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Designing a Human-Centered Organization

Feb 28, 2023 2:00:00 AM | By


How do you design an organization that unleashes human potential? In this episode, we speak with John Foster, an executive who’s overseen leadership development, talent, organization design, and people teams at public companies like Charles Schwab, HP, and IDEO, as well as startups like Hulu, TrueCar and TruePill. Today, he consults with some of the most disruptive fast growth organizations.



CAITLIN ALLEN: All right, well, let's, let's get this thing started them. Today, we are going to answer the question of how you can design an organization that unleashes human potential. And it's not a small one. So we're going to speak with a deep expert in the area whose name is John Foster. He is an executive who has led leadership development, talent, organizational design, and people teams, at public companies like Charles Schwab, HP, and IDEO, and then startups like Hulu and Xiu cart and true pill. And today, he consults with some of the most disruptive, fast growth companies that we all know about. So John, thank you so much for joining us. super glad to be here.

JOHN FOSTER: Thanks for having me.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Yes, it's gonna be so fun. So let's start off with something with a little bit about your background that I might have missed in my intro.

JOHN FOSTER: Well, I like to think of my career as like having three phases. First phase was an early part of my life, where I did a lot of work and outdoor adventure programming, and focus really on leadership development and did a lot of nonprofit work. Then I got through graduate school and started working in the corporate HR domain, very large companies that a couple of you mentioned there. Also, Fidelity Investments was a big place for me. And then the last phase, I've been working in startups and trying to help build and, you know, design and innovate in the way that we operate together at work. And right now, it's a very interesting time. You know, there's lots of good innovation happening.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Yeah, well said, I love the three phases. That's, that's a great way of putting it. And that was a professional question, which is important, as is this one, which is more personal. What's something that most of the folks that you work with, in your day to day don't necessarily know about you?

JOHN FOSTER: Yeah, that's, that's a good one. I used we play the game two truths and a lie a lot. So if I give you all this information, we're not going to play that game very well anymore. But one thing is that I am actually a carpenter. Early in that first phase, I also worked in homebuilding and actually had a friend from college who started a company. And so one of my first jobs out of school was learning how to be a carpenter and build custom homes so that I spend free time working with wood and you know, still building projects and doing stuff like that.

CAITLIN ALLEN: I love it. That's neat. It's also a good, good counter good balance to the time that we all spend thinking about software, things that don't necessarily have, like form in in a visual way.

JOHN FOSTER: Yeah, sometimes I feel like I get a lot more done in a two hour session with, you know, building like a skateboard ramp or something like that with my son, then I would, you know, working for a whole year with a company where you really have no idea if you've made an impact. Well said,

CAITLIN ALLEN: Well said. Well, talking about impact, let's get into the topic of at hand around unleashing human potential, what you've coined this term human centered organization. And I would love to start off with just basic definitions like what is that? And how does how is a human centered organization different than a traditional one?

JOHN FOSTER: Okay, well, I mean, I think the idea is that most of the companies we work in today, I call those traditional organizations were designed, you know, hundreds of years ago, maybe like, not forever ago, but you know, the corporate monolith, you know, multinational corporate structure really became big in the 20th century, as manufacturing became a dominant mode of producing value. And so you think about Henry Ford, and GM, and General Electric, all those companies built this sort of what I call a traditional organization. And most of them were designed with a mechanistic mindset where people really aren't the center of the of the purpose of the company. It's more about producing products and being efficient. And so, to me, a human centered organization is one that is thinking about what if we were going to give people the best platform for them to do their best work? What would that look like? How would we build conditions or create conditions where human that all the traits that make us human are are unlocked and they become fully accessible? And that's a little bit of a different premise. So that's what I think a human centered organization is

CAITLIN ALLEN: awesome, and I really think we are in an era where leaders people, leaders, company leaders are really understanding the importance of that, that kind of focus because of the output that it has for our companies. Absolutely. And also just the improvement of the experience along the way, too.

JOHN FOSTER: Yeah, I mean, you know, when you think about how the assembly line was put together, and this is one of my favorite anecdotes in this research that I've been doing is the first word a lot of the immigrant laborers learned when they moved into the Detroit area during Henry Ford's first build up of his assembly line, this River Rouge plant that was a giant, huge, first of its kind kind of assembly line. The first word they lose learned was hurry. So if these are folks coming from Europe, you know, they, they spoke all these different European languages, the first English term they learned was hurry, because they were doing time motion studies. And they were basically operating as robots that we couldn't design yet. And you know, in today's world with technology available, assembly lines are largely done by machines, and you don't have to hurry them up because they're as fast as they can possibly be. And so some of those things don't translate well into creative work, where you're building software, or you're solving customer problems, or you're trying to create something new. That's a little different concept. So we have to really think unpack that and get underneath it to to build companies and experiences that will that will really get human potential to its to its highest level. Absolutely.

CAITLIN ALLEN: The thought that came to mind when you were telling that story, or the anecdote was how traditionally American the word hurry is, to your point. So interesting to interested to get into to what the contrapositive looks like. You've done a lot of work distilling the essential ingredients, I think there are four of them for what it means to build a human centered organization. What are those?

JOHN FOSTER: Yeah, so I'm toying around with the idea of ingredients. Because of this concept of starting from scratch. I think that when you when you try to build a tool, or a process or a program, in today's world, most of us in HR have to borrow from vendors or use best practices that have been promoted by our professional organizations. And when we do that, we're starting with some ingredients that aren't clean as you think about sort of how we talk about vegan food, or in my own experience, recently, my daughter, we discovered a celiac so so we now have to really think about where the food comes from and how it's made. And if it's got gluten in it, it's going to make her sick. So when I think about what would make human centered organizations work, I think there's this ingredient that we're not paying close attention to that's paternalism, or it's another word for power, power and paternalism come from the same root word in the original kind of language of strongman is really what it means in its root form. And so if we have strong men built into everything we do, it's going to be biased, and it's going to change the way we interact. So this idea of these four ingredients is that if we want to start from scratch and build a process tool or program we might want to be clean about and make sure we have the right ingredients. So there, there are culture, leadership, dialogue, and talent. Those are the four. And I actually think as I push this around some more, since we first talked, those are more like compounds in the human body. They're the building blocks of life. So the building blocks of organization are these four things. And underneath that are even more simple elements, like you'd think of in chemistry, like nitrogen, and oxygen and carbon. There's things like self determination, theory, and whole human development and maturity. And those are things that are almost immutable human laws that just aren't considered when we build most traditional organizations. They don't think about human growth or maturity, those are all kind of slapped on at the end. You know, they're kind of extras that we add on as benefits versus principles we use to design from scratch.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Interesting, okay, so culture, leadership dialogue, and what was it one time, okay. And I think they're pretty self explanatory culture, I imagine is just like how, basically how people act, right? And what beliefs or values they reflect. Leadership is probably related, but it's really one of the people at the top and the positions of power doing dialogue is, you know, how is how do people communicate? How do those How does culture basically get put into Word form as people are talking together? And then talent is who are you bringing into the organization and cultivating to stay? Is that accurate?

JOHN FOSTER: Yeah, I think I think those are accurate summations and I think the real interesting part is if you break out some of those I smiled because culture and leadership like so first of all, leadership is for everyone. I don't think it's just people at the top. So we think about that in our in our paternalistic mindset, which we can't avoid. It's everywhere. You know, it's the water we're in or the air we breathe. So we think naturally, oh, yeah, there must be people at the top and In a start from scratch scenario wonder like how what actually is leadership and I call it a group outcome. It's when multiple players work together to solve a problem and get first. So you know, to lead is to be in front. And so if you wanted to really get to a pure form of leadership, you would remove hierarchy and executive and position from that discussion and you talk only about how can we get a group of people to, to solve a problem together and be first. So that's what I mean by leadership.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Okay, thank you for that, that that nuance is a very important one. Any other, I guess misconceptions is the word I'm looking for around those four topics that we should tease out for the audience that might be different than what they would naturally think.

JOHN FOSTER: Yeah, I mean, I don't want anybody to feel like there's a right or wrong here. I think this is more about clarification and being precise. I have started this whole thought process now around what is people science, and most of the people science that I've seen is about data, and tracking of behaviors and things like that, and then reporting it, which there's nothing wrong with that. But real science has hypotheses and principles and laws that you use to like construct experiments. So I'm trying to use these four words as a way to clarify what would the, what would it have to be if you're going to run a test or an AB test and do some science around this? What would it look like? So for me culture is I go into all of them in depth, we don't maybe don't have time today, but I think all four of them need very precise and clear and defensible, separate sort of definitions so that you end up with this set of four things that actually if you use all four of them, you can build an organization. Now that organization could be different depending on how you combine them. But you think about all four as these unique compounds that do different things, just like in your body, you have fats and carbohydrates and proteins, they're they're they're somewhat similar because they have some of the same elements. But they're uniquely built to do something to make the human body work. And that's what I'm trying to get out with these four compounds or four ingredients for organization design is that we if we use those four, and use them in a very clear, precise way, we can start to really get some interesting experimentation to happen. 

CAITLIN ALLEN: That's really interesting, like organizational macros, what do you need of your daily value?

JOHN FOSTER: Yeah. Interesting.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Interesting. This may be a question that gets into the the one I'll ask you after that, which is about the five standards of excellence and a human centered org. But one of the things that I feel like I've noticed, and I'm, you know, a data point of one, but is the fact that oftentimes companies put in their values, actually something that they really struggle with behaving on or acting on, like you often see, and I'm just making up a random example. But let's say that a company says that they really cares about diversity of thought that often tends to be something that that organization really struggles with, is that something you've noticed at all across the board? Or maybe unique? Or to my experience? And if it is, like any antidotes?

JOHN FOSTER: Yeah, this is an area that I've spent a lot of time on in my career, because I worked in culture change, and you know, work development where values and culture are kind of part of the, the main purpose of the job. And along the way, I ran into the work of Charles O'Reilly, from Stanford, and Berkeley, and he did some really interesting research to develop insights into what values exist in in organizations. And despite all of the different value statements and mission statements that you've probably seen in your life, and everybody's seen, he was able to, then it's a whole team of people, were able to discover seven unique sort of, I don't know, values, I guess, the best word. And each company, so there are sometimes companies will have 10, sometimes they'll have three. And what they found in their meta research was that there's only seven that are either, you know, they call mutually exclusive, but also not, not missing. And so that's an interesting thing, because then you can say, Okay, what doesn't matter what we call them, but there are seven different ways we can align our behavior around something aspirational. And if diversity is one of them. I'm not sure if that's actually one that would be in his I think it's something like I don't remember right now, I'd have to pull up the research to find out what he called the Seven. But I think there are a lot of aspirational statements where people are trying to say we want to be like this. I think the infamous Netflix deck that came out in the mid 2000s was largely aspirational, great work. I loved it. It was very inspirational to see. But if you ask people at the time that work there is all this true. I think they'd say it's a gap. And so part of the reason you make those statements, I think is to set that gap so that you can have tension and you can build yourself towards that aspiration. And I think the tricky part is not to pick too many, the research of of most of the high performing culture work is really strong cultures are aligned around one or two. And there's, there's clear commitment between individual behavior and organizational kind of verbiage and sort of aspirations that those are the two that make us special. And it's not a broad base diluted, everybody loves everything.

CAITLIN ALLEN: That makes a lot of sense. And I appreciate you, you taking me down my rabbit hole. But I'm glad really glad we did.

JOHN FOSTER: It's a good rabbit, I'd say it's long.

CAITLIN ALLEN: It's important. And I think that the point that's sticking out to me a lot is the word tension that you brought up. That is how muscles are built. And so to have that gap that have the tension is, is a good, a good bar to have that the other point that stood out to me a lot is the one or two right? Like I don't know that there are many organizations out there that just have one or two.

JOHN FOSTER: Yeah, that's the first diagnostic when I'm looking at companies, they have, you know, spent a lot of time on their websites to present this beautiful sort of manifesto. And if you can't discern one in there, or two, then I usually say, hey, let's talk about what does it mean to work here? And that helps them start, then oftentimes, there is one, it's just they've thrown the other ones in because they feel like they're missing if they don't put them in there.

CAITLIN ALLEN: That's a good point. Okay, great. Well, getting back to the standards of excellence for humans and organizations, I think you have five of them. Could you walk us through those as well?

JOHN FOSTER: Yeah, so this is more like, not values, as much as based on what we know about human behavior, what are the things necessary to help them perform at their best so and I would say, apply this to any organization and I built sort of a survey to help people kind of play with this, there's about 50 questions. And what what it basically is, is at the base level, and I think this is more like a spider chart, I've been working on this for a couple years, and I keep playing different ways to present it, I don't think it's a hierarchy. I don't think at one point, I thought it was maybe like, an equalizer, you know, like in the, in the risky business movie, where he's got the whole equalizer, and he changes all the sound, or, or, but now I'm starting think of it more as a spider chart. So I think you need all five in some amount of zero, you know, more than zero. Some organizations are stronger in some of these fives than others, and probably a few of them are, you know, probably fully articulated in all five. So it creates that tension for you in a way that's not about values, it's about measuring evidence based behavior, or using evidence to you know, measure behavior. So one of them is safety, you know, people can't function well, if they are unsafe, and that's well established by Amy Edmondson with her psychological safety work. But it's true even in traditional HR and laws, you know, we have discrimination laws, we have violence laws, we have buildings with, you know, metal detectors, and, you know, there are conditions we're creating, so people will feel safe, and all forms of safety. Most companies address that, and they kind of have to or the, or they're out of line with with law. Compliance kind of fits in there as well. But it's mostly about safety. The second one I would call productivity. And I think most organizations are interested in trying to make things somewhat efficient and somewhat effective, better or worse, you know, and overtime, in different sizes of organizations, this can be all sorts of different types of things, from tools and information to the way we organize to what cities we pick to live in, all that kind of stuff. See, the next one would be engagement. And I mean, that along the the lines of how Gallup presented engagement as really, it's about feeling aligned with your work and getting feedback and feeling like developmental opportunity. So it's higher order than productivity, it's more about me and my personal growth, then sustainability is one that's really becoming popular now, as we start to think about not only sustainability of the company in its ecosystem, but the sustainability of the workday. Can I do this same job this way, every day, all the work from home stuff, the hybrid, you know, should I travel and commute? Do I burn out? Is this going to be a job I can handle as a as a parent. Now, that kind of stuff, to me is about sustainability. And then the last one is transcendence. And that's the purpose stuff where people are working for their job, and they're doing their work. And they have a transactional component, but they also feel like they're doing something that's impacting the world in a way that's bigger than an exchange of money for goods, like they're somehow having a positive effect on society or the planet.

CAITLIN ALLEN: I love it. I feel like you just basically created a a corporate Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

JOHN FOSTER: Yeah. And I think a lot of people want to put it in that order. And I say it in that order. But as I start to think about implementing it, I don't think you wait until the end, like transcend and companies start being transcendent, pretty early, like Coda paxi is an example like that. company has from the beginning said, we're going to do things differently in our supply chain. And we're going to build products that are not going to use, you know, petrochemicals. And you know, Patagonia is kind of in that camp too. You know. So I don't know, if you have to wait, hierarchically, I think you just do have to think about all five simultaneously.

CAITLIN ALLEN: I love it. What how do you work with companies to develop a scorecard along those five categories? Because Because measuring progress towards them is probably very important, since it's likely a long term process.

JOHN FOSTER: It's yeah, it's definitely a long term. And I'm not sure I've had the chance to do the whole thing in my career yet, because I've only worked at companies three or four years for the most part. So I've it's actually we'd love to have a chance. That's partially why I'm trying to present this work is if we could get a community of practice around this and have a lot of people working on this framework together, we could probably build an open source project around org effectiveness, that I think it'd be really cool. So that's kind of my secret mission here. But, you know, I have a survey that I use, and recently formalized it into like a Google survey. So it's not fancy. But historically, I've done it as a diagnostic when I show up as a new chief people officer, I have just a series of questions I asked that cover the bases, and I have a what do they call it the Eisenhower matrix of urgent and important, and I kind of go through that and just look for and observe and discover what the company is doing. And try to find a way to put a benchmark down for each of those areas. It's pretty recent, that I formalized it into this sort of five buckets. 

CAITLIN ALLEN: I love that. That's great. I really like the idea to have the the community sourced project because you're right, these are very long term things that involve many, many data points to make an aggregate analysis yeah to speak. Then maybe, maybe asking the question in perhaps a somewhat different way. When, if you could wave a magic wand, and that stopped companies from doing something that you see companies doing a lot, maybe it's paternalism maybe it's something different? What would that one thing be?

JOHN FOSTER: Well, I think I'll be really, I don't know what the right word is present with today and just say, layoffs. I think paternalism is more complicated. We can talk about that more in a second. It's hard to just stop being paternalistic. I'm not sure it's even necessary to unless you're allergic to power. Ge, I don't think we are. You don't need to take it completely out but pay attention to it. But But layoffs, to me are a concrete example of where the company is not really thinking about the human impact. They're thinking about finance. They're thinking about marketing. They're thinking about customers. And those are obviously this is a business environment. So we want to be successful that way. But I mean, I'm just I'm particularly interested in what's going on in Salesforce right now. Because seems to be causing a big dustup that they're doing this. And we're talking 10s of 1000s of people in a company that's making billions and billions of dollars. Amazon does the same thing where they lay off people, and they've got all sorts of money in the bank, but they're not a startup that's trying to just raise money. So I'm disturbed by that. And I'm not sure exactly why or what to do about it. But I would think if we could just say there's no layoffs. Maybe that would force us into some other types of decision making that would be better for everyone and still produce I think, I'm not talking about making companies go bankrupt. I don't think they should do that. But that's the one thing

CAITLIN ALLEN: that makes a lot of sense. And thank you is very timely. I feel like I actually read a fortune CHR o newsletter this morning with several of those names in it. On the on the theme of layoffs. Maybe just diving into that answer a bit. From your very expert perspective. what's at the core of layoffs that are that are too common, whatever word you want to put on it. But is it that comp planning? Is it a streaming your economic downturns as ways to kind of like clear the house so to speak, is or something else, and not to point fingers at any one of the companies? You mentioned by any means? I'm asking the question quite generally.

JOHN FOSTER: Well, I imagine it's probably not as simple as one thing. It's probably those things you mentioned. Makes sense to me. I think when you're not doing a good job of human capital management, which a lot of that is compensation planning and understanding. You should I think, ideally, have a very good solid understanding of your current costs and your planned and future costs and be able to model that and see how that aligns with your business. That's kind of one of the very first things I do in HR is try to say, Okay, what's our capital expenditure? And what's our ROI on that and if we don't do it that way, we're not really being businesslike. We're just filling jobs and a lot of companies I've been around have, have allowed their there's their organization and growth to come simply because businesses say I need more people. And they don't necessarily go through the trade off of what about short term versus long term? What are the costs? What are the values and all that. So the business case problem, I think, is underlying that. The most successful companies I worked with, I had a great partnership with the CFO. And before I had countless ever opened, we understood like the investment in the in the return on investment sort of thesis. And I think that's what you know, maybe lately that lots happening now, because there was a run on talent, people were there was this weird feeling of there, I don't like the cool concept of a war on talent. By the way, I don't think there is a scarcity of talent out there. So you shouldn't have to go after people and pay them too much to get them to come on board. Last company I just worked with hired something like 750 people to maybe it was more like 1000 people in a two quarters span. And in the next two quarters, laid them all off again, to me, that's just poor planning. And it was probably the result of really free money, like the the investment world was giving hundreds of millions of dollars to companies to grow fast. And, you know, it was called growth at all costs. And that's a big cost. So I don't know there's there's a couple of different themes in there. But

CAITLIN ALLEN: yep, that makes a lot of sense. It makes a ton of sense. And I do think how we, how we behave, ideally could be more consistent in times of growth at all costs, and in times of conserve capital costs, because give it six months, and we'll probably be in the other phase, for sure.

JOHN FOSTER: And it's you know, so we've had this whipsaw thing going on for a little while now. Hopefully, we can migrate out of that and get to a little bit, you know, there should be ways I'm sure there will be, but it seems like the extremes have caused a lot of trouble the last few years. Yep.

CAITLIN ALLEN: I want to click into paternalism really quickly, because your comment was really intriguing to me around like, you know, you don't necessarily need to get rid of paternalism, we're not necessarily allergic to power as humans. So like, what are what are the ways to think about paternalism and transforming it into a human centered era?

JOHN FOSTER: Well, I think it starts first with just being conscious of it and being precise about what you're trying to build. And so if we, if, you know, my thinking has been that, if our organization design is largely just a lack of consciousness, it's, this is how everybody does it. So I'll just keep doing it. And so we import all this stuff. And I think it's very similar to the way corporate food has become unhealthy for at least Americans, probably most people on the planet, we eat a lot of processed foods without really thinking about it. Because it was really convenient, it's cheap. And there's a lot of benefits to that. But as you look at the build up, over time, you start to go, Wow, maybe we should be a little more conscious of our eating and know where our food comes from. So I feel it's the same thing with paternalism is, are we setting up power structures, I see people positioning for win lose all the time, I just saw something on LinkedIn where somebody was talking about her job was that she was a professional negotiator. And she was telling her post was basically saying, I will never say I'm sorry, at the beginning of a sentence, because it she was positioned around women and how they always apologize. And so on one level, I agree. Women shouldn't be apologizing, because there's no need to apologize for your presence. And there might be a bias there that they're trying to work on. On the other side, I'm thinking about between two reciprocal parties that are equal. It's nice to be able to say to a person, here's some thoughts I have. They're just my thoughts, what are your thoughts, and then you get together and discuss. So think therein lies the real issue with paternalism if somebody's trying to position to win and be dominant, then they're not getting the economics would say they're not getting full value out of that game theory says Win Win will always produce more value than win lose. And there's a ton of economic theory around this, but we're not practicing it in our corporate behavior. So I think we need to get more conscious of the economic benefits of reciprocity. And that and the economic downsides of paternalism,

CAITLIN ALLEN: really well said, and it's actually reminding me a bit of what you had said earlier on in this episode about how leadership is, is a flat thing, how it's, you know, we're all leaders of ourselves, we're all leaders of others and our interactions with them. So it's, it's taking that the initiative ourselves, it's giving value in ways that we would want to receive it is kind of the theme that I'm hearing.

JOHN FOSTER: Yeah, and being able to be in that. So that's a part of where my work goes back to my roots is mature adults. it to be a mature adult in any moment is challenging. For me, for everybody, like we have all of our normal human traits that cause us to make mistakes and be selfish or whatever. But I really like Robert Keegan's work around adult maturity and how over time you can develop yourself to be in a place where You're more able to see the situation instead of be in it. And the conscious leadership group has really good practical work on this with the above the line below the line model they have. So I think if people can invest in being above the line, they're going to be creative. And then they're going to create reciprocal agreements that can lead to, you know, when when high value outcomes. And that's, that's the nut of the work in the bottom.

CAITLIN ALLEN: I love it. I love it. So rounding out the discussion a bit here, John, what are some of the most innovative things that you've seen organizations do recently, whether you've been working with them or just reading or absorbing about them?

JOHN FOSTER: I'm getting most of my attention right now is is the companies that are embracing flexibility and trying to figure out how to create conditions in this post COVID. Tech enabled environment, how do you turn those in? So this is a great example of starting from scratch, they're moving out of just replicating old office behavior on Zoom, and into recreating a work experience that capitalizes on the technology and embraces the idea that, you know, people might want to work different hours or have some control over their schedule. You know, there are some extreme examples we saw with what companies that that just outlined, I think a Shopify just outlawed meetings, they just, you know, cleaned the slate, and I've considered doing that, and other companies, I'm sure they're gonna have to build some meetings back in. But it's almost easier to say, you know, what, prove that this meeting needs to happen, versus let's decide if we want to keep it and the momentum shifts. So I thought that was really provocative. I don't think it'll stand that they have no meetings, but I liked that, that that was, that was interesting.

CAITLIN ALLEN: It's really good point, I am someone who absolutely loves the flexibility trend you're bringing up, I'm a morning person. So I get up at five every morning. I love starting work at seven o'clock. And what that has often meant is I've started work at seven o'clock, and then I go until five or six and then I'm don't have enough balance in my life. So the ability to turn off, you know a little bit earlier, and then maybe get back on later, like I I'm actually more productive because I miss the afternoon slump that you know, where I'm not really fun to be or productive. And similarly, on my team, this is the third time I've managed a team that is in all time zones of the US. And so we our rule is kind of general, loosely held is probably the the best way to talk about the role. But we ask people try to be in seat between the hours of nine and two Pacific. Because those are the five we all have in common. And it works wonderfully well like it. And we've gone through this the phases you're talking about to where we've cancelled meetings, we've put some back on, we've cancelled all of them, we've so that we don't have to, like prove that they need to exist, but actually, but actually, like, just start new ones. And it's been neat to see like the habit of huddles, for instance, really crop up on on our team, where people will pop on for a five minute quick chat during like a no meeting day. And are infinitely more productive because that 15 minute or 30 minute calendar block isn't there, and they can have a little bit more organically.

JOHN FOSTER: Well, and then if you dig into that, that's, that's great to hear, I think you've touched on a couple of things that I think are really critical. One is access to talent is more fluid. And that gives you more opportunities to live a better lifestyle and spread get away from these sort of high cost of living hubs that I do believe people want to get in touch and talk to each other and be live sometimes. So there's, there's that but there's access for women and parents and particularly moms, to be able to have a better day and still be highly productive and balance things a little differently. There's access for folks that traditionally haven't been able to move and relocate to a new environment. So that opens the door and all sorts of diversity kind of elements and underrepresented groups have access to jobs they may not have had before. You know, so there's all that. But then there's within the meetings themselves, what's happening is the really good companies are starting to think talking in a circle is biased in so many ways and unproductive. So just so it's not just meetings, it's how we meet. And another really innovative thing I've seen recently is this company balloon that I mentioned in our email exchange. You know, there's different learning styles, you need to write things down. IDEO is great at this with their brainstorming rules. If you want a bunch of ideas, have everybody write them down separately first, then share them, share them on a wall so everybody can see them at the same time and have time to look at them and absorb them. And so the way everybody works is changing if we can facilitate meetings and make the interaction, just not one person talking and presenting with a PowerPoint slide, you know that those are, that's only one way to interact.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Yeah, that's a really good point. And it's reminding me of something that a mentor once told me which I've tried to use too since then, which is when you do go around the room and kind of each share opinions out loud To start with the most junior person, and then go all the way up the chain, so to speak to the most senior, it's a great way of making sure that they don't replicate ideas that have already been said. And you also get such good ideas because people are, you know, kind of in the the rubber hitting the road in ways that leaders aren't. Those, I appreciate you showing those. Those are great. Second last question. And it's somewhat of an abstract one. So take it where you'd like, but what from your perspective, does the future of human potential in the workplace look like?

JOHN FOSTER: I'll share a conversation I just had around our kitchen island with my daughter who's in college, and chat, CPT. So what it is, I mean, to say it say it right. I've never heard anybody actually say it out loud. But the idea that AI can can create a term paper hit the planet last semester. And it's all over LinkedIn, where people are doing poems and other types of specs, like product specs, and I saw somebody do a hiking, hydration pack for backpacking. And so AI can now create what used to be a low level type of learning, which is go search the internet, find five sources, find the salient facts, recognize the pattern and reproduce it into a summary form that represents, you know, some insight or truth about that stuff, you found that synthesis and presentation. And I think that computers can do that. That's one of the hardest things for people to do. First of all, it's really hard. at IDEO, when we work there, you know, brainstorming is one thing, but then finding the pattern, and, you know, translate that into an insight is really challenging. So I think human potential is there. It's where we're creating. And we're using these. So instead of spending all our horsepower on the research and the pattern recognition, AI can present us with five patterns. And then we can say, Okay, what do we want to do with these and become more creative, and spend our time doing the things computers can't do. So I think if we're going to tap into that, we have to a, embrace the technology and figure out how to blend it in. So like back to the school thing we were talking about, so is the point of the term paper to get a grade, or is it to learn, and I don't know, if everybody's aligned on that, you know, you want to get a good grade. So you can get to the next level, if you have a great GPA, you're gonna get into good college, if you have a great GPA, you're getting dressed, whatever. So why not use AI to get a great grade, but then you're just bypassing the whole learning process. So I think we really need to think about how technology is going to be leveraged inside of companies. And our org design is going to need to change in order to support that, and to give people more freedom and more coaching and development and how to be creative. Because a lot of entry level jobs aren't creative jobs, they're there. They're repetitive, you know, they're research based. And I think we have to do some work there. It's going to be interesting. We're actually

CAITLIN ALLEN: really well said, Well, John, thank you. This has been so enjoyable. And we ask our guests the same question at the very end of all of the really nuanced and insightful things you've shared with us today, if our listeners acted on one of the things that you have said, and you could design it, what would it be?

JOHN FOSTER: I, you know, I would, I guess I would say have everybody start to tally, just one of those, like, notice this things where you just tally all day long? How many times the word power comes up? Or are you notice a paternalistic encounter where someone might be beneficially trying to help you, but you're sort of like, I got this, you don't need to tell me what to do. So micromanaging, over instructing, taking care of my people would be an example of a paternalistic statement. Sounds good. You're really nice to take care of us. But why are you taking care of me? Like we're working together? So I would say tally the tally the amount of paternalism you notice, in a week and send me a note, I'd love to see what people hear maybe just throw up something on LinkedIn or you know, it'd be really funny to see how often people encounter it.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Love that. Let's do it. That sounds fabulous. And we'll include folks, Jon's LinkedIn profile in the show notes so that you can share with him your observations. To the listeners, don't forget to give us a five star rating if you feel it's appropriate. And if you have ideas for topics or guests, you can email me at podcast at open And otherwise, John, thank you so much. This has been fantastic.

JOHN FOSTER: My pleasure. Thanks for a great conversation. Appreciate it.

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