Steve: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best Podcast listeners, wherever you might be in the world today! This is your host, Steve Shallenberger, and we have a very talented and interesting guest with us today. She helps leaders and organizations reach their desired futures through strengths-based innovation and strategic foresight. Welcome, Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild!
Dr. Connie: Thank you so much, Steve. I’m very excited to be here.
Steve: Okay, good. Well, before we get started, I’d like to tell our listeners a little bit more about Dr. Connie. Dr. Connie serves as the interim Executive Director in Chief Futurist at the Rural Futures Institute and consults with organizations from both the private and public sectors. Her clients range from rural hospitals to remote villages, and small business to global organizations. Her research is both the hard and human sciences, which allows her to see how our exponentially high-tech world must purposefully intersect with human needs and values for sustainability and exponential potential. So, before we get into this, let’s just talk about the little village part. I have had the good fortune to do quite a bit of work in East Africa, different parts of Africa. Particularly in the country of Rwanda. So, tell us about your background of helping rural hospitals or remote villages. Where’s that come from?
Dr. Connie: Yeah. You know, it’s been an evolution over time; but, about 15 years ago, I was able to go as part of the International Farmer to Farmer Program to Nigeria. We spent about a month there. We helped three different villages and worked with leaders in those villages to really help not only the agricultural side, but also the leadership and entrepreneurship elements that they really needed to develop in order for them to be able to sell their crops, to grow their lives, and to really—you know—be successful in whatever way worked for them.
Steve: That’s great! And how did you help them, Dr. Connie?
Dr. Connie: A lot of it—you know, it’s funny. I do have a hard and social science background, as you mentioned. So, my bachelor’s degree is in natural resources. I have a master’s degree in entomology, which is the study of insects; but, my Ph.D. is in leadership in human sciences. So, I went after I finished my master’s degree, and it was really about agriculture. You know? How to develop better crops, grow those crops, sell them and market. But, the funny thing is, most of what they really needed at that time, I actually learned from spending time on my grandparents’ farm. You know? Just having a root cellar where you stored food, or—you know—things that I didn’t learn in graduate school, but I had just learned through, you know, living with great people and being surrounded by great people. And so, part of that, that was a huge life-changing event for me. I never traveled internationally before. And so, my first international experience was actually with a great mentor of mine. But, also, I ended up in places with no running water, no electricity, and I was actually the first white woman many people had ever seen. So, it was a tremendous experience. It changed my life, and it really just brought in my perspective around what’s possible, people, and just the global nature of the world itself.
Steve: Wonderful. It is a whole other perspective, isn’t it?
Dr. Connie: Absolutely, and—you know—it teaches you to appreciate what you have, whatever that is. But also, it teaches you to appreciate the fact that, you know, humanity really is interconnected, and we all need to take responsibility to help one another.
Steve: An education in the type of things that you’re doing are so impactful. I’ll bet that made a big difference with the people that you worked with.
Dr. Connie: Oh, absolutely. And I think the great thing is, you know, once you have those experiences you crave more. Some of us do. I did. So, I think that’s been a wonderful part of my, just, personal journey is being able to work internationally and travel internationally, but also connect a lot of that here and see these patterns that exist, you know, where we live—in the United States—but also around the world. Being able to bring that knowledge and those experiences into—you know, whether it’s coaching, strategic foresight, leadership development. It has been very impactful. This is partly why women have been a large part of my practice privately in my firm Wild Innovation, but also, you know, a part of what we do here at The Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska.
Steve: Great! Well, just before I get into some other questions that I had in mind, I’d love to have you share with our listeners about your background. Where were you raised? What experiences did you have that were transformational for you that helped you arrive where you’re at today? What were some of those decisions that helped you choose this pathway?
Dr. Connie: You know, I have always loved learning and I loved school. So, those were—
Steve: Let’s just pause for a second. Connie warned me before we got going that in Nebraska, right now, it’s really cold. They have pipes that produce heat, and we may hear them. So, I think that is just wonderful!
Dr. Connie: I’m glad you think it’s wonderful! It makes recording podcast—like the Rural Futures Podcast—very difficult sometimes, or even doing interviews like this! But, we’re in one of the oldest buildings on campus, and so, here you are and here we are. But, yeah. You know, going to college was something I had sort of dreamed about. I really viewed additional education as my pathway out of…I’m the second oldest of six, and, you know, I’m in the middle of my life. So, it’s not like people had a lot in terms of material wealth then. I really viewed it as my pathway out of poverty. We always had a lot of love at home, but we didn’t always have a lot of money. And, you know, it was sort of a pipedream of mine. I was, you know, graduating in the top ten percent of my class in high school, but at the same time when I wanted to go to college, my parents were like, “You know, that’s great, Connie. We’ll support you any way we can, but financially you’re going to have to figure it out.” So, I’m like, “All right! I can do that.” And so, you know, it was a struggle, I would say to get through, especially my undergrad. Luckily, here at the University of Nebraska, I had a lot of great mentors and people who really embraced me and worked to help me through that. I actually have a master’s degree in entomology because I worked for a professor in that department as an undergrad, and he’s turned out to be just a lifelong mentor, you know, and friend. But, one Saturday morning, I’m in his office, I’m filing—you know—files in his cabinet, and he’s like, “Hey, Connie! Have you ever thought about going to graduate school?” I’m like, “No! No way. I’m done. I’m out and making money.” He was like, “What if you could get paid to go to graduate school?” I was like, “Okay, now I’m listening.” I didn’t even know that was possible. So, I was on a full-time assistantship and did a lot of the field trials as we were looking at new varieties of corn and maize being planted in the United States and around the world. Also did a lot of work in the lab. But, I also—you know—knew that being in a field or lab wasn’t my final destination. I really loved the people-science of it all. So, I would do a seminar on organophosphates and human health. You know, or something like that, versus just the insect-part. So, I really wanted to learn more about people, and my trip to Nigeria was a huge part of that. You know, working with a bunch of introverted entomologists was a huge part of that. So, you know, taking those signs from the universe and taking them forward is a part of how I help people create their futures now.
Steve: Wonderful. Well, that’s a great background. Thank you for taking a couple of minutes to share that. On Connie’s bio, the background, sheet, I’d like to read one paragraph that I think helps describe part of what she’s doing. Then I’ve got a couple of questions in regard to this. Here it is: “The future is changing fast, organizations and leaders need processes and frameworks to consider alternative futures.” In other words, what’s possible and probable futures, these are forecast and predictions. So, today, really, we will get both an inside look at strategic foresight and futuring tools that help future focus leaders make plans and implement ideas. So, let’s…To lay the foundation for that, Connie, what exactly is a certified futurist?
Dr. Connie: Well, in my case, I actually did go to the University of Houston and I graduated from their Strategic Foresight program. Not all futurists have that background and certification, but they certainly do exist. Strategic foresight and futuring have actually been around as a discipline for over 100 years in various ways. You know, there are colleges and universities now that actually have full degree programs around strategic foresight and futuring. There are societies and professional organizations, so it is a discipline. People come to it with many different backgrounds and experiences, but use a lot of the methodologies and are even creating new ones to help people, you know, make meaning and sense of the future, but also—you know—create their own futures as well.
Steve: Yeah, great. All right. And so, how can our listeners navigate change, plan for disruption in the marketplace, and develop a future-focused mindset?
Dr. Connie: Well, I think there are, you know, a number of different elements there. You know, one of the things that I work with a lot of clients around is not just what problem are we trying to solve, but rather what future do we want to create? We know there are multiple possibilities, you know, in the future. So, in thinking about those possibilities, what’s probable, what’s possible, but also, you know, what’s preferred. What’s the preferred future here? Then, how do we create the strategies and structures needed to move toward that future, knowing that it’s not going to be a straight path, but rather more like a winding road? We, as leaders, need to be able to navigate that winding road, pivot when necessary and continue to change and work toward that desired future. Knowing that the possibilities are going to change as we go along, and the path may be very different than we had first thought about when setting out on our path.
Steve: Let’s see if we can take that a little deeper, Connie. Let’s say that you might be a banker. You might be a leader of a manufacturing firm. You might be in education: maybe you’re a Dean or a professor even, where things are changing so rapidly you might be an entrepreneur in a place like Africa—trying to figure out how to really break out and create a future for yourself, but we’re in the middle of enormous disruption. Enormous change with high-tech, with artificial intelligence. Things are really moving more quickly than ever in history. So, what can someone do in those positions thinking about their relative industries to not get disrupted?
Dr. Connie: It’s about looking in their industry, but it’s also about looking outside of their industry to see what’s happening. How can they take those sort of clues and cues and make sense and meaning out of those for their own industry? So, in a sense, you have to be willing to disrupt yourself using what you see happening out there in the world, and how you think that will work with your audience, your customers, your clientele. So, for example, I do work with a lot of healthcare organizations. Not just in rural, but beyond that as well. So, we a lot of times think about the technology and those aspects of change, but also we see the evolution of humanity as well with this. So, we talk a lot about—for example—the demographic shifts that are happening around the world. But we also need to talk about the psychographic shifts, because technology actually is influencing the behaviors, but also people’s behaviors are influencing the evolution of technology. So, these two pieces go hand in hand. And, you know, companies that are generating a lot of data around this knowledge are really the ones getting ahead. They’re making meaning out of that data and moving ahead. That’s dictating the future. So, the future’s actually being created today. Every time we click a device or search for something or shop for something online, that’s all, you know, shaping the future at this point in time. And so, part of developing your future—whether you’re a business or a person—is really experimenting and exploring. Being willing to dream a little bit, but also thinking about, “How can I use the tools that are at hand to help understand my target audience better and deliver what they need?” But also think about what they might need that they don’t even know they need yet. How can I use, not only what’s happening in this industry, but in other ones, to really disrupt the current industry I’m in? I mean, I’m obviously in higher education, and we have a huge disruption going on, as do many other—you know, like you talked about—many other industries. But, why not look at like Stitch Fix for example? How can we use data science to tailor education a better way? How can we create immersive experiences through VR and AR? What are the ways we can help shape education, knowing that other entities are already in the ball game, changing it in ways that we haven’t even thought of yet because we’ve been in this industry for so long.
Steve: Right. Well, that’s good. Well, okay. That’s a good perspective and background on this to help us get thinking in the right way. So, really, as we think, as we’re leaders of organizations or teams or even our own life, and we’re thinking about how to be successful over a long period of time, it’s really both a mindset, but it’s also a skillset. Isn’t it?
Dr. Connie: that’s a great way to say that. Absolutely. I think, too, that’s where not taking it all on yourself is also really important. You know, we all come to this with our underlying beliefs, personal biases, et cetera. So, you know, really focusing on innovation as an open effort, as a team effort, learning from your customers, your colleagues, others in your industry and beyond, but also, you know, having tools in place. Having strategies in place. You know? Working with futurists or leadership development experts, et cetera. You know, and that’s where I love marrying the futuring with the coaching and leadership development together because it’s not just about what changes are happening. It’s about how do we, you know, make sense and meaning out of those, but how do we lead this disruption ourselves to create the futures we really want? The preferred futures. I’ll give an example. So, you know, a lot of times, looking at the fringe is also very important. We hear a lot about millennials and the need to engage millennials in the marketplace. Which is very true for some industries, but not all. So, for example, AARP estimates the longevity economy to be a $7.6 trillion economy. People over the age of 50 are actually generating $7.6 trillion in economic activity in the United States. So, you know, what does that look like for the future? So, it’s not just one segment of the world necessarily that we need to look at, but it’s also looking outside of what we know.
Steve: As a futurist, what do you see as some of the most significant changes that are coming down the road that people ought to be aware of?
Dr. Connie: One that I’m very interested in right now is the human element of all of this. So, wellbeing has become a huge, huge topic—for a number of good reasons, right? So, as technology continues to change and evolve so rapidly, how does that really impact or affect people? You know, what are we doing to change, and how is this changing us? Is that good or bad? Knowing that you know, healthy outcomes are so important in life. Right? Our health is really the basis of what we do as people. So, how do we encourage people to be healthy so that they can be strong leaders? So they can innovate? They have that energy and bandwidth to make great things happen. But, I also like to look at the natural world. So, for example, as we see pollinators struggle around the world, what does that mean for the future of food? What does that mean for the future of nature? You know, we’re seeing disruption not just in technology, but in a lot of what we have experienced as humans in the past. So, on the Rural Futures Podcast, we’re now in season 3, and we talked to one of our professors here about the future of wildlife. Will we see mass extinction of large animal species? Very likely. And it’s taking the long-term view, not being in such a short-term view. So, what does the world look like? Not just for us, but for our kids, grandkids, future generations? And we see this with pollinators, too. Like I mentioned. So, we might see the big species go away, but what about the species we don’t even know exist? Not just animals, but flora and fauna. How does that shape the future? You know, water is a huge issue for many companies. And so, I do a lot of work around water. We actually have a Water Leaders Academy here in Nebraska, and I do a strategic foresight session for them as leaders as well. You know, companies like Coca-Cola, others, rely so much on water for the products they produce. What does that look like if we do indeed have a growing population who consumes more? We have to think about all of these types of things in our industries.
Steve: Right. Well, what an exciting future, right?
Dr. Connie: Absolutely! Absolutely. I think the great thing is, you know, thinking about these things together is creating new possibilities we didn’t even know exist. If we can kind of leverage and harness what’s happening, we can really create some dynamic industries and businesses that help solve some of the challenges we’re seeing today.
Steve: We are having a great interview with Dr. Connie today. I was just thinking, as we’re talking about the future, we’re talking about disruption, threats, and opportunities to us both individually and as an organization. A few resources that are available to you through Becoming Your Best, to help you think more clearly about the future, would be a mind-mapping template that helps you really start generating ideas about the impact the future things that we can do. Also, brainstorming template. And last of all, a six-step process, all which can be used to help you think more clearly about disruption and about the future. If you would like that, free copies of these templates and these resources, simply write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s email@example.com. And now back to our interview with Dr. Connie! Okay! Well, here we are, visiting today with Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild. We’re having a great discussion. So, one of the thoughts I’ve had is, as we’re sitting here today, and you think about robotics or you think about artificial intelligence. We’ve just been talking here with Connie, just mentioned about how conditions will affect our children and grandchildren and on into the future. How can…As we’re thinking about this today, one of the most important things is that people really need to—all of us, every single one of us—not only as we’re working on becoming our best and always improving. But, how can we retool or retread or reinvent ourselves to be equal to the future? What are some things we should be thinking of?
Dr. Connie: You know, I just—I love that question because part of it is my new passion right now is women in midlife, much because that’s where I’m at. And it is about disrupting yourself a little bit. Okay, so, where I’ve been isn’t going to get me to where I want to be. But, you know, as adults, I think, too, remembering that life doesn’t have to be boring. You know, how can I have an adventure but contribute to society at the same time? So, how do I maybe have to reevaluate what my current purpose is? But also, approach the future through my strengths and through a lens of positivity, because those are these sort of tools that we’re needing as leaders individually, and again within organizations, to think about framing and reframing our future. So, being in alignment with your purpose, but also having a positive mindset to find new opportunities, is really important, in terms of disrupting ourselves, and moving forward in a way that makes sense for us, but also makes contributions back to society.
Steve: Okay, well that’s great advice. Good job on that. Well, I am always amazed at how quickly time goes. Before we finish up today, what are some tips that you would leave with our listeners that would best help them to be successful today, but also be successful in the future?
Dr. Connie: You know, I would say dream a little bit. You know, in part of your work, developing a vision is a huge part of being your best as a leader. I do the same thing with a lot of my clients. I help them develop really a vivid, visual vision. Something that’s very broad in nature and very artistic, and engaging with not just your logical side, but your creative side, is a huge part of building that future. And really trying to uncover some of those underlying beliefs that you don’t know are there. And I think, you know, just questioning yourself a little bit and where you’re at and where you want to go is a huge part of the next step and phase of your life, and knowing that you have the potential and you have control over your future is a huge part of that. So, I really focus on developing your inner leader. You know, developing you as a leader first. Which, I know, is very similar to the work that you all do. I think that’s so important because we do lack leaders that really are leading themselves first. You know, once people see through that, that transparency can be either good or bad. You know, so be authentic in how you show up and how you lead in the world.
Steve: That’s great advice. One of the things that we have been talking about today is how important it is to continue to gain new insights and gain knowledge. Try to stay ahead of the curve and stay abreast of the changes. Reading and listening to podcasts and making yourself open to sources of knowledge is critical, right?
Dr. Connie: Absolutely. You know, as a futurist, I’m a huge fan of science fiction.
Steve: I love it!
Dr. Connie: You know, in so many ways. I think this was said in Thor: you know, science fiction does become science fact. And so, really, sometimes it’s learning, but it’s also learning outside of—I read, a lot of business and leadership, coaching futurist stuff is awesome. But, sometimes, just enjoying a good sci-fi flick can also open up that mind and expand what we’re thinking.
Steve: Ah, good for you! Yeah. I am a total Trekkie.
Dr. Connie: Oh, I love—I love all that! You know, and we’re starting to see some of those developments, you know, happen now.
Steve: Oh, really?
Dr. Connie: It’s really exciting for those of us watching, you know, those movies for a long time. See some of that! But people have been sort of framing the future for a long time, whether that be in novels, movies, writings, whatever. It’s been kind of cool to watch this evolution happen over time.
Steve: Oh, so fun. Yeah. We’re actually, you know, we’re talking Star Trek here. They have the food on Star Trek. We’re now developing 3-D food with nutrition.
Dr. Connie: Absolutely! That’s right! And we also have the Hypo-Spray that has been developed. So, you know, hopefully, we won’t need needles so much in the future. Hopefully, the costs will come down enough where, you know, we’re just using that hypo-spray technology to get any sort of vitamins, nutrients. You know medications we need without actually having to break the skin. But, you know, we’ve already seen the flip phone, Steve. So, we’re moving.
Steve: Exactly! Well, good enough. This has been a great visit today. So refreshing, so fun. Connie, how can people find out about what you’re doing?
Dr. Connie: They can find me online at my website: wildinnovation.com; or Twitter: @askdrconnie. Twitter and Instagram both. They can also just Google, “Rural Futures Institute” and find us online and on all the social media channels.
Steve: Well, thank you, Dr. Connie, for being part of the Becoming Your Best show today. What a really fun and productive visit this has been. We wish you the best as you’re making a difference in the world. So, thanks for joining us.
Dr. Connie: Well, thanks for having me. Thank you for all the great work you do around the world. It’s been very exciting to, you know, listen to the podcast and, you know, be part of your fanbase as well.
Steve: Well, thank you. And, to all of our listeners, never forget: you, too, are making a difference every single day of your life. This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best, Global Leadership, wishing you a great day.