84 episodes

The way to think differently is to act differently and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. For business leaders, entrepreneurs, managers and anyone who wants to improve how they work and live: Welcome to the Unlearn Podcast. Host Barry O’Reilly, author of Unlearn and Lean Enterprise seeks to synthesize the superpowers of extraordinary individuals into actionable strategies you can use—to Think BIG, start small and learn fast, and find your edge with excellence.

Unlearn Barry O'Reilly

    • Business
    • 5.0 • 35 Ratings

The way to think differently is to act differently and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. For business leaders, entrepreneurs, managers and anyone who wants to improve how they work and live: Welcome to the Unlearn Podcast. Host Barry O’Reilly, author of Unlearn and Lean Enterprise seeks to synthesize the superpowers of extraordinary individuals into actionable strategies you can use—to Think BIG, start small and learn fast, and find your edge with excellence.

    Platform Engineering with Kaspar von Grünberg

    Platform Engineering with Kaspar von Grünberg

    Kaspar von Grünberg has extensive experience running software companies, as well as monitoring and evaluating non-profit organizations. His current role is founder and CEO of Humanitec, a product that enables companies to construct internal developer platforms that are self-service, reducing operational obligations. In this episode of Unlearn, he and Barry O’Reilly discuss becoming world class.

    Becoming World Class 
    “I'm telling everybody who works with me: you don't have to be world class today, but you have to know, ‘What is my relative position to elite status?’" Kaspar believes that everyone can fulfill their highest potential, and that a leader’s job is to facilitate this. His father’s early advice about choosing the right advisors directly influenced his approach to leadership. He tells Barry, "There is a lot you have to learn and you have to learn that really fast." As such, having the right mentors is crucial. [Listen from 1:45]

    Of Mentors and Men
    Mentorship is a powerful way to bolster your company’s growth, Kaspar and Barry agree. Kaspar’s experience over the years has shown that there’s a correlation between professional maturity and effective problem-solving skills. He also observed that senior and junior personnel approach problem solving differently: senior staff members usually start inquiry with basic questions before delving deeper to find answers to urgent problems. This is the model he wants all his employees to adopt, and mentorship is an effective way to make this happen. That’s why he looks for humility and coachability when hiring new talent. [Listen from: 10:20]

    Bridging The Gap
    Kaspar admits that although his background in development wasn't particularly strong, he questioned the tactics used by renowned companies. He saw a gap in the market which spurred him to develop platforms to deal with the issues in the space. Many of the industry challenges had psychological underpinnings, his research led him to understand. Some of these included monopolizing key projects and domains, which left businesses without knowledge when personnel left, along with concerns with abstraction. His observations were guided by the following questions: 

    How can you reduce cognitive load so that developers can actually focus on the business logic? 

    How can you design systems that drive standardization by design?

    Barry explores how this approach could help Nobody Studios achieve its objective of founding 100 companies. He intends to use the ‘paved road system’, which is a business strategy that allows for creative deviations. [Listen from 16:50]

    Building With Confidence
    To achieve outstanding results, you typically have to disregard common ideas about work ethic. “If you don't believe that doing something faster will yield 10% more, then you don't believe in personal growth and in growth of your company,” Kaspar argues. Similarly, he believes leaders should unlearn ideas about abstraction. “Intelligent opaque abstraction that doesn't go at the expense of context, is actually a good thing for your career,” he points out. Context must be taken into account so that developers produce worthwhile products. [Listen from 27:30]

    Looking forward
    Kaspar thinks that the development industry is evolving and he plans to develop more specialized solutions. His ongoing passion is creating thriving knowledge-based communities. “Every single day I have people reaching out and contributing and sharing ideas,” he says. “I hope that is something that continues in the end.” He also thinks that since developers influence public opinion, it is their duty to be watchful of the messages their designs project. [Listen from 37:55]

    Read full show notes at BarryO'Reilly.com

    Kaspar von Grünberg at Twitter | LinkedIn

    • 41 min
    The Future of Work: Effective Leadership Strategies for Today's Workplace with Brian Elliott

    The Future of Work: Effective Leadership Strategies for Today's Workplace with Brian Elliott

    On this episode of the Unlearn Podcast, Barry O'Reilly chats with Brian Elliott, Senior Vice President at Slack and Executive Leader of the Future Forum, who also served as an Executive Product Leader at Google. Having observed Brian’s work, Barry says, “I was constantly inspired by the work Brian and his team were doing in the Future Forum, researching challenges about the future of work.” Brian and his co-authors, Sheela Subramanian and Helen Kupp, have encapsulated the findings of the forum - as well as the lessons they learned through their own experiences - in their new book, How the Future Works.

    From Arrogance to Transparency
    Brian discusses how his perception of management evolved as his career developed. "I learned a phrase early in my profession that states ‘Seldom wrong, never in doubt’... a sort of arrogance," he recalls. He rejected his initial arrogance in the wake of Maria De Leon’s advice and observation, and realized that the greatest way to foster camaraderie and a sense of common purpose is to be open about the company's future, aspirations, and financial path. “Transparency actually creates trust,” Barry comments, “...it helps people gain clarity of what is actually happening.” Being the one with all the answers is not conducive to a healthy workplace culture, both men agree. 

    The Future Forum
    Brian joined Slack five years ago and was immediately intrigued by the company's research team, which later became the driving force behind the Future Forum. The research-based consortium focuses on creating a better future of work that is flexible, inclusive and connected through quarterly employee experience surveys and executive working groups. Since the issues are multidisciplinary, they survey 10,000 knowledge workers from all around the world. Leaders from multiple sectors are encouraged to experiment with these solutions to champion global change.

    Debunking the Myths
    Brian debunks five major myths about the workplace, using research from his book, How the Future Works. These include:

     Return-to-Office Mandates: Top-down policies for returning to the office are a one-size-fits-all approach that ignores that each team may have a different rhythm.

    Brainstorming: The whiteboard is an antiquated method of brainstorming based on groupthink. The true danger of this strategy is that it excludes under-represented groups: the person wielding the pen, usually a member of the dominant age group, culture or gender, has the power to add or eliminate ideas as they see fit.

    Work Flexibility: He advocates for a shift away from the traditional 9-5 workday in favor of shorter, more efficient blocks of collaboration time when teams are available for meetings and real-time responses to one another.

    Asynchronous development: Brian debunks the assumption that meetings are where fresh ideas should be presented. Instead, managers should allow their teams to think and develop asynchronously.

    Classic Leadership Perspectives: If managers want to retain their high-performing personnel, they should veer away from the belief that leaders should shield their teams from difficult decisions.

    Looking Ahead
    Brian is eager to discover more about the untapped potential of new trends such as asynchronous work models and scheduled flexibility. He's also interested in discovering strategies to safeguard a team's psychological safety by providing and encouraging skills training for frontline leaders. He's also intrigued by the concept of professional flexibility for deskless workers.

    Go to BarryO'Reilly.com for full show notes.

    Brian Elliott on LinkedIn | Twitter 
    How the Future Works by Brian Elliott, Sheela Subramanian and Helen Kupp
    Future Forum

    • 41 min
    The Power of Leading by Example with Cecelia Myers

    The Power of Leading by Example with Cecelia Myers

    Cecelia Myers is the VP of Digital at CDW, where she leads their product management, design, demand generation, customer integration, and merchandising teams. She has a deep breadth of experience from a variety of high-profile startups and tech companies and uses that to create a culture of empowerment and openness at CDW. She is a builder of new experiences and business models from co-founding a startup to the Fortune 500, a design thinker, a survivor of lymphoma, and a voracious reader. She joins Barry O’Reilly today, to talk about how you need to bring yourself to your organization to create the kind of culture you want to build. 
    Following Interests and Opportunities where they Lead
    Cecelia left university with one of those “never land a job” majors – but she didn’t have that problem, becoming a personal archivist at a startup that managed documents for high net-worth people. This company didn’t survive the 2008 crash, but Cecelia was invited by the VC foundry that had funded the company to join them. There, she co-founded CakeStyle, leading and working in every aspect of the business.
    Intimate Understanding of the Problem
    Do you understand the problem you’re trying to solve? People often think they know, Cecelia notes, but unless you’re digging deep into the heart of things, it’s a hard thing to understand. Intimate knowledge of what is really happening at a company is hard to replace with any kind of experience or education. There’s something energizing about connecting at a visceral level to what you’re doing – it can be really fun!
    Unlearning Old Skills
    Moving into a company like Groupon, which was so new and so technology-driven was a culture shock. Politics, senior leadership, red tape – it meant having to convince finance departments and leadership that ideas were worth trying. For someone used to having control of the vision, having to work with so many other heavily involved people was a challenge, but ultimately a chance to exercise that skill of digging in deep to the business and influencing others. It was a whole new scope of managing people and leading teams.
    You’re not Scaling Yourself
    Cecelia would advise new leaders and product managers to focus on empowering teams to do the work. Leaders need to hire the right people, give them the vision, and support them in accomplishing it. They should ONLY be focusing on that, not scaling or promoting themselves. Cecelia notes that her education and passion for reading has been extremely valuable in learning to create those kinds of environments. Reading shows you a lot of different ways of communicating. Her most important tip? Start with the end and make the most important point at the beginning.
    Leading by Example
    Barry asks Cecelia what skills she has had to develop, working for a huge organization like CDW. When you don’t know everyone that you’re working with and responsible for, you have to find new ways to communicate with them. She emphasizes the importance of sharing yourself and being yourself to be more available and approachable when people need you. The key message to communicate is that we’re not really different people - we just have different roles in the business. You need to convey that it’s okay to bring yourself to work. 
    Looking forward
    Cecelia is looking forward to watching CDW evolve and go to market as a technology first, and how cool it would be to see a commercial featuring the products they are building. Seeing a company grow into being a market leader, and a place that attracts talent is inspiring. “It’s one of those gems that people don’t really know about.”

    Go to Barry O'Reilly for full show notes.

    Cecelia Myers on the web | LinkedIn

    • 35 min
    Design For The Web3.0 Economy with James Sommerville

    Design For The Web3.0 Economy with James Sommerville

    In this episode, Barry O'Reilly talks with James Sommerville, co-founder of ATTIK, the former Vice President of Global Design for The Coca-Cola Company and today founder of KnownUnknown, an emerging Web3.0 decentralized design community. 

    Sommerville talks about his entrepreneurial journey, from his early job as a street artist to co-founding ATTIK, a design studio with Simon Needham, and then becoming the Vice President of Global Design for Coca-Cola. He explains his thoughts on design, brand storytelling and existing labor structures in corporations and agencies, as well as the possibility for future advancements and new ways of working. He also discusses how these beliefs contributed to founding KnownUnknown.

    The Long and Winding Road
    James recounts his adolescent years in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, UK, in the midst of the collapse of the city's industrial peak. He believes that this experience led him to question society. "What led us here?” he asked. “What were the mistakes made? Maybe we need to learn what are the things we're going to do differently." His inquiring mind, and witnessing with his father's entrepreneurial spirit - he saw how much freedom his father had over his own life outside of the constraints of a regular job - strongly inspired his thoughts on business. As a result, his road to KnownUnknown was filled with entrepreneurial endeavors, but his motivation has always been "that sense of being able to do something and make people smile."

    Put Yourself Out There 
    Putting yourself out there is the first step to success, James tells listeners. He describes his eventual employment with Coca-Cola as an unexpected reward that many people erroneously believed was an overnight success. However, ATTIK had been in existence for 20 years before Coca-Cola contacted them. He believes that their strategy of "putting [themselves] out there, putting [their] signal into the world," as Barry puts it, was the catalyst that led to such an exciting opportunity. This strategy yielded favorable results as one of their digital design publications, Noise, soon caught the attention of Coca-Cola. James remarks, "There's something to be said about if you put your work into the world and people find it in the most unexpected and surprising ways... hold on to your authentic self, put your heart and soul into these things."

    Work Within Constraints
    “Working under constraints is one of my favorite aspects of great innovation," James tells Barry. James admits he had to overcome some initial teething challenges, transitioning from operating independently at ATTIK to working for a major global brand. He quickly discovered that the need to stay true “the Coca-Cola way" but innovate how people worked in sharing the brand with the world. In order to thrive within these new boundaries, James had to unlearn ATTIK's original mantra of thinking, looking, and acting big to "think small, act small, move like a small start-up."

    Redefining the New Creative Economy 
    James’ reflections on the traditional design agency structure and newly available technologies led him to develop the KnownUnknown platform model - a new work environment in which gas community at the heart of the model, and regardless of geographic location, selecting the very best talents who tomorrow will have the freedom to choose their own hours and projects, free of the usual bureaucratic red tape. 

    Looking Ahead 
    "I'm really excited for the next decade," James adds, as he prepares to “tiptoe" into the world of NFTs while experimenting with brand storytelling within metaverse and testing Web3 boundaries. He's particularly excited about the expanded opportunities for brand and talent collaborations, where current and future designers, as well as centralized brands, can explore new developments.

    Read full show notes at BarryO'Reilly.com

    James Sommerville: Twitter| Facebook| LINKEDIN| Instagram
    Known Unknown

    • 38 min
    Unlearn to Unblock Your Understanding of Blockchain

    Unlearn to Unblock Your Understanding of Blockchain

    Alison McCauley, author of Unblocked, is the Chief Advocacy Officer of Unfinished an organization focused on strengthening civic life in the digital age. She is a sought-after keynote speaker at conferences over the world and her LinkedIn Learning course about how the blockchain will change business has been taken by over 70,000 students. Alison joins Barry O’Reilly in this week's show to talk about the potential of blockchain technology for our digital lives.

    The Moment of Revelation
    Most of us have moments when a new idea lands like a bolt of lightning and seems to change everything. Alison had been working in emerging technology for decades when she came across the idea of blockchains, and what they could mean for people and organizations. She immediately set out to generate the key questions that would help her learn exactly what experts and experimenters in the space were trying to discover.

    Keeping up with Exponential Growth
    There is more happening, every day, in the evolution and development of blockchain technology than anyone can keep up with. Even young, energetic technologists without many outside commitments are working 17 hours a day and unable to stay on top of what is happening in their small sliver of the space. Alison shares about how learning circles in different areas create a structure for learning and sharing information that makes it possible to progress. She predicts that success is going to go to the people who can most quickly and effectively absorb and synthesize information. 

    The Messy Middle
    Not everyone involved in emerging technologies has excellent intentions - there are nefarious actors, and even the best-intentioned projects can go off the rails. Alison makes the point that you can learn from every project, even those that go wrong, and one of the challenges is to be cautious while still being open to the learning. “If you're able to hold a healthy skepticism and an open mind in the same space… you have the most intense opportunity for learning.” 

    Skin in the Game
    To really learn in this space, you should have skin in the game. She recommends putting skin in the game–making a small investment for the sake of learning and understanding the theories and processes involved - that kind of practical education is much richer than other types of learning, like reading an article. This isn’t financial or investment advice, but you can experiment and gain practical knowledge by getting involved through small investment in cryptocurrency, or bidding on an NFT.

    While the ultimate uses of blockchain technology are just starting to be discovered, communities are already using it to change the way people collaborate and work together. “If you’re not experimenting with it now in some kind of applied way, I think you’ll be very blindsided in three to five years,” Alison warns. Barry shares the example of Nobody Studios which is crowdfunding equity, something equally new and unfamiliar, and you can extrapolate it further and look at how people are using DAOs to change the way people can contribute and how they are compensated for doing so.

    A Sense of Belonging
    As DAOs are being developed, communities are being formed as well. The rewards of participation aren’t only financial, and Alison shares the story of a highly paid lawyer who volunteered his time on some contracts for a DAO. He told Alison that he valued what the organization was doing and realized “I can make a contribution here. I can help.” It was the ability to contribute that drove his desire to do so. This is how many people are starting to prioritize their time and effort.

    Go to Barry O'Reilly for full show notes.

    Alison McCauley on the Web | LinkedIn | Twitter
    Unblocked: How Blockchain will Change your Business (and What to Do About it)
    Unblocked Future

    • 44 min
    Teamwork Makes AI Work with Bill Higgins

    Teamwork Makes AI Work with Bill Higgins

    Bill Higgins is Director of Watson Research and Development at IBM. He leads the integrated research and development team responsible for evolving the foundational IBM AI technologies powering their main products and systems. He’s especially interested in the intersection of culture in tech as it relates to increasing diverse representation and technical leadership. Bill joins Barry O’Reilly in this week’s show to discuss what is needed to innovate at scale. 

    Bill’s Start
    Bill shares how he started in DevOps and made his way to becoming a leader in software engineering. He had always worked on software products, but after a certain point, he became disenchanted with the process of building the products, especially as it related to the methods and tools involved. He thought it could be much better than it was. In the early 2010s, he became enamored with the DevOps movement and sought to drive a DevOps culture at IBM; he was quite successful at this. His team was one of the first to be sent to the IBM design camp for product teams. He describes the experience and how it impacted his career.

    Deterministic vs. Probabilistic
    Barry recalls how Bill shaped his perception of AI. “I still remember… being blown away by the clarity of how [Bill’s colleagues] could talk about it. I got smarter just listening to them, and so many of the notions I had of what AI could do were blown away very quickly,” Barry says. Bill responds that he realized that the field of AI is a very different paradigm from traditional programming; the latter is largely about methodically defining a set of rules to create a deterministic program. AI is the opposite, by contrast; using the example of machine learning, Bill describes how AI is probabilistic by nature.

    AI Through the Years
    Bill and Barry explore the history and development of AI, and IBM’s role in both. “There was this really famous conference at Dartmouth University in 1956 with some of the legends of the industry… that established AI as a field of study. They adopted the term artificial intelligence as opposed to one of the competing terms like cybernetics,” Bill remarks. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, the fundamental parts of modern AI technology - neural networks, the concept of machine learning, natural language, and speech processing - broke through, but the industry would still be considered a field of research not fit for real enterprise use up until circa 2011.

    Teamwork Makes the AI Work
    To achieve something great with AI, you must have equally great AI algorithms made by people waist-deep in machine learning, Bill explains. They must understand the whole lifecycle of machine learning, make their algorithms available via understandable developer APIs, and run it at an internet scale. One of the biggest mistakes companies make is primarily investing millions of dollars in hiring scholars with degrees in machine learning from reputable institutions. You need both machine learning people to create the algorithm, but you also need the software developers to create the APIs and internet scale architectures.

    Building Great AI
    Innovators face two hard problems when creating foundational AI components, Bill tells Barry. “The first one is that fusion, that synthesis of really excellent machine learning, algorithm creation and excellent software development for both creating the APIs but also creating the internet scale architectures… Number two is how do you create an innovation pipeline.” IBM’s experience has been that innovation is difficult to commercialize quickly and at scale. They found that a modular architecture helps them to add new components more readily. Extensibility is another key principle. He and Barry agree that good collaboration and composability are two additional major aspects of a good innovation pipeline.

    Find full show notes a Barry O'Reilly.

    Bill Higgins on the Web | LinkedIn | Twitter

    • 41 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
35 Ratings

35 Ratings

Colin Mulholland ,

Accelerate your transformation & innovation learnings

Barry’s Unlearn podcast is loaded with guest testimonials of large corporate organizations.

At the intersection of change and innovation offering practical approaches for doing the work.

#GAW ,

Add this podcast into your leadership rotation!

Checked this podcast out to hear the episode with Katie Anderson. Worth the listen and a great complement to her new book. I have now downloaded several other episodes and looking forward to listening to them.

joycemsullivan ,

Brain Food & Candy! Delight for the mind.

Just discovered this podcast while randomly scrolling through Twitter and following threads down the proverbial rabbit-hole. Saw the one featuring Susan O'Malley of Ideo whom I heard speak in NYC at a creativity conference. Decided to have a listen and found every exchange she had with Barry O’Reilly of #Unlearn to be fun, thought-provoking, generous and humble. Highly recommend this podcast !

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