We’re living in a fast-paced world where disruption is so quickly happening that it can be overwhelming for people to try to make sense or catch up with the changing times and technologies. People are hungry to understand how these disruptive technologies are affecting our industries, our organizations, and our lives. On today’s podcast, Gary A. Bolles joins Dr. Diane Hamilton to talk about the future of work, learning, and the organization. Gary is the Chair for Future of Work at Singularity University, and is also a lecturer, writer, and a consultant on these subjects.
Now more than ever, providing innovative infrastructures to businesses has become increasingly crucial. One particular company that is working with innovative companies and creating products that promote efficiency and productivity is Zonez. Joining Dr. Diane Hamilton on the show today is Sande Golgart, the President of Zonez. Sande is passionate about helping companies solve their biggest issues. Today, he shares how they’re changing how business gets done through modular privacy suites that provide privacy for employees, whether for concentration, conversation, or collaboration.
I’m glad you joined us because we have Gary A. Bolles and Sande Golgart here. Gary is the Chair for the Future of Work at Singularity University and Sande is the President at Zonez. We’re going to talk about innovation and it’s going to be fascinating.
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The Future Of Work And Learning With Gary A. Bolles
I am here with Gary A. Bolles who is the Chair for Future of Work at Singularity University. He’s also a lecturer, writer, and consultant on the future of work, learning, and organization. It’s nice to have you here.
Thanks. I appreciate the invitation.
I was looking forward to this. We hear so much about Singularity, at least I do because I’m in the education space but everybody does and that it’s a unique way of learning. I want to get a little background on Singularity and you before we go on to chat about the future of education and some of the stuff you’re working on. Can we do a little backstory? How did you get into this and tell us a little bit about your background?
Briefly, Singularity University started back in 2009 by Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis, both futurists and people that I’ve known pretty much since the dawn of time. What they saw was that there was this hunger for people to try to understand how these disruptive technologies were affecting our industries, our organizations, and our lives. Ray is written extensively about the Singularity, and what our technology passes a certain point in terms of its ability to do many things that are similar to what humans do nowadays.
Peter has written extensively on things like abundance. Abundant thinking and abundant mindset so together the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup moment with them to put their ideas together and to create this platform. I often say that Singularity University is neither about the Singularity nor is it a university so we have some identity problems that we’re working on. It’s not about the singularity alone, because it’s such as this mythical point at which a single computer will surpass the processing power of the human brain.
It’s much more about how these technologies are rapidly developing and having such a massive impact on the world. How we cannot just see that disruption but understand the ways that these technologies have these impacts and we can leverage them. We can use those technologies and these massive shifts in industries and in society and use them to the benefit of humans. It’s not a university because, in the United States, I’m sure you know many universities that are accredited have to freeze their curriculum. They have to pour concrete over their curriculum for 2 or 3 years to be able to become accredited. At SU, we change it every 2 to 3 weeks.
We’re constantly moving landscapes. There are hundreds of brainiacs on everything from artificial intelligence to next-generation medicine. I have an enviable position. I’m an adjunct but as the Chair for the Future of Work, I get to leverage the insights of many of these people about the way their technologies are affecting their lives and basically synthesize those across the future of work, learning, and the organization.
To your second question is why I would be interested in this. Singularity has been a partner and client for a couple of years. My wife and I have a consulting firm called Charrette and we’ve worked with SU on a variety of different projects. A few years ago, they asked me to come on as the adjunct chair for the Future of Work. I don’t want to give any impression of a linear career path. I was never all that much interested in college so I sought a breathtaking range of Ad Hoc jobs.
I fell into the family business and it happened that my father was a recovering minister who had been laid off from the cathedral in San Francisco. He went to go help other ministers who were being laid off and ended up writing a book called What Color is Your Parachute? which has become the world’s enduring career manual. I was trained as a career counselor when I was nineteen. There’s nothing you can take away when you’re counseling people in their 40s and 50s, or in dead-end jobs, but you should do what you love. I thought what I loved was high tech.The belief systems, value systems, and mental models all have a significant influence on the way that we approach solving problems. Click To Tweet
I moved to Silicon Valley in the early ‘80s and pretty much every hat you can wear from a self-taught quality assurance test engineer to a VP of Marketing for startups. I ran a training department for a large company and eventually fell into journalism and ended up founding five different technology magazines. That shifted into strategic events but increasingly, I realized a lot of threads, the things that were fascinating to me, what I was being asked increasingly to lecture about, were issues related to work, learning, and the organization. I’ve both produced conferences on those topics, written a range of pieces on them and I’m writing a book to be published in the summer of 2021.
I’m curious about that book. What’s the topic?
It’s called The Next Tools of Work and what I’ve tried to help people understand my framing. We’re going through a massive shift. We’re going to look back in a couple of years and we’re going to say, “We rethought a lot of the basic tenets of how we work and how we learned.” I wrote a piece in March of 2020, a couple of months after we started to see the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, called The Great Reset.
My framing was that I believe this isn’t the pause. It’s we’re hitting the reset button on a variety of different institutions and aspects of our industries, our organizations, and our lives. I believe we’re going to look back and say, “We reshaped a lot of what work is and can be,” and also about education and learning. We’ve known for quite some time that our industrial-era model of teaching and learning has needed a reset.
We’ve all found that enforced isolation has changed our thinking about what it is to help a human to be able to learn what they want to need to be able to thrive in this world. The framing of The Next Tools of Work is the mindset, skillset, and toolset that we need to be able to make this shift, change the way that our organization functions, create more human-centered work, and become lifelong learners. I will be synthesizing a lot of different ideas that I’ve been trying to evangelize for the past couple of years in a lot of the lectures or groups that I get to speak to. I get to test that model with a range of different populations. I’ll talk about some of the insights and a range of global mentality. We’ll talk about the range of insights and some of those different populations.
A lot of what you’re talking about, I don’t even know where to start, because you have so much in there. First of all, how many versions of the parachute book have we seen and how amazing is that to come from that. I know you are the Cofounder of eParachute.com and all that. That was such a huge impact on many things I’ve taught. When I’m looking at some of the stuff you’ve done, I met Peter Diamandis at the Genius Network here in Arizona and he was inspiring to listen to him talk about abundance and all the things that he talked about. He and Joe Polish are closely connected to different groups around here. You get so many great speakers and a lot of it ties to the work that I did to create my curiosity instrument. You mentioned Mindset and Carol Dweck’s work was critical to my research. When you say mindset, skillset, and toolset, how do you define my mindset?
First of all, I appreciate you pointing to the various versions of Parachute. My father passed away in 2017 but left behind an amazing legacy. The deal he kept with his publisher back in the early ‘70s was that he could update the book every year. One of his favorite jokes was he’d written 42 different books but they all have the same title so that he can continually adapt it to be able to meet the needs of the job hunter in any given era. I learned a tremendous amount about that. It’s a lot of work but it’s also guaranteed relevance. You need to make sure that you’re continually doing and focusing on what works. That was one of my greatest learnings from him. It wasn’t what the theory is and what we hope will work. It’s listening to people throwing ideas out there, having people test stuff, and having them tell you, does that work, or does it not? I find that useful.
When I talk about mindset, I’d say it’s two things. One of the things that Carol has brought to the world is to help people to understand. She talks a little bit about the binary separation between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset, which is marvelous. I tend to think of it as not a spectrum that has a range but also situational. There are plenty of situations where each of us can be adaptive or have fluid ways of thinking about things and other things we’re set in our ways. I don’t care how much you think you have a growth mindset, you might find that a couple of things are a little set in your ways, especially as we get older.
I definitely want to help people to build on that and understand that the belief systems, value systems, and mental models all have a significant influence on the way that we approach solving problems because that’s a lot of my framing. When I talk about work, I distill it down to do think of human skills applied to problems. I also talk a lot about trying to have a problem-centric mentality when you design work roles, think about the work that needs to be done, and a skill centric model when we think of what it is that humans need to understand about the capacity and so on.
With mindset, what a lot of that is framing the way that you approach problems. It helps to define the problems that you feel you’re able to solve. I also spent a lot of time on cognition and trying to help people understand the ways that our mind works have a variety. We have a baked-in toolset for how we can approach solving a range of different problems. The majority of human skills are anchored in the way that our minds work. We’re not ever given a roadmap for that. I often say, “When you’re born, imagine a nurse comes to your parents and says, ‘It’s a beautiful child with an amazing smile. Here’s the user manual. Here’s what the child’s going to be good at. Here are the problems they’re going to love to solve. Here are the people they’re going to want to work around.’”
It’s what you get here with these digital distraction devices, these cell phones that we all carry around have user manuals. What it’s good at and what it’s not good at but we don’t have that. How do we build the user manual for us? We have to become trial and error machines. We don’t call it trial and success. We call trial and error. We have to make serious mistakes but what we don’t have is the roadmap. We don’t understand how our minds work, what problems we are optimized to solve, the ways that we were taught to learn. Also, how that either helps us with future learning or hinders us in a future of learning.
I want to help people shape a little more thinking around cognition and it’s all been about being intentional. It’s all about having the toolset to be able to understand more about yourself as my father would often call it, self-inventory. It’s not an assessment. It’s how you understand and how you inventory. For instance, with your Curiosity Code Index, a lot of it is cracking the code. That’s why I like the idea of the code. You’re trying to crack the code on how you think, how you work, what drives your interest, the sets of motivations that make you curious and engaged in different topics. Also, if you’re a leader in an organization, how are you with the language? How do you understand that with others? How do you help to build the most self-optimizing teams? What are the ways that you help people to continually do that self-inventory and learning on an ongoing basis and do all of that to create value for stakeholders for the organization?
You mentioned, my curiosity instrument I had found. You talked about that we’re taught to learn and the environmental aspect of what inhibits us and our curiosity. A lot of it is in our education system. That it was interesting to look at how it tied into what Sir Ken Robinson and George Land had in their TED Talks about creativity. It was similar in how we peak around age five and start to tank in our curiosity level. It’s important how you build in these cognitive issues. My next work is on perception, which also ties in a lot when you’re saying because I look at perception, as a combination of IQ, EQ, CQ, for Curiosity Quotient, and CQ, for Cultural Question. You take all these things and they impact us and how we learn, and all that is critical.
It’s funny because another person I met at that Joe Polish event was Naveen Jain, and when I talked to him about some of the stuff. He wanted to reinvent every industry he goes into and we were talking about how education needed to be reinvented and you alluded to that as well. I have talked to him and others who have said that they see education as going to be more of an ala carte, and certificate oriented thing. Maybe we keep track of it through blockchain technology in that. I’m curious what you think about if you do that, what happens to the glue of the humanities, soft skills, and things that hold everything together?
Naveen is an old friend as well. We’ve had some marvelous onstage conversations at the Singularity University Global Summit. He’s a fast-moving train. First off, I speak frequently with educators. I did a talk in 2019 for ten of the California College system’s presidents. I have no moral standing since I don’t have enough colleges to stuff into a thimble but I have some strong opinions. My wife and I co-produced a conference on The Future of Education in 2010 and I wrote a piece called Unbundling Higher Education in 2013, and which is now posted on Medium. Here are some of my basic premises. First off, we built so much of our education systems in the Western world not only in the US but on an industrial era model.
Essentially, this is what my father called The Three Boxes Model. A big chunk of education, a big chunk of work, and a big chunk of leisure and what I call the period formerly known as retirement. After my father wrote Parachute, he wrote a book called The Three Boxes of Life and he said, “How to get out of them? How do you unbundle that? How do you break that down to have lifelong learning, work, and leisure?” We talked about it a lot in Unbundling Higher Education the industrial era model, the mass production model to shape a whole bunch of minds so they would be productive citizens. It might have made sense back in the early 1900s when the home model was crafted and instantiated in things like high school. We shifted in the model of our colleges but it’s certainly not sufficient anymore for an exponentially changing world.
We look at the next generation places not only Singularity University but Southern New Hampshire University, Western Governors University. I did a lecture with a bunch of education grad students for SNHU and what they’ve done is they’ve essentially taken a new and different approach in thinking. Here are some of the different components and I’ll weave this into what can happen with transferable skills and how we can help to develop the skills for tomorrow.
As a recovering journalist, what happened to the entire medium business is it became unbundled. The internet blew it all to bits, including the business model. It took all the different pieces of content and made them accessible in a completely different context and we call that search or social with Facebook. If you think of what schools, what colleges are here which you’ve got a course, a syllabus, and an instructor both the delivery mechanism and the business model look an awful lot like the media business. It was a whole bunch of pieces courses, learning, and outputs all bundled together and we slap a label on it which we call a degree.Mindset is about framing the way that you approach problems. Click To Tweet
We made it essentially a risk reduction mechanism. That reduces the risk for you as an individual hopefully increases your future opportunity. It reduces the risk of an employer. They believe that the accrediting body behind this college says, “If they have that degree, they can do that work.” We know that’s not true in either case. We don’t know and it doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to be good at that thing and it doesn’t guarantee to an employer that you’re going to be able to do that work. That’s the system that we’ve got.
What happens when you one bundle? A couple of great things and challenging chapters happen. The great thing that happens is you absolutely reduce the friction to access and suddenly the world is your oyster. You have all these online courses and learning that used to be challenging and expensive to go find. By unbundling, you now could go and see pretty much any article that you want that used to be in a magazine that you used to have to order and yet now all that content is accessible to you.
The downside of that is that you have to be the rebundle. You have to pull the pieces back together. You’ve got to create your own experience for how you read online and as we’ve proven, as humans, we’re pretty bad at that. We can’t filter out all the nasty stuff or all the things that are overwhelming our senses with so much information coming at us. Clay Shirky, my old friend from NYU he had years ago. The problem is there too much information, it’s filtered. We as humans can’t filter all that information. You’re going to have the same problem in education. You’re going to have access to all of this learning. How will you reassemble it? How will you have the agency to continually go through that process of learning what you need to learn based on your goals?
If you go to a university they package it up for you. It’s an expensive package. You’re going to spend $250,000 for a private university for a liberal arts degree and there’s a vanishingly small number of middle-class families that can afford that, which is why we have a $1.6 trillion student loan overhang. This is a new market opportunity. I talk about these massive shifts often as market shifts and what will end up happening is that people will step in as they have in the content space and they will create completely new ways to be able to learn.
They’ll create new learning paths, as we’ve seen. I’ve got, the irony, nine courses on LinkedIn learning with a third of a million students. That’s a completely new context where many of my courses on a learning mindset, agility, and so on, are baked into learning paths that I didn’t even create. That’s the good news. The downside is that you lose a lot of this process by which you are helped to grow up in these young adult launch pads that we call colleges. You’re helping to build networks and affiliations between people. We’ve got to come up with a new way. There are new market opportunities. We’ve got to come up with new ways to be able to help people to do that. Especially, to learn what we, unfortunately, called soft skills, but are better called transferable skills and traits that will allow us to be able to solve problems in a range of different contexts.
It’s an interesting prospect to see what people will pick, though when you give them the option. I teach at some tech universities and one of them is here in Arizona. Whenever I teach the business courses that are required for them to take that you could feel their pain. It’s like, “When can I go back to coding? I don’t want to learn this.” Everything is a business. My husband’s a physician. He’s in a business and I try to talk to them in that way. You find a lot of tech-focused people don’t want to take certain things that aren’t narrow focus. How do we get people to embrace it? That’s why I work so much with curiosity, getting out of status quo thinking and opening up our vision so we’re not tunnel-visioned. How do you get them out of that tunnel vision?
This is especially a challenge in high tech and it’s true. It’s common in sciences and other arena that require where there’s a fairly large amount of what we often call knowledge or bodies of information that need to be gathered. The difference in how tech is you often have somebody who’s got a questioning mind. They’re good at problem-solving and reasonably intuitive. That is if they can solve problems quickly. What they want is to be shown the next problem rather than the serendipity of being exposed to something that might help to develop their human empathy, or spark their curiosity in something that’s a little bit outside their field. There are a couple of things. There’s no magic bullet to this.
The first one is, as you say, you want to spark their curiosity in a range of different situations. What you find is that when they were younger, they often were several different things that they dove into. With my son, it originally bugs. If you ask him when he was 2.5 years old, if he wanted to be an entomologist, someday, he would put his little hands on his hips and say, “I am an entomologist.” He went to Oberlin College, got an archaeology degree, and ran the school newspaper.
These are all different facets and what ends up happening is the most interesting people and the people solving the most interesting problems have a range of intersections. This is something that Sir Ken talked about quite a bit. I had the pleasure of spending most of the day with Ken when I chauffeured him around in some events that we were both speaking at. It was one of the most amazing minds on the planet. He’s a genuinely great human being and he talked a lot about the intersection. It isn’t only coding. It’s the fact that you’re also fascinated by data, a human problem, or a particular arena.
It’s the intersection of those interests that don’t make the most interesting people, they help people to solve the most interesting problems. That’s what we’ve found. A lot of it is exposure and team-centric. The more you can partner people in their learning, the more that they can get sparked by somebody else’s interest in a particular topic but it’s also writing to completion. What we find is that a lot of times, learning can hit speed bumps that if you don’t pick it up immediately, grab it and grok it in two seconds, there’s some work to be done. What you’re going to find is, cognitively, we tend to convince ourselves, “That’s not that interesting.” When what we did was we hit a speed bump. You have to help people get over those speed bumps.
I like the exposure that you’re talking about. Tell your son I worked in Ag Chem and cotton leaf perforators, pink bollworms and aphids are not that interesting. He’s not missing much.
Good to know.
I got that exposure and it didn’t work for me. You’ve got exposure to many things at Singularity and as I was watching some of your videos. I got to find out what happened with Mary Lou Jepsen’s thing on the light. Can you talk about that? I thought that was fascinating. I want to know how you’re incubating things at Singularity University in that too.
Think of it more as a platform. We used to have a program that was focused on helping startups but it’s but much more of a learning platform now. Mary Lou has spoken at our conferences and some adjunct faculty things but she’s got her own company that she gets credit for what she’s been able to accomplish. She’s got a phenomenal background. If anybody is interested, just Google Mary Lou Jepsen, and see what she did with One Laptop per Child or her work at Google X or at Facebook. Essentially, Mary Lou has starting to see this echoed in a range of different research. Elon Musk got an initiative that’s focused on a lot of the information we can gather from our brains hopefully not intrusively. Elon’s doing some intrusive stuff, too. What ends up happening is if you think of it in layers.
Ray Kurzweil wrote a book on this on how to visually replicate a human mind. Think of the physical layer. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s going on with neurons firing and there’s the metaphysical layer, which is how your mind works and there’s a whole bunch of cognition activity that’s going on so think of these as a series of layers. What Mary Lou believes that she’s done are two things. First off, she is a deep expert on not only the electromagnetic spectrum but especially on infrared. When you try to use other forms or wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum like X-rays, it’s intrusive. You’re decaying some cells when you do it whereas, if you pass infrared through your body, which happens all the time from the sun, it’s non-intrusive.
What she’s found is that you can pass infrared light through to your hand, and like an X-ray, you can capture what comes out on the other side, the problem is, it’s confusing. It’s messed up. You couldn’t be constructed the way you could look at an X-ray and see an image. Mary Lou has figured out how to deconstruct that. She’s created AI algorithms that can essentially break it down and reconstruct it so you can get a three dimensional model of something like a hand in a non-invasive way. She’s working on devices that will do that scan. It’s initially a professional device and eventually a consumer device.
In addition, beyond that, she thinks that once she’s got that base technology working, that she’ll be able to essentially train it on the human brain. She’ll see the way that the synapses are firing, model that and this has been proven by a range of different researchers including at Harvard who’ve done it with MRI machines. If you send somebody to watch a movie and you watch the way that the brain is moving, you see the different neurons firing and you can guess with some level of specificity, what they were thinking about. Mary Lou thinks that with a high level of definition that you’ll be able to get from these infrared scans that you’ll be able to get that level of understanding of what’s going on inside the human brain. Science fiction level stuff.
It’s amazing some of the stuff you talked about like 3D models and I know you talk about a lot of different things. You mentioned 3D printers making houses. I was watching some of the things you were talking about. I saw a 3D printed dress at a Forbes event once and I’m fascinated by what comes next. You were talking about something that I thought was interesting for education about the future of wearing augmented reality glasses and watching an interview maybe with Nelson Mandela and being able to interact with them. Do you think that those things are close to happening? How soon? What do you foresee for that thing?We shifted in the model of our colleges, but it's certainly not sufficient anymore for an exponentially changing world. Click To Tweet
First of all, this is why I come back to mindset, skillset, and toolset. The toolset is phenomenal. I don’t know if you know the science fiction author, Bruce Sterling, one of my favorite phrases of his is, “The future is already here. It’s not evenly distributed.” There are many of these amazing breakthroughs that are working now but they’re not evenly distributed. They’re not in consumer-level products or if they are, they’re extraordinarily expensive and not available to the average person. I’ll give you a couple of quick examples so you can see the promise of it.
This is a company that SU did help to start to grow and ended up as an advisor for. There’s a young entrepreneur following out of Myanmar, and who ended up going to school in the US small school in the Midwest, and to Harvard. She was deeply concerned about education in her country and he realized that not only were the students not given access to the learning materials that they needed, but the teachers weren’t even able to get some of the basic curriculum that they needed. A lot of the schoolbooks that they had were 10, 20, or 30 years old.
She envisioned a company that could be a for-profit company where she would use the talents of people in Myanmar, create a new curriculum, but make it so it was extremely accessible. You could even do augmented reality using a standard cell phone that you could point at a textbook and suddenly see images leaping off the page. That’s what she’s done and it’s extraordinarily inexpensive. She’s translating it into six different languages now and shipping these systems around the world.
Their PCs, which can be offline that require no internet access, and you can be teaching curriculum. Initially, she focused on math and science and now is increasingly adding other creative arts learning as well. The basic premise is these technologies if you design for the leap forwards, but you also assume that people don’t have access, like these expensive VR headsets or the high-speed internet access to be able to use an AI bot that could help you to learn. You can still design for that lower common denominator in terms of access and technology, and yet still create great learning.
There’s another great example. Squirrel AI Learning is a company in China. Derek, the Cofounder has been on the Singularity stage several times. What they do is they create a technology that shows a student set of quizzes, builds a model of the way that their cognition works, and starts to show them learning tailored specifically to their way of learning. The way they learn the most quickly and help them to catch up on topics like math, science and increasingly, we’ll be more liberal arts as well. They’re being used by a million students in China in 1,000 different learning centers. These technologies are here. In some cases, it’s either not widely known or not heavily distributed.
I’m looking forward to seeing what they are able to come up with. I had a guy from Salesforce on my show, and he was here visiting with ASU about what they could do to track things with blockchain. Some of the technologies are futuristic, but they’re here and it is a question of how much time. When you mentioned, the science fiction thing I heard you say you had 2,000 science fiction paperbacks in your basement and that a lot of us are science fiction.
I’m more of a Star Trek than a Star Wars person, but I loved all the jets and all that stuff. As you talk about all these potentials and that’s so exciting. We’re all interested in machine learning, robotics, sensors, the internet, and all of the things you talk about. In Singularity, I’m curious about your students. You talked about executive education, and you have these big names and great instructors, and all this. Who’s your typical student? If somebody’s reading this and may not understand more about Singularity, I’m interested in that.
Because it’s not a traditional university, I get to continually make things up quickly. Also, I do want to point out the organization went through a pivot as everybody did post COVID. All things we’ve known about for quite some time, in terms of more hybridization, virtualization of learning, and that thing but many of its programs, up until the beginning of 2020, we’re in person. It’s an executive education program, it’s about a five-day immersive. The conferences that we help them to design and program and so on and now there’s a significant pivot having a lot of this online.
The more traditional student or learner is typically an executive, from midsize to large companies. The people who wanted to be catalysts and change agents inside their organizations would come to SU have their mind blown. They’ve got the shock and awe phase. They go back to their organizations and try to tell people that they had seen the future. A lot of us use follow-up quizzes to help those people within the organization to understand how these exponential technologies are transforming industries, organizations, and life. We’re shifting SU to much more of that learning platform now so it’d be a lot more online education. It’s broader, you’re not only that executive, but it’s a broader range of learners but typically what you find are two things.
It’s either somebody in an organization that wants to catalyze change within that organization or wants to do work where they can move the world. That’s a significant portion of my background. One of the events that we started back in 2008 is called SOCAPS, Social Capital Markets, which is the largest event for impact entrepreneurs and investors. We handed it off to our cofounders a number of years ago, but still involved in the impact arena.
What we’re trying to do with SU is to say, “These are sustainable development goals. Here’s how you could use some of these amazing breakthrough technologies to be able to have a positive impact in the world.” That’s the second category. The people that are engaging deeply with SU are the ones that want to have an impact on a particular world problem or opportunity to be able to reach a bunch of larger populations and to help them to be able to navigate an exponentially changing world.
As you mentioned the shock and awe, I was thinking of Diamandis when he was speaking. It was inspiring. I watched him and I had that sense of awe. It brings to mind somebody else that I’ve had on this show Beau Lotto. I don’t know if he’s ever spoken for you but he’s a perception expert. Since I’m writing about perception I’m interested in his work but he’s got great TED Talks and his last TED Talk was about awe. It was great. He has great TED Talks. If you haven’t had a chance to check him out, he does some amazing research. He’s interesting and dynamic.
I definitely recommend his TED Talks to check out especially the awe factor. I asked him, “What would make you even want to research awe? Who thinks of that?” He’s one of those that would be amazing speakers. I’m sure you get a lot of them. I’ve watched a lot of your talks and they were all great and I could see why they’d want you to be part of that there. They do a lot of wonderful things and a lot of people are going to want to know more about what you’re working on and how to find you. I don’t know what websites you want to share or social media sites. Feel free.
I appreciate that. First off, I tend to post a lot on LinkedIn. That’s where a lot of my interaction with the students who take my courses. I post a lot of thoughts regularly on it. I’ve mentioned a number of different papers and courses that I’ve got. I’ve got links on my website, GBolles.com. That will link to some of the longer pieces that I’ve written are posted on Medium.
There’s a lot of great stuff on your website. I loved watching a lot of that. I wish I could have watched all of it because you had a lot there and it was wonderful. I hope that people take some time to check it out. Thank you. This was so fun and interesting.
I enjoyed it, Diane. Thanks a lot. I’m looking forward to your next book.
So am I if I ever get it out there.
Productivity Zonez With Sande Golgart
I am here with Sande Golgart, who is the President at Zonez. Sande is passionate about helping companies solve their biggest issues. Prior to Zonez, Sande held the role of Chief Sales Officer at Emagispace Inc. He was SVP of Corporate Sales as well as Regional Vice President during his sixteen years at Regus, the world’s largest provider of flexible workspace. I want to make sure I said that right, Sande. We’ve got a couple of these and I’m stumbling with some of the names that you’ve worked for with some interesting company names. It’s nice to have you here.
You’re welcome. I look at a lot of these company names and I go, “That’s a cool name.” I want to let people know that it’s Zonez and I want to talk about what you do at Zonez. Before we do that, I want to get a little background because how did you get into this allied modular building system type of thing? How did you get into this form of work? What’s your background?
I grew up in Denver, Colorado. I went to school, played basketball at the University of Colorado. When I realized that I had nothing to last or no more upside, I started to focus on my passions towards a business. I’ve always been passionate about improving things. I did the entry-level sales positions with a couple of different companies and it wasn’t until the downturn in 2001 with the internet and dot-com meltdown that I started to think about what I truly wanted to do. One of the things I was fascinated about but had never pursued was real estate and specifically commercial real estate.
I found this opportunity at a small company called HQ Global Workplaces out of Atlanta at the time. I went and interviewed and I thought, “This is great. This is the foundation no matter who’s doing well, whether it’s dot-com or traditional businesses. They all need commercial office space so I can get in here and make a long career.” As soon as I signed up, the real estate world went into the tank, and we all found ourselves scrambling like the dot-com. That was probably my biggest opportunity and I made the most of it. I jumped in, helped everywhere that I could learn as much as I could, as fast as I could. I was promoted as rapidly as ever to where you’re in over your head and working three times as hard to keep up and stay ahead of those people that you’re supposed to be leading.
I made a sixteen-year career out of that. Regus ultimately acquired HQ Global and their business is similar to what a lot of people understand from the publicity that WeWork garnished over the past couple of years, mostly positive. With their CEO having to step down it looks like they have things back on track. I did that and that was a fascinating time because it went from shared office spaces like the old executive suite business where you came in and shared a secretary. You had a fax machine that you didn’t have to buy. It evolved into what is rapidly becoming the workspace as a service, where you pay for exactly what you need when you need it for as long as you need it. You eliminate the waste of empty space, or unutilized workspace, which is now becoming a fascinating model. This pandemic we’re all dealing with is going to accelerate that model even further.
That’s interesting because I was going to ask you about that and I’ve worked virtually for many years only when I was in real estate more in lending where I didn’t. As a pharmaceutical rep, we worked out of our homes, and the different things I’ve done, we’ve worked out of our homes. How is virtual working? Do people want to get out of their homes but still not work in an office? How is this affecting that workspace as a service?
I stay in touch with the executives there. It’s now the IWG International Workspace Group. What they’re seeing from a trend standpoint is occupancy levels are rising in all of their suburban or the majority of their suburban locations. In the downtown core locations, people are still apprehensive because of the crowds and everything to go back there but it’s showing them that people do like to get away and have a place to work.
They’re now seeing that demand for office space rises significantly. I was surprised to hear when I was speaking with them. They’re one of our largest clients now. Their sales now, are ahead of where sales were for them in 2019 in North America. It’s the suburban locations that are driving that. As people look to downsize their traditional real estate, their employees still need places to do the work that they need to do and not everyone is good at working from home or capable of working from home for one reason or another. The biggest trend overall, not only Regus, shared office space, or traditional office space is that the people who master how to use real estate as a support mechanism because that’s all that it is for your business.
Few people’s businesses are in real estate but those who use it properly, are learning quickly that the game is one when you are able to provide your employees with access to space inside of a space or whatever that means so they can do the best work for that task at that moment. That might even vary day-to-day, hour to hour, you might work out in an open area for three hours and need some privacy in an area to concentrate and an area to go collaborate with teams and virtual places to meet with partners across the world. People are starting to figure that out and it’s been a slow road. As you know commercial real estate is one of the most conservative businesses there is. It’s high risk and tends to be slow-moving and now it’s that tipping point. We’re at the doorstep of that so it’s a fascinating time in that world.
You hear that McDonald’s is in the business of real estate because they have the position, the location, and that thing. It’s a lot about where they’re located. I was thinking that my next-door neighbor started U-Haul and think of all that they made from the real estate of the buildings and where they are. It’s a different way of looking at business and we have to look at how we’re reinventing and how we do things. COVID is going to change our interpretation of what we do. I want to know what you do in Zonez that’s unique because it is a fascinating difference.
I will tell you quickly how I got into that and spawned that. All this time working in this workspace as a service and feeling that shift. When I was running the business, for the western US, for IWG, my single biggest frustration was how slow real estate moved. My job, contrary to what I said before, my whole business was real estate. I had to maximize revenue per square foot. That was my whole job. It was often that I would walk a property and say, “This isn’t efficient. We need to change this. We need to change that. If we did all of that it’d be worth X amount of revenue per month and that’d be a good thing.”The most interesting people and the people solving the most interesting problems have a range of intersections. Click To Tweet
When we tried to execute through construction, it was almost impossible to make that happen and do it profitably. I’d say a 10% hit rate when you got general contractors involved. You’ve got designers, architects, permitting, and the disruption of doing construction for six months. It rarely penciled out so I looked at a company and ultimately one that had far more experience at modular construction, which is what led me to Kevin Pittman, who’s the CEO of Allied Modular.
We had a great discussion and it hit me square between the eyes that if you could create modular structures that you could bring in, you could change your space in one day where you could install a brand new room or a privacy phone booth. You could solve business needs in a matter of hours, days, or weeks, and not months and years. That would help many people create this more fluid space to give people exactly what they need when they need it for the task at hand.
It’s a Lego kind of way. I’m visualizing Legos here. To some extent, it’s a removable piece that you can move around.
These are modular construction systems so these are things you have UL approved electrical raceways, where all the electrical is already pre-wired. It shows up at the space, you plug a panel into it and you construct that around. You drop in a ceiling, it’s got fans intake, exhaust, there are whiteboards on the wall, and it’s there and literally a couple of hours. No mess and little disruptions. You’ve got what you need. It’s cool and modular construction is making tremendous headway in things like hotels where they make the rooms the bathrooms in places like Africa. They frayed them over and they started stacking. They built things in Times Square that was constructed elsewhere and brought in and stacked and back together.
Is it a business idea or do some of these modularized thinking ever work in-home space? Do you deal with anything like that at all?
We don’t do residential but there are companies who do that and that’s another big avenue. It’s just a different business.
I’m thinking as you were talking about revenue per square foot since I work with curiosity, I give talks about examples of companies who looked at things and figured out a way to make money where there was nothing. I was thinking of this Regus Hotel that they decided to partner with Neiman’s to utilize the closet space in hotels, and they would have their customers fill out all these forms beforehand and have all the clothes and the right sizes and things in this closet. It’s like your minibar. If you use it, you pay for it when you leave. Anytime you can help with that revenue per square foot is such a huge thing. Are you doing a lot of research to see the cost savings?
Yeah and we’ve created an ROI evaluation tool for our customers to be able to see those things and take into consideration things like time, materials, lack of disruption, and things like tax depreciation, with modular versus standard construction. There are significant advantages all the way through the process. It’s something that more and more people are becoming more curious about and starting to master within their own business.
This is something that most people don’t realize but the moment this clicks inside of people with business, your most expensive real estate has little to do with the lease you negotiated or the cost per square foot. It’s how much of it is not being used. It’s your unutilized space. What we did in the division I was running at Regus and corporate accounts, we did a lot with companies Verizon to help them understand what they’re unoccupied space was costing them and moving to a workspace as a service where you could guarantee we’re not paying for stuff that wasn’t used. The waste that you eliminate is millions of dollars a year.
I can imagine.
I’m starting to think that maybe there is a home model for what we do because I could use a phone booth right now.
I work with Verizon, as well with my work with curiosity so I was at their branch in New York, before the flight out before you can get in there and it was interesting to see how they utilize their space now I’m thinking back to that, as you’re saying this. You wrote something about Clean Zonez, which I’m interested in. What is that?Not everyone is good at working from home or capable of working from home for one reason or another. Click To Tweet
This is another interesting chapter if you will. The benefits of free-standing suites that we manufacture and help companies install and implement and into their workspace. The advantages of being easy and less disruptive. When something like this pandemic, which we had no idea was coming, one of the things that we were immediately alerted to, myself and the CEO of our parent company was, “This is going to be our biggest disadvantage in the short-term.”
By that what I mean is because it’s so easy, people will push it off because people are not coming into work. You’ve got 15% to 30% occupancy in the downtown core and they’re not going to be looking at more rooms for a while. We started to think and said, “We need to pivot, improve, and figure out what we need to do.” On March 25th, when they started to shut down non-essential businesses, you could see by April 1st that this was going to be longer than we ever expected. We did a deep dive into where businesses were heading where they needed to be met on the other side of this pandemic.
We took an even deeper look at real estate, in general, to see from a facilities management standpoint, people who owned managed real estate people who leased it, and the design community companies like Gensler, architectural firms, and workspace directors within large companies. We found some unique consistent threads in all of that research which said, “The world will forever be changed where you need to provide some more distance and densification of workstations, some physical barriers to help block what’s going on between people and the need to purify or filter air.” Noting that in any workspace, the most shared resource on any floor is the air itself. If that air isn’t cleaned, it doesn’t matter how much hand sanitizer you have or anything else. People are going to be sharing bad air.
We took that back to our engineers that our parent company has been doing this modular construction for 35 plus years with large pharmaceuticals and building negative pressure clean rooms so they have tons of experience in this. They said, “The mistake a lot of people are going to make is thinking they can shove a UV light or something up into their HVAC system and think, ‘It’s all better.’” When that air is still shared until it makes its way up into the ductwork and it’s questionable whether you have control over the ductwork and there are massive issues with trying to upgrade your HVAC.
They said, “The opportunity and where companies need the help will be providing a way to block and filter air at the source.” It’s to create something that will be per individual that will help block the air, provide them some privacy, but it will filter the air and through that there’s some rapid prototyping, tons of problem-solving countless, sleepless nights, we came up with the clean zone solution or line of solutions, which is a desk-mounted panel that has embedded air filtration in it.
You’re not only blocking air, but you’re also vacuuming up the air as it’s coughed, exhaled, or sneezed into the environment. It’s then filtered before it’s then shared by everybody on the floor. That has been tremendous I don’t want to say home run yet, but it’s been incredibly successful to launch that and to be helping companies and be working through some awesome back to work plans for companies to execute. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to be a part of that. That’s how we launched Clean Zonez as a brand of Zonez.
I am sure that people who are reading this are going to want to know more about that because it’s such an important thing now during COVID and even after COVID a lot of people are going to be thinking about working differently. If they’re reading and they want to follow you and find out more about Zonez or Clean Zonez, how can they do that?
They can visit our landing page for Clean Zonez, which is CleanZonez.com or Zonez.com and we have the links all over our webpage to get to the Clean Zonez Line of Solutions, as well as our freestanding suites.
There’s much pivoting and coming up with great ideas. Unfortunately, it took this to get some of these ideas, but we’re going to have some amazing advancements and this is one of them. Thank you for sharing.
It was nice to have you on the show.
I’d like to thank Gary and Sande for being my guest. We get so many great guests on the show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com. I hope you enjoyed ‘s episode and I hope you join us for the next episode of Take the Lead Radio.
- Gary A Bolles
- Ray Kurzweil
- Peter Diamandis
- What Color is Your Parachute?
- Joe Polish
- Curiosity Code Index
- Sir Ken Robinson – TED Talk
- George Land – TED Talk
- Naveen Jain
- Unbundling Higher Education – Medium Article
- The Three Boxes of Life
- LinkedIn – Gary Bolles
- Mary Lou Jepsen
- Squirrel AI Learning
- Beau Lotto – Previous Episode
- TED Talk – Beau Lotto TED Talk
- International Workspace Group
- Kevin Pittman
- Clean Zonez
- Emagispace Inc.
About Gary A. Bolles
CHAIR FOR THE FUTURE OF WORK,
PARTNER, CHARRETTE LLC
About Sande Golgart
A husband and proud father of two boys. Sande is an avid mountain biker and skier. He is a disruptive technology and business enthusiast.
He is passionate about helping companies solve for their biggest issues. Prior to his role as President at Zonez, Sande held the roles of Chief Sales Officer at Emagispace, Inc., SVP, Corporate Sales as well as Regional Vice President during his 16-year career at Regus, the world’s largest provider of flexible work space.
Golgart is often quoted on real estate issues and trends affecting businesses from start-ups to the Global 1000. He has been featured on Fox Business News, ABC News, Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, Seattle Post Intelligencer, Puget Sound Business Journal and various other media outlets.
Golgart holds a Bachelors Degree in Business from the University of Colorado and studied post graduate Leadership at Stanford University.
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