Joanna Lepore, Global Director of Foresight and Capabilities Exploration at McDonald’s and host of Looking Outside podcast, shares the truth behind being a thought leader, how she created a smashing personal brand, and how she went from a regional insights role in Australia to moving to the U.S. and putting foresight on the map.
Ryan Barry: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the seventh season of Inside Insights, a podcast powered by Zappi, but really powered by Kelsey Sullivan. Kelsey, thank you for all of your wonderful work in producing all six of our seasons so far. Please don't cut this part. Um, and I'm excited for season seven.
Patricia, what's up?
Patricia Montesdoeca: Oh I cannot even believe this is our seventh season. This is my sixth season because I wasn't with you the first season, but this is just amazing. It's been so much fun.
I've learned so much.
I've learned about other things, but I've learned a lot about myself. This journey, this journey's taught me a lot about myself.
Ryan: Really, really. What has this journey taught me? We've been very strict about who comes on this show, so this isn't a sales tool for us, although we do use it, let's not kid ourselves.
But that's not the intent of the editorial governance of the podcast. Um, so we've talked to a lot of really cool people. I learned once again that when you try things you're not comfortable doing, it's good for you, and I, to this day, don't listen to podcasts. But I will tell you, I have a podcast on my to-do list this weekend.
Patricia: Oh yeah.
Ryan: I have a podcast on my to-do list this weekend from today's guest, which is Joanna Lepore. I'm really, really excited and Jo's podcast is called Looking Outside. And I'm gonna listen to it, even though I don't listen to podcasts. But what I've learned about doing the podcast is that I like doing them.
I like talking to cool people, and I like that I get an excuse to hang out with you two often. 'cause I don't know that I would otherwise as much. So I appreciate you.
Patricia: So that's what I'm gonna put first. I mean, yes, it is outside of my comfort zone. I decided to do something out of my comfort zone. I gotta tell you, I'm not gonna say I like doing podcasts because I don't know that answer.
I like doing podcasts with you guys. Because I feel comfortable. I don't have to be anybody else but me. I don't even have to pretend I can curse. If it comes out. We get to talk about stuff I'm passionate about and learn, and I get to summarize, which I love to do. It's just cool.
Ryan: It is cool.
Well, Jo Lepore is somebody who I'm in the process of getting to know, but I'm a huge fan of, and by getting to know, I mean like. I think she's, she'll probably be a friend of mine and I look back 10 years and be like, I'm really glad this person is in my life. She's just a really wise woman. She makes you very comfortable and she's very present in, her conversation and I really appreciate that. This conversation is fun. And frankly what I learned is that people from New England with Irish mothers and people from Australia who moved to the US have one main thing in common. They like to swear. So this is an explicit episode, but it's a lot of fun.
We cover a lot of things, from Joe's journey, from Australia to Mars to foresight within Mars, to now at McDonald's to how she finally got credit for always being herself, even though, you know, she's always been the same way and to foresight.
Should we get into it?
[Music transition to interview]
Ryan Barry: Hi everybody, and welcome to the new season of Inside Insights. I'm joined by a woman who I admire, who I've had the chance to get to know a little bit and hopefully a lot more over the course of the next several years.
Jo Lepore, who has several words in her job title, and I'm going to try to say them all. Jo is the global Director of Foresight and Capabilities Exploration at McDonald's. Did I get it right, Jo?
Joanna Lepore: Bang on. Good job.
Ryan: And Jo is the first of my guests that also has a podcast. Jo's podcast is called Looking Outside.
I joked with Jo before I hit record, I don't actually listen to podcasts despite doing one. So I'm gonna take an action to listen to yours after this. But what is your podcast all about, Jo?
Joanna:Thank you for the plug and for being honest. I can't believe I'm the first one that has a podcast that has come on your show.
So my podcast, basically I started it so that I could talk to interesting people about whatever it is that I wanted to talk to them about.
So every episode focuses on a different topic. I've covered storytelling, true crime, air commercial, air travel, and units like medicine. So basically, when I meet really interesting people that think about the world in a different way and that are open to approaching a problem in a, in a fresh way, I'm like, can you please come on my show and talk about this?
And my intention is for it to be a passion project, which it is. So it's something that I get a lot of energy out of, and what I hear from my community, my audience is every episode is a little bit surprising, a little bit different, and allows them to think about different topics that they're not normally exposed to. So it's good fun.
Ryan: That is fun. Okay, so while I haven't listened, you do a great job of making your podcast into little video bite sizes, and I did catch a clip of you with a comedian who I could tell you were a fan of, and it was a great energy on the podcast. Who was the person again?
Joanna: Monty Franklin. He's an Australian comedian and seriously could not believe that he said yes to coming on my show. He's been on like the Joe Rogan show. I'm like, why are you saying yes to me?
Ryan: Did he say in that video that you stalked him?
Joanna: Yeah, he did..it was like 50,000 emails. I went to his show in Chicago and cornered him, like right when he got off stage. I'm like, are you coming on my show? So I made it happen.
But like we were talking about this before we started recording, but you know, sometimes I get nervous before I record.
And definitely on the podcast I get nervous with certain people and wanna make sure that you do a good job of bringing out the best out of someone. Making it interesting, but also having fun yourself when you're doing it.
Ryan: Yeah it is true. Why don't we just stay here for a sec. I think, people say this about me, and I know people say this about you a lot, you're in the public spotlight, you speak at a lot of conferences, you're a thought leader, all these things. And so on the surface, You're super calm and, and you just said you get nervous before you come on.
I said to Jo before we recorded, I haven't recorded a podcast in three months, and so I was nervous. So, I guess for people listening that are trying to find their voice, how do you go about kind of battling anxiety and nerves and getting yourself comfortable being out there and being vulnerable?
Joanna: Wow, heck, do I do that? Are we allowed to swear on this show?
Ryan: Oh, fuck yeah. This is a safe space.
Joanna: Okay, great. You have an Aussie on, so that's natural. And my mother's from the inner city of Dublin, Ireland. It's foul for the podcast. Although I have been making an intention to try to swear less, but I usually fail miserably. Okay. Well that's good to know I can just cut loose.
So, how do I do it? I just, I just do it. I'm a big fan of just throwing yourself into the deep end, like using the nerve, you know, feel the fear and do it anyway. Just using your nerves. And it's a little bit of a cliche, but people say, you know, when you're nervous about something or when you're angry about something, it's because you really care.
And I try to remember that when I'm in the moment and when I'm about to get up on stage or I'm about to present to an MD or a CEO, whatever it might be, I'm like, uh, I feel like my guts are gonna fall out. Why? Because I really wanna do a good job. So then, you know, just try to balance the energy that you're getting from the nerves with all of the things that you already know.
Trust yourself, that you know your stuff, you've prepared, you are credible, you're here for a reason, you know, believe and believe in yourself. It sounds a little bit hokey, but I get that. I get that quite a lot from people, particularly because I joined McDonald's already having a podcast and already having a relatively public presence.
Somebody said to me yesterday, ‘I feel like I'm talking to a celebrity.’ I'm like, get the fuck outta here. I'm nowhere near that. But in the McDonald's sphere, you know, you're talking to data scientists, you're talking to HR people, people who are not doing what you and I do, they don't get up on a stage or in front of a microphone.
So for them this is very scary and unsettling and maybe weird. Like, why, why would you put yourself in that position? I do sometimes ask myself that. And so, the point to reiterate there is, even though we do it a lot, it's still hard. It's still nerve wracking. I still get nervous. It's not easy. It just becomes easier.
Ryan: I think it does. And something you said, that I still feel is like, if, if you have a little bit of nerves about something, it's actually a good thing to me. It tells you you're alive and like there's something exhilarating about confronting that and getting to the other side.
I still, before I speak, have to go hide and quiet for five minutes before. Nobody ever knows this. Now I guess everybody knows this.
Joanna: Oh, I love that. I get mic'd up and then I go for a walk outside and like to breathe for a second. Have you ever, don't you get nervous though that your mic is on?
Ryan: I always QA that. I've never had, I mean, you see enough shit on the internet where like, I've never hot mic'd myself, but you know, there was something going around the internet a couple years ago of a news anchor that was hot mic'd and saying some like real foul stuff to people.
Joanna: Yeah, I usually QA that same thing with Zoom. Like if you, if you're on a conference call, it's like, all right, am I actually on mute here? A few months ago, I was presenting, it was like a really rare opportunity in front of our global supply chain.
You know, teams from around the world, out of Madrid, and it was like hundreds of people, I don't know, like 500 people in the audience. I was standing there, I was mic'd up and I was nervous. So I'm like, I just need to do some heavy breathing, you know, and calm myself. So I went and exited and went to the bathroom and I checked with the AV person, I think 50 times.
I'm like, are you sure that my mic is off? Do you want me to take it off? I'd rather just take it off and not take it into the bathroom. Like in the fear that just in case I'm gonna be heavy breathing through the mass speakers.
Ryan: Oh yeah. So did you end up taking it off?
Joanna: No, I left it on and I was nervous the entire time that I was gonna run some water and people would think that I'm going to the toilet or so, like the worst possible, you know, Seinfeld-like experience would happen to me. Thankfully nothing happened and I got up on stage and I smashed it.
Ryan: Oh, good. You always smash it. I've always enjoyed your talks. So I wanna talk to you about this a little bit more. So five years ago, I didn't know who you were, and a good friend of ours, she might even be your boss now…Michelle Gansle. What's up Michelle?
Joanna: Michelle's a good boss.
Ryan: Probably best boss in the game, maybe. Michelle, we are like the inner circle of your fan club for a variety of reasons. I mean, that's just a good human being on every level. Anyways, this is not about Michelle. This is about you.
Michelle called me one day and said, have you ever heard of Jo Lepore? You gotta know this woman. She's incredible. And I was like, no idea who you're talking about. And then all of a sudden, now obviously once somebody puts someone in your radar, you notice them more. But then all of a sudden you were everywhere.
And I find a chance to have like, you know, a drink with you and dinner with you and stuff, but like, you know, you were in Australia, what, five years ago in a, in a regional insights role? Is that true? Two years ago. Well, okay, so even two years ago, you're in Australia. In a regional insights role, you've put foresight in my opinion, as a capability on the map in the world.
And you've developed a wonderful brand for yourself that's really had a demonstrable impact not only on your career, but also on the businesses you support. So like, take me through that. Like it's only two years ago, you're living in Australia and now you're in your second US city, in your second major global role, just take us through that journey a little bit. I mean, it just so, so impressive, Jo.
Joanna: I don't know if I've had that much of an impact, um, but I think I'm more visible now. So one thing that I reflect on is I do sometimes get people who I've worked with in Australia like 10 years ago who like, how is this little marketing coordinator in a small company like now on the stage from McDonald's? What happened?
They reach out to me sometimes and go, ‘it's amazing what you're doing. I can't believe you've, you've come so far.’ I'm like, why? Why is that? Because I feel like throughout my entire career, I've always been trying to transform my organizations and push the boundaries sometimes in a very troublemaker type of style.
Like really try to advocate for change and, you know, very often in a very public, in a very kind of confident way. So I think that the key difference is, one, I'm in America now and I, and maybe when I was in Australia, I had American advocates who were putting me more in the spotlight.
What I find is that when you're in the US or in a US business, or in a global head office, you’re just constantly approached with opportunities. So the opportunity to meet people, to come on a podcast, to go and present at something to like, just before this, I was interviewed for a magazine.
I'm like, what the hell? What an experience. So this kind of stuff just kind of comes your way much more, and because of that, you're just more public. But I would like to think that I've always been on the same agenda throughout my entire life and career is to drive positive change. It's just more visible now.
The other thing I'll say is that I feel incredibly lucky to be in foresight because basically like I stumbled into foresight is my story. I didn't even know it existed until probably 2018. What I knew of it was trends, which is like the poor man's version of foresight if we're being honest.
And so once I found out about it and I put my hand up for a project back in Australia. I started doing my own foresight work from Oz, the global business. And basically Michelle saw what I was doing and said, do you wanna come and help us to create this in the global organization? Moved me to New Jersey and then McDonald's moved me to Chicago to do the same thing for them.
But what foresight is now is in the stage of adoption. So it is getting a lot more, I guess similar to me, a lot more visibility. So it's in the spotlight more, it's part glamor, but part intense scrutiny.
It's like what are you actually delivering? Are you just an inspirational platform talking about the future, or are you actually driving change? It's in a really interesting state right now and I, what I'm really, proud of and honored is to be one of the voices in foresight that's helping to give it more credibility, more visibility to show how it can be really impactful for organizations and for corporations.
I think it's a really rare opportunity that I have and I'm trying to take every bit of it. So I'm constantly trying to remind myself to just be open to anything that comes my way, to amplify what we're doing in foresight.
Ryan: I want to go into foresight for a while because I find it to be a misunderstood word and I'm hoping to leave this podcast smarter.
But there's something about your reflection that resonates with me. You haven't changed. You've always had an insatiable appetite to innovate and to do things differently. It's that your platform became bigger as you had opportunities that you nailed.
So I wanted to talk to you about personal brand. Somebody once asked me to talk about personal brand. I'm like, what the fuck do I know about personal brand? But maybe you can just talk about it for a sec.
You are you and you own that. That was just what gave you at bats, which then opened up your platform. And I think for so many people, maybe they, maybe the podcast isn't the thing for them, but what is your thing and how do you own that?
Like, don't try to be me 'cause I'm a loud mouth Bostonian. That's just who I am. That's not who you are. And that's okay. You know?
Joanna: Yeah. I think you, you described it really, really well. And I think, you know, the more people that get up into the public space, and maybe this is the thing that's changed with me, is just the confidence to be in the public sphere where you are up for criticism and you are up for this is maybe overstating it, changing people's lives, but creating connections that help other people is maybe a better way to put it.
You are more in the public space and the more that I see people like you who, and hopefully like me who are just themselves in that public space, the more I think it gives permission to other people to tap into what you're talking about. It's like, what is that thing that I'm, that makes me unique.
Maybe it's different and maybe it's scary to put on a public sphere, but it gives other people the permission to just do things their way. So obviously like with, with respect and with hard work and all of those amazing things, but like your style is very unique and you're 100% genuine.
And every time I meet with you, Ryan, you're the same. Right. You're consistent. And that's how I hope that I come across as well.
Ryan: Yeah. That's a thing that I think that comes with either just real comfort with being yourself and owning it, or maybe just time, but I, I have like old age maybe. I've said this on this podcast before, but like for me, it was when Jill came in here one day and said, the work version of you sounds like an asshole. Just talk the same way.
And like, that was 15 years ago. And I just remember, you know, when someone says something, it just cuts through. And for me, I'm like, oh, she's right. I'm gonna talk to everybody the same way. And it's a lot less energy to have to put on a shtick. I don't have a shtick.
It's like, you know, neither do you. And the truth is, I fundamentally believe everybody's great at something. And so, hopefully for all of you listening, you're doing something that you love because then everything else gets easier.
So I wanna ask you one more question. You said something about the US having more networking and promotion. What are some other reflections on… I mean, I run a global business, I visit a lot of other countries. But I'm about as American as they come. What are some of the differences you see and what were some of the challenges moving to America and kind of integrating into the business ecosystem here?
Joanna: It's a question that I get quite a lot of how was that cultural transition? On the one hand it was really easy because America is not that different to Australia. It's not like I moved to Zambia or something. It was fairly easy culturally to adapt. I think that what I often tell people is like, then once you settle in, it's the little things that are different.
What I find in the corporate space in America is that people are a lot, maybe not you, but a lot harder to kind of cut through that outer shell that they build up that kind of like protective mechanism that a lot of Americans have, particularly in more senior corporate roles, to actually make friends, which is hard.
That's one of the things that I think I've found the most challenging. And I'm, I'm always up for a challenge, and I knew this coming in that I would be on the other side of the world, literally to like any family or friend that I have, aside from Michelle Gansle, who we'll get a shout out every 10 minutes on the podcast.
Ryan: Yeah, it's like a timer.
Joanna: But yeah, so I knew that, I knew that going in. There was one night where I had something terrible happen and I really wanted to call someone and everyone's asleep. I like had a realization that I had no one here, literally alone like, holy crap.
And that's okay. That's, that's all a part of it, I think. But I do, I do feel like it's almost the impetus for you when you're over here by yourself when you're moving to America. Everyone's gonna be super friendly and welcoming, but no one's really gonna give you a pathway towards true friendship unless you really work hard at it and you build and rebuild your connections over here.
I think the other thing, more like fun note is that I just, I kind of miss taking the piss out of things. And maybe again, this is why I really like you, Ryan, but in Australia you can just swear, you can make fun of yourself. You can make fun of other people. It's kind of casual. Very down to earth atmosphere, no matter where you are at work or personally.
And in the US everything's a little bit more buttoned up, which is okay for the most part. I just kind of miss, I miss taking the piss out of people and them not being sensitive about it.
Ryan: Hey, uh, everybody listening, lighten the fuck up. It's funny, I have a friend who's Dutch and he says it to me all the time. He is like, you're like the only American who I can make fun of and doesn't get mad.
Joanna: Yeah. Well, I mean, my husband and I, we have a nickname for each other that starts with the letter C. And sometimes we almost say it in public and we're like, oh my God, someone's gonna call the police on us. So yeah, we, we, you know, like, just have, have a laugh at yourself.
Don't take life so seriously. We're spinning around, we're spinning around in a circle on a rock that circles around a ball of fire. Like, everything's gonna be alright, everybody.
Ryan: Yeah. Okay, let's talk about some business for a second. I called you two years ago because I was on the phone with somebody and he was trying to figure out foresight. And I said, there's only one person I know who knows anything about foresight and it was you.
And since then I've tried to, I've started to like form my own opinions, but what does foresight mean to you? And I wanna spend a little bit of time, 'cause like if in the next 10 minutes if we can give everybody some tangible tips, that'd be awesome. Like what does it actually mean? And then we can talk a little bit about how you can make it work for your company.
Joanna: Now I'm really curious what you think foresight is.
Ryan: Oh, okay. All right. We can play this game. I think foresight…fuck. Okay, so now I gotta really think about this.
I think foresight is leveraging your view of culture and, and people, and where they're going to try to, to try to see where the world will be in the future state, so that you can get there before your competitors do.
I just made that up on the fly. I've never thought about that before. Was that full of shit?
Joanna: That's really good. Yeah. I think that you're bang on. It's about observing people, observing the world. I like to say it's about intentionally observing things because I think that everyone in any part of a business is observing things like this is what I thought when I first went into foresight.
I'm already doing this. Like I'm watching trends. I'm seeing the changes in plant-based and the environment and everything else. What else? What's different? So I think it's the intentional observation that's really unique is the ability to take what you're seeing and see how it is connected.
Who are the winners and the losers, what might it mean in the future? And to your point, project it out. But then also project different alternatives. So a key kind benefit of foresight is that it can help you to prepare or to plan for the things that are unexpected. So we often talk about blind spots or wild cards.
Those things that come out of nowhere, seemingly come out of nowhere. If you're preparing for out enough, you can start to have, you know, maybe three, maybe five different scenarios for something playing out so that you're already putting in place. If not plans, then just the level of thinking about how am I gonna react if that happens?
And then ideally, your foresight team is helping you with time because so much of change and knowing when to act on something is about the timing. Like when is the right tipping point, particularly for a large organization, if something's emerging and in the fringes, how do you figure out when you should actually invest in it or when you should act on it?
So, so much of it is about giving timing, but I think more broadly, So from a maybe more philosophical perspective, foresight is really about having the courage to face a changing world. So going into the future with your eyes wide open, that things are not going to be the same as they always have been.
And that's okay because the second part to that is that you have an opportunity and an ability and a responsibility to help to drive the change in the future that you want to see. And this can happen as an individual in an organization, as a small company, and as a big multinational perhaps more than anybody else.
You have a responsibility to look at the future with your eyes wide open, intentionally observe what's happening, and then ideally put things in plan so that you can influence the future. Hopefully, you know, growing the business and maintaining the business for, in our case, another 68 years, but also, you know, driving some of the more positive change that you believe in as an organization.
Ryan: Yeah, makes a lot of sense. It's something that struck out to me too, like knowing when to act. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. So, you know, meta gets a lot of shit for the big bet on Metaverse and it not working, and I think it's an example of what you said because like I have little children and if they had their way, they would live in virtual worlds.
And to me that's probably a very strong indicator of a future trend that's not, the world's not ready for right now. It was a function of a company making a bet and no one ever really gave me the vocabulary of like, it was the right bet at the wrong time. Until you, until you just sort of said it.
Joanna: Yeah. And it's also like just understanding what to do at what time as well. Like in our organization we talk a lot about flexitarian diets and the move towards plant-based, so the meta version of that would be like, we are a plant-based company.
It's like, well, no, we're still the same company. We're just experimenting. We're piloting, we're exploring, we're expanding. Right? So maybe that's maybe more so the attack that they should have taken. It's like, yes, this thing that you're investing in is exciting and it's real and it's emerging, but it's, it's not here yet.
You're experimenting into the future. We think it's there. So we're gonna, we're gonna iterate instead of, this is where our company is, let's rename the company.
Ryan: Yeah. Uh, shout out to all the great people from Meta who are looking for jobs because there's a lot of really talented people... All right. So another foresight question, who do you work with mostly? Who are your partners? Your business partners? Your stakeholders? I can't imagine it's the same people that an insights person deals with. I dunno if it's different.
Joanna: What I would say is it's different every day. So I think with insights you are little bit more driven by answering a question that the business has, whereas in foresight, you are posing questions to the business that they haven't been asking, or you are broadening their perspective beyond what they're currently looking at.
And so what that means is that we basically deal with the entire global organization and foresight in some small part. So we have obviously 119 markets, we've done workshops, we have impacted more than 2,000 people in the organization over the year that I've been there.
So we've reached a pretty broad range of stakeholders. So we do, whether it's foundational foresight, guidance, or whether it's deep dives on projects, we have worked with global functions like a global brand restaurant design, marketing, sorry, marketing is brand, customer experience, we might work with those functions.
We've done more very specific deep dives and guidance into other functions like supply chain and global impacts, so sustainability, nutrition. And then we've also worked quite extensively with markets themselves, so our top 10 markets. So we've done workshops with the leadership teams of the US and, and Germany and Canada and Italy, et cetera.
And then we kind of cascade and deploy out to our global market. So we've done like a Latin America cascade and within that would be like all your senior stakeholders across various functions in the organization. And then we've been lucky enough to have some tiny bit of interaction with our franchisees as well in our owner operators.
So some of those ones that are a little bit more future forward thinking and are working with our market leaders. They've brought us into those so, I guess the, the challenge there, like even when you say it out loud, you're like, well, how do you reign this thing in because the demand is outstripping the supply?
So you have to be very choiceful about when you are engaging in that kind of broad way, what is it that you are delivering? Because again, you don't wanna be that inspirational, you know, team that's just delivering trends and the fun stuff. You wanna be actually driving impact and driving strategic direction.
Thinking, you know, right up front, like throughout the year we have a plan of like, what are the four initiatives that we're actually gonna deep dive into? What are those things that we're uncovering the rest of the business isn't looking at because they're so focused on 12 months or the first three years.
As they should be, right? Like, this is the thing that I often say is like not everybody in the organization should be doing foresight. We should be running the business. We should have the majority of our business looking at 12 months. That is a good thing. It's not a bad thing. But you know, where hopefully that little team that comes in and sparks your thinking about the what if in the further out horizon.
Ryan: Yeah. Interesting. Okay. So I have a super practical question, what are some of your signals that you are intentionally using? Or is it everything when you say signals? So what I mean by, I'm sitting here going, if I was to put it bluntly, like what's the stack of tools, data sets, things you use to get inspiration.
And I'm wondering if it's just like, actually we consume everything and triangulate with what, you know, like, like what are, what are your sources of inspiration?
Joanna: That's a really important question and a very big one. I think, in short, it, what you said.
It's a broad range of sources that we triangulate and we look across if you say six data types. So if you think about the macro forces of change, we look at societal and cultural sources. We do pull in consumer behavior, but we try to stay away from claims.
We look more at meta-analyses of changing consumer behaviors and dynamics, economy, and changing, you know, financial situations. We look at where the investments are being made. What are the projections for growth for some of the emerging markets or functions on categories?
We're paying attention to UN related climate documents, we're reading scientific papers on the environment and we're also speaking to environmental experts. We're reading the latest tech advancements, investments, innovation papers where we're constantly trying to think about things like, if this is emerging, what does it mean?
So, for example, we did a deep dive with our data science team on generative AI, which is obviously like right before it hit the buzz hype phase to say, okay, this thing is, is about to hit a tipping point of hype. Like just pull back and let us give you a perspective on this because it has a lot of risks and, um, it might not mean today what it will mean in the future.
And then political, right? So looking at governments legislation, which is obviously something that's really impactful for our organization.
So I'd say we're triangulating all of that. We have an always on horizon scanning tool and partnership. We have a partnership with the Copenhagen Institute for the Future. So I think it's really important, if I'm giving advice,if that's where you're going, is for you to really think about who you are partnering with, what are your data sources, and how you are using that data.
Because you can very quickly get overwhelmed with the amount of information. So again, it goes back to my mantra of being intentionally observant.
Ryan: Yeah, exactly. But it, there's a, there's a parallel to me that I'm like, I'm stress…I'm not stressing about, but I'm thinking about as we're talking, like stressing you out.
What's stressing me out is, it's the next topic I wanted to talk to you about, which is, it's this degree of change, but let's talk about why I'm thinking about it. All the data around us needs to be set up, in my opinion, to go to work for us beyond the, which cheeseburger should we launch?
And I think as an industry we've still just gotten comfortable using, and by industry I'm now talking about market research again, we've still just gotten comfortable with like, let's use software in some cases and use consultants in another case. And we haven't really stepped, changed that.
And you know, in our industry data, if it's private, secure, clean, language models and gen AI are going to be a force multiplier for us if we can figure out the safety and the compliance side of it. And so this is the tension. If this industry can get to a place where all of our tools work for us, dare I say, people who need to answer tactical questions on a Tuesday can just have the damn tools themselves.
Then I'm sitting here thinking about how many of the really wonderful consumer insights people become foresight's people because their superpower isn't testing a thing on Zappi. Their thing is like, well, if I have early adopters in this survey data, what's happening on social, what's happening in political, what's happening with technology, I can then triangulate a viewpoint of where the world's going.
And so I had this tension in my mind of like, and it was only, it's only while we're having this discussion that I'm like, fuck, how much of the future of insights is for insights, because if we do insights, if we transform or digitize, whatever buzzword you want to use consumer insights effectively. Now, I would argue my brain is three years in the future of today's reality, most insights departments are still coming along on a journey, right?
And depending on which department you're in and which country, whatever, but I, I really believe there's like somebody in insights in the future whose job is to connect and enable these tools and systems. And maybe there's some people that are still doing activation projects, but I don't see why you wouldn't give those to people who need them on their desktop.
And so, I view the role of insights either connecting data or informing strategy. And so that's the, the tension is, well, there's a lot of overlap with what you're saying and what I believe people need to be doing more of. What do you think?
Joanna: Yeah. I think that's like exactly what I hope will happen.
I think the way that we set it up in McDonald's is maybe a reflection of that in its early iteration or journey, which is that we have insights in three parts. The first is insights of today, which is I think predominantly what a lot of organizations focus on insights of tomorrow, which is what you're talking about, where they're actually thinking a little bit further ahead and they're using the data in a more strategic way to imagine what could be and project it out and, um, to think in a more imaginative way maybe.
And then insights for the future, which is where foresight sits. So I think, you know, when you think about where technology is headed and how this broader conversation that's taking place around what can be replaced, what's irreplaceable? I think that’s the ability for us, particularly as insights people, to lean into.
Human ingenuity. So creativity, imagination, critical thinking. I don't think that those things will ever be truly replaced with technology. So how do you spend more time leveraging technology for the things that you don't need to be hands-on with and more time imagining the future and what could be.
Ryan: Yeah, then what you just said is like, that drives me like this. We're too grounded in the project.
So if I have one more topic I wanna discuss with you, then I'll leave you alone. I said something to Jo before this conversation in an email.
So we're gonna, we might even have a little debate here. I've been doing some customer immersions lately, and not that my biggest customers are the most sexy customers, but just sort of studying like where are insights and marketing departments at?
And what I see is a plethora of desire to do better. Way too many buzzwords and tools being thrown around, but nothing's really changed. From eight years ago in terms of how they spend their time and are they actually getting upskilled and enabled? And I'm speaking in generalizations, of course, sub departments are doing great and everybody I do believe is trying.
But why do you think we're, we're struggling to step change the work and how we work and all this technology around us? All this opportunity and desire, but it still seems like the same stuff in a lot of places? What do you think is holding us back?
Joanna: That's such a big question, isn't it?
Ryan: I know, but it keeps me up at night.
Joanna:Yeah, I think what is very real and very true in the world right now is anxiety and we're just feeling anxiety about so many different things, like where people are just feeling overwhelmed and they don't necessarily probably feel like they have the soft skills to handle that kind of volatility in their lives.
This is maybe seemingly going a little off topic, but before the pandemic, we were coming into a mental health crisis before the pandemic. Then the pandemic hit and it exacerbated it. We've got to worry about the environment we've got now. Things about AI taking over our lives and like literally taking over our jobs in many cases.
So I think people are feeling, you know, we call it the poly crisis rise. It feels like there's just so many things. By the way, poly crisis is not a new thing. It's been around since the nineties, but it feels like it's new. It feels like change is happening at a faster rate than what we can control, or we can even process ourselves.
What I see is, maybe being a bigger opportunity is how do you give insights professionals more soft skills and more tools to be able to handle the influx of expectations that they're facing? It's the softer capabilities of like, yes, I will have more data, I will have more tools, I will have more issues probably to deal with, but how am I telling the story?
Like what really matters in the end is almost like trusting that you're partnering with credible data sources and tools and capabilities. But then none of that is for anything unless you can present it in a compelling way to your senior stakeholders. Like how do we, how do we focus our insights professionals more on that?
And that's where the funny part of my job title sort of comes in is with capabilities exploration. And so much of it is like training our insights guys to be comfortable on a stage to tell a story without relying on 50 page PowerPoints, to build confidence in themselves to talk about their worth and, and their, you know, the work that they put into and over and above and on top of all of the data and the insights that they obtained.
So I don't know if that's answering your question, but I think that going back to the point around change and volatility in the world. What we know from the data is that when you're in a time of volatility and disruption, you are more likely to make bad decisions. So I almost feel like it's an opportunity for insights people to slow down and really think about whether or not they have the soft skills to handle anxiety?
Do you have the soft skills to lead your people through this time where everything feels like it's in a poly crisis state? Are you making wise decisions and educated decisions? And informed decisions? Do you know how you're leveraging your people versus your technology?
Ryan: It, I mean it certainly creates empathy and it resonates with me, right? I was saying this to our staff last week, like, if you think of just the last three years, I mean, it's just been chaos all around us.
One of the things that was good about the pandemic years was that I got to spend more time with my family than I've been able to spend. The other part about it was I became a lot less social, and I don't know if that's the two years of age that happened, but also like my battery gets, my battery runs out faster than it used to.
So I have a lot of empathy for it. And the other part of what you say, the more skills oriented part of your words resonate with me because it wasn't 10 years ago that most insights departments were told, grade the homework, protect the risk, present the data. That was the job. And 'become agile' was something McKinsey again threw out at people and no one actually was enabled with the upleveling that was needed to like do some of the stuff you're discussing.
Like, yeah, this data says this, but I was on the subway and I saw these five things and I know our business has these things and therefore, yeah, we should do this. And I just, I encourage leaders that are listening to this to spend more time on the development of people. But it does start with you.
I talk to Tom, who's our chief people officer, about this all the time. It's like we can do so much to give somebody a framework to improve themselves or the budget to improve themselves, but everybody has to want to and actually put in the time.
Joanna: Yeah. Well, kind of goes back to the point, that I can't remember if it was before we started recording or, or during, but the more that you see these kinds, like that kind of message and it it being demonstrated in action by your leaders, like by you, the more people feel like it's okay to focus on that stuff, that it's okay that you're not just a data monkey and you're not like a button pusher that you can actually be another person in the organization that's driving that change that we all want to see happen.
Ryan: Yeah, and I think like if some people listen to this might be like, but that's the problem, Ryan and Jo, like my marketing director just wants me to give him a score.
There's a piece of advice that I got from a woman who started an insights department. The company didn't know what to do with insights. They just know they wanted it. Right. It's probably similar to when you started doing foresight. We need to do this, but we don't know why. And I, does that resonate? Did that happen? Maybe a little bit.
Joanna: I think they knew why, but not how. It's like, just get in there and work it out, you know?
Ryan: But that's what this woman was explaining to me and I was like, so what did you do? And she's like, well, I didn't ask for a budget. I didn't, I didn't buy tools and I didn't ask them what they wanted to learn. I went and created value. And I won't share why and specifics 'cause that's her business to share.
But what I liked about that was even if you're in a paradigm where it's like, which cans can be better? Which cans are better? What, what a lot of you might feel your job is if there is some space to carve out a, Hey, I saw the last 50 cans that you asked me to look at and we shouldn't be using cans anymore. So yeah, and you use the data to your benefit.
Joanna: One of my mentors and someone that I've been connecting with regularly for a long time is Rose Herse. Very lucky I met her a long time ago. She's the president of WPP in Australia and one of the first pieces of advice she wrote to me is still on a sticky note on my wall, which is to make it real.
So like you make a case for it. Use the data that you have, use the knowledge that you have to your point about the business and about the consumer.
And if you're throwing something new into the mix, make it compelling, make it real for people. Because I think a lot of the time we kind of discount the ability to change something because it's actually really hard putting a very compelling, strong case together that's gonna change someone's mind.
But that's what cuts through right. With assertion and, and takes extra time.
Ryan: That's good advice. I like that. So I've taken 15 more minutes of your life than you budgeted Jo, thank you. I can't wait to see you soon. I'm sure I'll see you at one of these events sometime soon or maybe even Chicago before it gets cold.
Joanna: Yeah, that'd be nice.
Ryan: Alright Jo, good to see you.
[Music transition to takeaways]
Ryan Barry: So, Patricia. Couple things that you wanna talk about after our episode with Jo, let's talk about 'em.
Patricia Montesdoeca: The topic of our conversation today is foresight. So of course I wanna highlight foresight, but I wanna start with the second one first. The second one is where she talks about being her and how her personal brand has evolved and not evolved.
She started out being herself and then people started noticing, and then how she manages anxiety. So lemme talk about that for a second. She talks about using the nerves that we get. She's just as nervous as anybody when she goes out and speaks publicly.
She's incredibly curious, not only about life and her job, but about trying new things. She speaks about, you know, taking every single opportunity, even if you're nervous about it, even if you're scared. She goes, if you're scared, that means you care. So she started thinking about it backwards.
The more nervous I am, the more scared, the more scared I am. That means the more I care about doing it. Right. So she uses her anxiety and her nerves and her stress to feed her energy, which I think is brilliant. It's brilliant. She uses her own power to power herself. I mean, if that's not better than any hybrid car, I've seen.
I mean, she's just invented it. She invented the whole thing and she says she's, I mean, I just got to meet her, but she says she's been this way always and just recently did become something that's kind of accepted and marketable. Let's use that word, although it's an envy word.
And she spoke about, of course, the transition between Australia and the US. But she says that in the US the main difference is she gets more and more opportunities. So if she's not in the right place, then nobody is, because she's a person who knows how to take advantage of every opportunity by being herself, by pretending to be anybody else.
My understanding is that everybody's great at something and let's go share it so we can help somebody else. And I really, really like that. And that's something Ryan has told me. So many times you've got so much to share. Go share it. Be public about what you can be. So I really like the way that she's doing that and she's using it to create connections in her new world, in her new world of the United States right from Australia.
So, I mean, I wanna make sure that all of us understand and take the learning from that because everybody has to change from one place to the other at one point or of their lives, whether it's neighborhoods, jobs, you know, families or countries or cultures or anything. But just embrace it. Embrace it.
I'm gonna take that with me forever. So thank you Joe, for that.
So the other one I wanna talk about is foresight, which is what brought us together today? You said right away, foresight is misunderstood. I mean, you pulled a beautiful definition out of…
Ryan: Out of my ass, by the way.
Patricia: I'm like, what? He never said that before. It was amazing. You did a great job.
But you're right. Foresight is one of those words that people just use. Right. And they don't really know what they're, what they're meaning. It's misunderstood and it needs to be expanded upon. And I really like where she started talking about it, that foresight isn't a stage of adoption. The world is adopting to foresight and what it means, and we're, I think that as a world, we're defining it as we go. Right? And it's gaining visibility.
And what does this mean? That it's in vogue? That means, yes, it's got a lot of glamor, but it's got a lot of scrutiny too. And it makes it very different from trends. She called trends. I had to laugh 'cause I have friends and myself who believe enormously in trends. And she said trends are like the poor person's foresight. And I thought, oh, oh boy, that's kind of, that's a deep cut.
But anyway, you asked her to define it. And she said, the objective of foresights is to help you plan for the unexpected. I thought to myself, oh, I hadn't thought of that that way. And then I thought, okay, now she sets the stage and she goes, it's all about observing intentionally.
You know, how much I love mindfulness? About connecting the dots with what you see about, so that you can project into the future what you're learning. Not just about looking and, oh, look how cool, this color's in trend. What are they gonna do with that color? What does that color mean? Right?
Projecting into the future so that you can create different alternatives. When we, when we talk about plan A, plan B, plan C, that's having foresight. And she goes, even if you don't create a plan, a specific plan written on paper, it's teaching you to think differently so that you can know how to approach the future.
And if this happens and I'm gonna do this, and if that happens, I'm gonna complete my way of thinking, which I think. Pardon my redundancy, which I feel and believe is needed for everybody, not just the experts in foresight. So the fact that she's seeping this into culture is excellent. She talked about the fact that it's different from insights because there's three types of insights.
Insights for today, insights for tomorrow, and insights for the future, and insights for the future. That's foresight.
So I thought that was fantastic, the way she separated it. You talked a lot about tools, and I'll let you get into that in a second, but it's all about having the courage to face an uncertain future and know that if you plan appropriately and you learn how to observe intentionally, you're gonna be in a better place because you're gonna be ready, not only are you gonna be ready for the change, you're gonna be ready to insert yourself into the future and drive positive change. So I thought that was brilliant.
You asked her a really hard question that she answered to the best of her ability, but I don't think anybody, I think it was an unfair question, right?
She answered well, no, no, no, no. It wasn't you. It was a great question, but it's unfair because I don't think anybody has the answer, the timing part. How do you know when to act on a foresight? You don't, and that she said, you know, something along the lines of you really don't, nobody really knows what you're, you're planning for that so that when it happens to you, you know how to act because you've already thought about it.
And so I thought that was great because it's, she's not promising a crystal ball, which many people do. She's giving us, she's helping us gain. Go bravely into the night, right? And I have a bonus, but I'm gonna let you talk about those two for a, because I know you love this topic.
Ryan: Well, I do. And so it's really interesting, like the first episode of a season, you get rusty doing this shit. So I was kind of nervous, particularly 'cause Jo is just so badass but you know, it was the first, it was the first interview and it was just a good conversation.
Like to actually learn about foresight in this conversation was fantastic. And it gave me the vocabulary, as you said, the horizons of insight are really big.
And then I thought about it a lot afterwards and I think there's people who work in foresight that need to establish the capability within a company. But to me the real tension is everybody's got a day job and most people's incentives, bonuses, raises are gonna be predicated by the day job and not nearly enough people, including people at Zappi.
In fact, it's an idea that I got today that isn't even incentivized on exponential things. And I think that there's a really interesting thing like, how do you teach people to stop, pause, zoom out, reflect. Even though varying degrees of hamster wheel might be existing in their life. And, and that's, I don't think that's necessarily just a work thing.
I think that's like a thing, a life thing. And I do it, I got fucking whiteboards everywhere because I'm psychotic and I like to zoom out. But how do you create that capability?
And I think on, just on Jo in general, right? Like she's always been curious and bold and not afraid to speak up. And those things for her are authenticity and I think authenticity is like, if you could find that in your life really, really advantageous and because you're just betting on yourself and doing something you like and you don't have any other armor or bullshit to deal with.
And as Jo said, she's kinda like, ah, I'm not, I'm the same Jo. You know, just with a different job now. And I respect that because she's her, she's been the constant in her journey, and that's why her journey's gone where it needed to.
So what's your bonus?
Patricia: My bonus? I mean, it was hard because I was gonna choose two, it was so good.
There were many things she said, but this one I loved. It made me giggle. She said:
Don't take life so seriously. We are all spinning around in a circle on a rock that spins around a ball of fire. I thought to myself, oh yeah, we, we are okay. She's right. I mean, it's just, I don't think we take the time to consider that. And she said this after she commented that Australia and the US are slightly different because we're a little bit more uptight in the US and I'm gonna count myself because, you know, I'm 50-50 Columbian American.
But the Colombian in me fights with the American in me because Colombians are uptight in a different way than Americans are. But both of us are, both parts of me are more uptight than Australians. But she talked about the fact that that's one of the things that she's noticed the most from the US, that we've got a little bit of a core, a little bit of you know, a mask and armor, but you know, we're spinning around the ball of fire.
Let's let it go. I loved it.
Ryan: Let it go guys. I can say the sample size of a few. You just started a new job, chief growth officer at a CPG company. Jo's flying and I have the privilege to do what I do. We all drop the armor.
So our next guest is…no guest. We have some learnings to share from our own work and trying to make exponential change happen. Have a good day everybody. Thanks for listening.
Patricia: Bye, ciao.
Ryan: Bye ladies.