Episode 165 – Work the Future Today with Whitney Vosburgh

Whitney VosburghWhen we talk about ‘the future’, we’re subconsciously distancing ourselves from some indefinite, hypothetical construct. But in reality, argues Whitney Vosburgh and his co-author Charlie, we are continually co-creating the future in the present, without fully making the connection between the two. 

‘Instead of being futurists, we need to be now-ists. The future only happens now, and now, and now.’ 

And that only happens when we build what we know into the way we live, when we go from head, to heart, to hands. 

This is also a fascinating insight into how two people can write a book together despite only having met in person twice, and how authors can test the definition of the word ‘book’ to its limits – from book to mini-book to micro-book… .


The Work The Future site: http://www.workthefuture.today/

Whitney on Twitter: https://twitter.com/brandguru

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

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The Exhibitionist on Amazon

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Alison Jones:                        Hello, and welcome to the Extraordinary Business Book Club, and it’s a pleasure to be here today with Whitney Vosburgh, who is a consultant, author, speaker, and workshop leader, focused on awakening people, and organisations, and communities indeed, to a brand new sense of purpose, and possibility, and plenty, through short-term innovation and long-term transformation.

                                                      He is CEO of Brand New Purpose, which is a brand transformation consultancy. And he regularly writes and speaks on the future of work. And, he’s also the author with Charles Graham of the Amazon bestseller, WTF Today. Not what you’re thinking; Work The Future Today, finding your path to purpose, passion, and profit, and its companion Pocket Pal book. So, welcome to the show, Whitney.

Whitney Vosburgh:          Thank you.

Alison Jones:                        Really, really good to have you here. And, let’s start with that WTF thing. So, just tell us about how that title came about, and what it was you wanted to achieve with the book.

Whitney Vosburgh:          Yes. My co-author, Charlie, is an expert on the future of work. He said, “The problem is that, futurists are going out of business. The future is much too complex, and only getting ever more so.” And I said, “Well, the thing is, Charlie, we need to work the future today.” So, instead of being futurists, we need to be now-ists. The future only happens now, and now, and now.

                                                      And, all of us, most of the time, unintentionally co-create the future of now, and now, and now. What happens if we do it intentionally, based on our purpose, our passion, our gifts? The world would be a very different place. So, it’s, work the future today.

Alison Jones:                        It is interesting, because that sense about the future, I haven’t thought of that. It kind of puts it off to some indefinite point, almost robs it of its urgency, doesn’t it?

Whitney Vosburgh:          Yes.

Alison Jones:                        You know, it’s here. The future’s here, it’s just unevenly distributed. So you… just let’s start. Let’s just start doing what it is. Why would you put that off? Let’s change how we work. And, one thing I did notice looking at the book was the way you use those three-part structures so often. So, you know, you got purpose, and practise, and place, and why, the who, the how, and the head, and the heart, and the hands, and so on… I mean, is that a rhetorical flourish? Is that something that was intrinsic to the way that you both think of and conceive what you were putting together for this overarching structure?

Whitney Vosburgh:          Yes, it’s intrinsic. We just noticed that we think in threes. And, yes, there’s some wonderful pairs, and there’s some things that comes in fours and fives. But, overwhelmingly, things comes in threes. It’s because, change is constant. So, everything is turning from this into that, one, two, three.

Alison Jones:                        It’s very well known rhetorical flourish. I’m trying to think of the word. The rhetorical technique that, you know, that reinforcement of thing in threes, you know, I came, I saw, I conquered. It’s something very deep in us. It’s interesting that you tap into that. I think, for people who haven’t read the book, just tell us a little bit about what you mean when you talk… I was particularly interested in place, actually.

                                                      You know, purpose we know about, practice is what you’re doing. But, I thought the place, the embodiment of it was really interesting as well. And, you talk a lot about community, and about localising effort and energy, which I thought was very interesting, given that we talk so globally so much of the time. So, just talk us through, I guess, what the key message of the book is.

Whitney Vosburgh:          It’s to go from head, to heart, to hands. From, why, to who and where, and then into, how. Most people start with how, what, when, how much. Some people start with who and where. And of course, relatively few people start with, why. They’re all multiple entry points. There’s no one more important than the other, because they’re all important. It’s not so much where we start, but where we end up.

                                                      The thing about, for every trend, there’s a counter trend. So, we have one trend, which it supports globalisation. Greater connectivity, which means ever less connection. We have the appearance of connection through social media and whatever. But we have, we’re suffering from the opposite of that, ever less connection, which means more isolation and loneliness. We’re communal creatures. We’re social. We’re interdependent.

                                                      And so, where we get ever greater connectivity through the Internet, social media, electric, electronic digital tools, and what have you, is that, we forget that, we are creatures that thrive on need, depend on real live social relations and being. So that, it’s… when you think of that your why, your unique gifts in the world, that’s your head. That’s your intellect.

                                                      Then, many women are already tapped into this, most men are not. But, it’s so important to travel that longest half a metre from head to heart. It’s because that is the home of your who and your where, your place. The place where your soul, your spirit, your true relations reside. We hear about time and space. Space is like a house. Like, a place is like a home.

                                                      Yes, it has a geo-spacial quality to it. But, it also has an emotional quality to it. And, since we’re emotional creatures, and we make our decision emotionally far more than we do intellectually, it’s so much important to be grounded in a true community of belonging, of interconnectedness, of interdependency, so that we can all be better together.

Alison Jones:                        That was something that really struck me in the book, actually. That emphasis on the human-ness of the workplace. And, I think that’s… you talk, obviously about the planet and, you know, the planet almost becoming more important than the profit as people, as business leaders really start to focus on sustainability. But, that sense that actually we are grounded, we are humans in the organisation first and foremost.

                                                      And that, to be well, and to work effectively, those human needs for belonging, for connection all have from that. I thought that was powerfully put. It’s not something I’ve seen very often in this sort of literature before. So, it interested me. Particularly, as I say that, that focus on, on place and community. You talk a lot about, almost cities as organisms, as organisations, as well as companies, don’t you?

Whitney Vosburgh:          It’s all a matter of… the only difference between something small and something large, is scale and complexity. They all have the same basic operating procedures, parameters, needs, and what have you. You know, a person, or a group of people, whether it’s a corporation or organisation, institution, a government, a community, neighbourhood, a faith-based tradition, is that, it’s either a person, or it’s a group of people.

                                                      And, a person, or people all need, require, must have a purpose, a reason to exist that lies beyond a personal or collective self to tap into something much greater than ourselves. What’s happening is, we have the old story of the profit first. We have the new story of, purpose first. Profit was… the profit motive focused on exploitation, extraction, and the focus on the shareholder.

                                                      We’re moving away from that to a focus on addition, and sharing one gift… gifts, and a focus on the stakeholders, the entire community, and moving away from the old triple bottom line of profit, people, planet. And, flipping it to planet, people, profit. Why? No profit, no planet, no people. No people, no profit.

Alison Jones:                        So, what you’re saying is that the priority, that the sense of what’s in danger has shifted, from the planet just being something that was taken for granted before. Does it say that, actually, people understand? Do you think that’s really true that, the majority of companies… Well, or, I suppose you’re saying we’re moving towards it. But, it does seem to me that there’s a vanguard, that there is a movement towards this. But, there’s an awful lot of businesses still stuck in the profit mode.

Whitney Vosburgh:          Yes, there are. For every company that’s in the vanguard, there are nine who are not, at the very least. But, I will go out on a limb and predict that, within 10 years, any company of a certain size, that is not clearly identified as a progressive, positive, sustaining corporate member of the human family, will be out of business.

Alison Jones:                        Yes, it’s so interesting. And, going back to that point about relationships. In a sense, you’re walking this talk with the writing as well, aren’t you, by collaborating with Charlie? Just tell me a little bit about how that works. You know, why you decided to collaborate. And also, just, how the… what we love to do on this show is look under the hood a little bit.

                                                      So we, most podcasts, we’ll look at the book, and we’ll talk about the content. We also like to just see: What was it actually like working together? How did that happen? So, just tell us a little bit about how the process, you know. What worked? What didn’t? What did you learn? What would you do differently next time?

Whitney Vosburgh:          I have a very special relationship with Charlie. He is truly a remarkable human being. One of his sons calls him Yoda. You know, we each have our own strengths. We were introduced by a very good mutual friend, who unfortunately died about a year ago. And, he said for years, “Whitney, Charlie, you guys are made for each other. You must work together.” Anyway, it took us a long time to actually connect.

                                                      And, we worked together for about six months via phone and email. And then, Charlie lives in Arizona, was in San Francisco, so said, “Why don’t you come over for dinner in Berkeley? And then, we’ll meet.” So, we did, and we continued working together for another year. And then, I visited him in Tucson, Southern Arizona, spent a couple of days plotting the outline for the book. And then, we created the book. So, we’re working on our third book now. We’ve actually only met physically twice.

Alison Jones:                        That’s amazing!

Whitney Vosburgh:          And, we have… we usually talk on the phone once a week. And, even if we have nothing that we’re collaborating on, we just love to talk with each other.

Alison Jones:                        And, when you’re writing, do you sort of divvy up the book between you? Or, do you… is it genuinely, you know, you both kind of write every section together? How do you actually split the work?

Whitney Vosburgh:          Whatever feels right at the time. Charlie is the master of the long form. I’m the master of the summary, and I tend to write more about, why and spiritually-based things. Charlie works more on, how, and we meet in the middle in terms of place; where, who, workplace, life place, community place, civic life. So that, we complement each other in many ways.

                                                      He’s written, by now, 12 books and hundreds of white papers and articles. I’ve written many very short, because I come from a marketing and advertising, branding background, you know, I’ve basically been paid for creating as short, powerful statement as possible. So, we just, you know, have a wonderful shared sense of humour of the sort of the theatre of the absurd. And, the fact that whatever is going on in London or in Washington D.C., you can’t make it up! It’s so crazy! It’s so absurd! You couldn’t make this up!

Alison Jones:                        I know. We live in interesting times.

Whitney Vosburgh:          Yes, we do.

Alison Jones:                        Just for context we’re recording this in April 2019. And, who knows what could be happening next?

Whitney Vosburgh:          Yes. So, I think, one of the reasons why I worked so well with Charlie is that, we’re both fully adult men. And, we let the other person do whatever they do or don’t want to do. So, if Charlie says, “I don’t want to.” It’s fine. I have no grudges, and we just don’t do it. Or, I’ll do it, and then I’ll give him an invitation to re-enter as when he wants to, or vice versa.

                                                      So, there’s nobody’s breathing down each other’s necks. It’s just about the joy of collaboration, co-creation, and communion in terms of creating these atlases of the change into the future. And then, the Maurice in the smaller book, The Pocket Pal, as a sort of a guide book to your immediate future.

Alison Jones:                        Yes, and, I want to kind of talk about that, so, let’s segue into that. But, it was a joint decision. Because, what you’ve done is, you’ve created the main book. And then, this, as you say, this sort of pocket book that complements it, something you genuinely and can, actually, you know, because of the physical format of it, slip it in your pocket.

                                                      And, it’s very much related to the first book. But, it’s much more practically-based. It’s got more resources in it. It’s much shorter. Just tell us how that came about, because I haven’t seen that relationship before, with the two published alongside each other. Just tell us about how that came about.

Whitney Vosburgh:          Well, the first book is 200 pages, and has, you know, lots of white space, and all kinds of graphics and quotes. But still, it has, let’s say, 27,000 words. The second book has 7,500, so, it’s considerably smaller.

Alison Jones:                        It’s super short, isn’t it?

Whitney Vosburgh:          Yes. So, it’s still the same three parts of purpose, place, and practise; your why, who, and how. So, it’s summarised succinctly. But then, each chapter comes with three actionables and two online resources. So the thought is that, because it’s small, and people’s attention spans are ever shorter, and they’re on the go. It’s a mobile society, with their mobile phones, is that, if they come up to a certain situation, they can whip out their book, and say; Oh! Okay, I’m in this circumstance. Oh! Here’s an actionable. Later on; Oh! I can look at this resources.

                                                      So, we’re basically gamifying our content, our platform. So, we’ve gone from a book to a mini-book. And we’re actually… our third book is a micro-book. So, it’s the same format as the pocket pal, but half the length. And, it’s going to be even more visual.

Alison Jones:                        That’s fascinating. So, I haven’t seen that one yet. When’s that coming out?

Whitney Vosburgh:          Oh, we started working on it like two weeks ago. So, later this year.

Alison Jones:                        That’s so interesting. So, you’re really pushing this format to its limits in a sense, aren’t you? What point do you… does it stop being a book?

Whitney Vosburgh:          Well, it, at some point, will be hard to say, especially with eBooks, where it stops becoming a book, and then, it starts to become something else. We’re going to push it as far as we can.

Alison Jones:                        I love that idea. And of course, it’s different. In a sense, it’s like a responsive screen, isn’t it? You kind of create a website that works on the mobile and on a desktop, and it does different things, and there’s different use cases for each one. So, in a sense, I guess that’s what you’re doing with the content here. Do they all stand alone? Or, are they different expressions, and you want people to go back to the kind of the Ur book, you know, the original long form book?

Whitney Vosburgh:          You know, it’s different. As they say in the states, different strokes for different folks. Whatever works for you. You know, you will benefit from each version of the book. But, we will, in the third format, we’re going to actually have a whole series of books. So, you can think of them as learning modules. So, one will be… they’re going to be called, Work The Future Today: 2020 Survival Guides. Two, Wellness, Wellbeing, and Wholeness: To Be Your Own Leader To Earning, Learning, and Unlearning, and things like that.

Alison Jones:                        That’s really interesting. And, it brings me to something else that I noticed, I just wanted to ask you about, actually. Because, there’s a great… you got lots of lovely endorsements, and one of them says something about great workshop material.

Whitney Vosburgh:          Yes.

Alison Jones:                        Which, immediately, you know, that’s so interesting. So, I’m guessing that you’re thinking about these as trainers as well.

Whitney Vosburgh:          Yes.

Alison Jones:                        And, you’re thinking about how you break that down and present it into digestible learning chunks as well.

Whitney Vosburgh:          Yes.

Alison Jones:                        So, just tell me a little bit more about how you fit the books alongside the workshops and the training that you deliver.

Whitney Vosburgh:          Well, you know, it’s… we are literally working before and after this interview on creating a workshop pitch document, as well as a press release, as well as the first prototype. We’re going to be pitching higher education. So, undergraduates, graduates, and post graduates. So, you have higher education students. You have university administrators, counsellors, career advisors, parents, scholarship organisations, to help students take all that they are learning at school.

                                                      All they have learned, all they have learned in life and at work, to start putting it together and leveraging it now, so that, long before they graduate and go out into the work world, they have developed some sense of purpose, of direction of having a north star. Having looked inside and saying; I don’t know, but at least I’m looking for, you know, my why, my who, and my how.

Alison Jones:                        And would the book content applying within the student space, the higher education – I’m guessing, the further education in the UK as well, actually – and across businesses as it stands, because it’s so general? Or, would you adapt that content to different case studies and different applications?

Whitney Vosburgh:          It, basically, it applies to everybody. Of course, anything and everything can be specifically and specially focused to a niche audience. But, the same principles apply to everyone at any age. The 21st Century is going to be so radically different to anything that’s ever come before, all the rule books go out the window.

Alison Jones:                        And, I think it’s very smart to be focusing on the students, actually, because, in a sense, you’re preparing them for… They can’t prepare for work in the way that our generation or the generation before us prepared for work. All they can do is prepare to cope with what ever the hell gets thrown at them. Because, who knows? The job that they’re going to have to do probably doesn’t even exist yet. It’s amazing.

Whitney Vosburgh:          Well, too, and, just as a general trend, there’re going to be ever fewer jobs.

Alison Jones:                        Yes, so, they’re going to be sharing the workplace with the bots and the robots. Yes. So, that sense of who you niche it to, and in a sense, it’s a strategic decision for you, isn’t it? It’s about how you want to develop your business. When you have a framework like this, which is so broadly applicable. I mean, do you have to sort of sit down as a business owner and say; Well, what in the hell am I going to do with this? You know. How is this going to fit into the plan of who and what to partner with, and where I want to spend my days, and who I want to work with?

Whitney Vosburgh:          You know, we’re not profit-driven. So, you know, this is more of a personal, collective journey into the unknown. And, all kinds of things could and will happen from us putting our two feet forward and starting, you know, the longest journey of all into the unknown to co-create the future.

                                                      You know, our purpose is your purpose. It’s to create a better… to start co-creating, intentionally, a better future right now, and now, and now, so we can become better together to achieve a massive shift in consciousness, so that we can face squarely the huge challenges and problems that we, that earth and all its living beings face. Nothing’s going to shift until global consciousness shifts.

Alison Jones:                        It sounds almost prophetic when you put it like that. It’s not the sense of a business strategy. It’s just, you know, you’re standing in the desert shouting. And, whoever listens, you’ll work with them. You know, who want to work with you, whoever’s ready to hear it. Is that how it feels?

Whitney Vosburgh:          Yes, yes. I mean, you know, I went to design school. I studied at St. Bart’s in London for a while. So, I have a creative and design background. I worked in the corporate world for many years in branding, marketing, advertising, communications. And then, I went to Divinity school, got a degree in social change. So, I just put it all in the blender and putting it to work, put it to work and bring it to life.

Alison Jones:                        So, there really is stronger, prophetic strand in there. That is interesting. I hadn’t realised that. So, and, the barriers are breaking down, aren’t they? There isn’t that sense… well, I don’t know. Is this for-profits or not-for-profits? Well, just for people.

Whitney Vosburgh:          Yes. That’s the most important thing is, it’s all about people. Basically, all organisations, currently, it’s called for-profit or nonprofit, it’s just beginning to become spectrum. And, every organization’s going to have blend of x many percentage for-profit and non-profit.

Alison Jones:                        And so, your material’s reflecting that change in society. That’s so interesting. Now, I always ask people, Whitney, for their best tip for a first time author. So, we’ve talked in quite broad terms about the stuff that’s happening in the world, you know, how your content is into helping people. But, just take me down to the really sort of tactical nitty gritty lesson.

                                                      These people who feel that they’ve got big visionary stuff to say. What was the best tip that you would give them in terms of actually managing to pull that down and articulate it and crystallise it in book form, if they’re struggling with that?

Whitney Vosburgh:          Well, what makes an artist an artist? It’s a person that makes art. What makes a writer? The fact that they write. It’s that simple. So, whatever you can do to start putting pen to paper, or finger to keypad, do it. You know, it’s often most useful and helpful and inspirational to do it in the company of others, whether it’s a writing class, a book club, a correspondence course, a Nook, massive online course. Whatever it is that gets you away from your usual schedule, your usual set of excuses, what have you. You know, make it happen. Do it. Sign it. Start somewhere. Start small. Start easy. Start soon.

Alison Jones:                        I think we should have, all have that behind our computers. That’s brilliant! Great mantra! Thank you. And, I also ask people to recommend a book that they think everybody listening should read. So, is there a business book, particularly, any book that you just feel that people need to, you know, wake up and read, and take action on?

Whitney Vosburgh:          Yes. It’s called, Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor Frankl.

Alison Jones:                        Yes. It is just the most astonishing book, isn’t it?

Whitney Vosburgh:          Extraordinary!

Alison Jones:                        Yes. I couldn’t endorse that more. It’s brilliant, and it’s very profound. And, I don’t think anybody can go through life without a sense of purpose having read that book, honestly. Yes. Great, great recommendation. Thank you. And, if anybody wants to find out more about… Do you call it WTF, or Work The Future? What do you call it?

Whitney Vosburgh:          It’s Work The Future Today.

Alison Jones:                        Work The Future Today? Okay. If you want to find out more about Work The Future Today, more about what you do, Whitney, and this whole movement, where should they go?

Whitney Vosburgh:          Well, the website is www.work the future.today.

Alison Jones:                        Nice use of the suffix, huh?

Whitney Vosburgh:          Yes.

Alison Jones:                        Did that come first, or did the book title come first?

Whitney Vosburgh:          The… at first it was Future Work, Work The Future!, Work The Future Today, WTF. And then, I found that I could get the end of the web address as dot today. So, that’s also one of the reasons why there’s an exclamation after: Work The Future! And then, it went on from there.

Alison Jones:                        You’ve got to think about these things, haven’t you? One of the things that I always say to people if they’re thinking about a title is, you know, just check if it’s available as a URL. Because, why not? It does… it matters people can go there. Brilliant. Any other links that we should know about?

Whitney Vosburgh:          Yes. The Work The Future Today books are available on Amazon.

Alison Jones:                        Of course. And, when is the micro-book coming out? I’m so interested in this.

Whitney Vosburgh:          When is it coming out? This Autumn.

Alison Jones:                        Fantastic. So, I’ll have to retrospectively add that link into this podcast as well. And, of course, this transcription, all those links will be available on the share notes at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com. Well, that was fascinating Whitney. Thank you so much for your time today.

Whitney Vosburgh:          My pleasure.


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