How will life and happiness converge with work in a changing world?
That question is one that acclaimed National Geographic photographer Cory Richards intends to explore during his keynote presentation Tuesday at the upcoming La Plata County Economic Alliance Summit at the Sky Ute Casino Resort Event Center in Ignacio.
Richards will be joined by Steve Cadigan, a talent-strategist, speaker and author of the just-released “Workquake”; and local business leader Kerry Siggins, CEO of StoneAge, a Durango-based waterblasting tools manufacturer.
Cadigan has spent the last 30 years immersed in talent strategy and company culture development. He served as LinkedIn’s first head of human resources and successfully expanded the company’s workforce from 400 to 4,000 in 3½ years.
In August, he published “Workquake: Embracing the Aftershocks of COVID-19 to Create a Better Model of Working.”
The book punctuates the need for conversation about how to revitalize the relationship between employer and employee in an evolving world faced with challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and revolutionary yet daunting technological advances.
“Most of the narrative about the future of work is steeped in, ‘Robots, artificial intelligence, automation and technology are going to be replacing jobs,’” Cadigan said. “The truth is, they are going to be a big part of the future of work. But isn’t the more relevant, interesting conversation, ‘How do we leverage that technology to have a more, deeper human experience, not just in work but just in our lives? How can we leverage our humanity to our advantage in a world where we feel victimized by the technology increasingly?’”
Cadigan described himself as an optimist and said he is tired of the doom and gloom about the near and distant futures of work.
“I think we need to step back and say, ‘That technology is here to help give us a greater human experience,’ and I think we need to start taking control of the conversation.”
StoneAge, an employee-owned and Durango-based design and manufacturing company, tackled the process of rehumanizing work years ago, Siggins said.
“It's in our DNA as an employee-owned company,” Siggins said. “It means treating people like adults, giving as much flexibility and autonomy as possible, paying livable wages, creating growth opportunities, sharing in the company’s success through profit sharing and ownership, being radically transparent, and admitting when we screw up. Are we perfect? Not even close, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to live and breathe our values, treat people with respect, and learn from our mistakes.”
Siggins entered the leadership role at StoneAge when she was just 28 years old. She said that self-awareness is everything when it comes to strong leadership.
“Most of us meander through our days, paying little attention to our actions and decisions,” she said. “Being on autopilot isn’t necessarily bad as our brain needs to conserve energy for the bigger issues we must tackle in a given day. Still, leaders get into trouble when they don’t understand how their actions, words and decisions impact others.”
Practicing self-awareness helps leaders be aware of their actions and also the consequences of those actions, Siggins said.
“Deep self-awareness allows leaders to take ownership of their impact and develop alternate responses and methods to fix the conflict they initiate,” she said.
Richards, an avid adventure photographer, survived a near-death experience in 2011 after he was buried under an avalanche while descending Gasherbrum II in the region of Baltistan, Pakistan, an event that scarred him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
But he had dealt with other challenges: Addiction, divorce, infidelity, bipolar 2 disorder, to list some. Richards uses his adventure photography to examine the internal, personal side of trauma that he believes everyone is exposed to on one degree or another.
“We use that sort of adventure vehicle and the visual vehicle to expose the fact that everybody faces some level of personal turmoil in life,” Richards said. “In order to humanize work, we have to make room for that and also give voice to it. Because if we don’t – and there’s plenty of studies that show this – our work and our ability to contribute effectively to creativity is diminished when we are suffering interpersonally.”
The Sky Ute Casino is enforcing mask use for all attendees, temperature checks at the hotel entrance, and either proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test within two days before the event.