the work that I’m trying to do now with different organizations.

Amy Vaughan
Fantastic. Well, Tameka, it’s been such a pleasure talking with you. The hour’s gone by so fast. You’ve given us a lot of great things to think about. Thank you for all the work that you’re doing in making our future better and brighter. I hope you all dig into some of these resources and things that Tameka has been working on as well. Download her report, give her a follow on LinkedIn if you haven’t already. Tameka, again, thank you so much for your time and all your energy and great work you’re doing.

Takema Vasquez
Thank you as well. This was amazing. Thank you all.

Amy Vaughan
All right, everyone, have a great rest of your Friday. We will see you all next week. Until then, keep asking, keep giving, and keep growing. We’ll see you later. Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye.

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