Rural Futures with Dr. Connie


About Rural Futures Podcast

As our high-tech, globalized world continues to collide with the values, principles and ethics of humanity, the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska is breaking into the currently polarizing narratives of the rural-urban divide, technology development and the future of work through its weekly podcast, “Rural Futures with Dr. Connie.”

Exploring the intersections of technology and what it means to be human, this podcast is for achievers to expand their perspective for social justice, economic growth and leadership through the lenses of exponential change, disruptive leadership and the evolution of humanity. Guests include futurists, business innovators and researchers who are smashing barriers for the sake of a thriving rural-urban future.



Your Host

Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild is Associate Executive Director & Chief Futurist at the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska. She is also a entrepreneur, researcher and consultant with expertise in strategic foresight and future-focused leadership.

Get to know Dr. Connie



Episode 3: Professor Tom Field intersects entrepreneurship, higher ed, purpose

June 19, 2018
      Tom Field, Ph.D., Director of the Engler Agribusiness and Entrepreneurship program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, discusses his mission to empower students and communities to courageously pursue their purpose through the form and art of entrepreneurship. Throughout his …




Tom Field, Ph.D., Director of the Engler Agribusiness and Entrepreneurship program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, discusses his mission to empower students and communities to courageously pursue their purpose through the form and art of entrepreneurship. Throughout his academic career this cowboy from western Colorado has spoken out about the needed transformation of higher education—a deep internal exploration that results in the unleashing of the entrepreneurial and creative spirit of the student. During their conversation, Dr. Connie and Dr. Field discuss the exploding side-gig economy, creating the next generation of action-oriented innovators and key takeaways for budding, starting and experienced entrepreneurs.


“The leader in the future will be responsible for attracting talent, and then for empowering that talent, getting out of the way of the talent, keeping the culture alive, keeping the team focused on the right ball that you’re chasing, but doing it all in a way that invites people to the table.“
Tom Field
Director, Nebraska Engler Entrepreneurship

About Tom


Tom Field, Ph.D., is a passionate advocate for education, agriculture, free enterprise, engaged citizenship and the potential of young people. He is also a noted agricultural author with works including his column “Out of the Box” and featured commentator of “The Entrepreneurial Minute” on the Angus Report on RFD-TV.

A frequent speaker at agricultural events in the U.S. and abroad, he has consulted with a number of agricultural enterprises and organizations, and has served on numerous boards related to education, agriculture and athletics. He is the co-owner of Field Land and Cattle Company, LLC, in Colorado. He and his wife Laura watch over a brood that includes a son in the Teach for America Program, twins who are seniors in college and toddler twins to round out the team.


Mentioned In The Show

Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

The Power of Moments by Dan and Chip Heath

The Dip, a little book that teaches you when to quit by Seth Godin


Show Notes

Hi, I’m Dr. Connie, host of the Rural Futures Podcast. Joining me today is Dr. Tom Field. He’s the executive director of the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program, but he’s also an amazing colleague and close friend, and somebody I rely a lot on for advice. I think as we go through the interview today, you’re gonna know why. Tom, I want to give people a little background about you, but then I also want you to introduce yourself. Some of the things I admire about Tom and his bio is that he really puts students first. But not just in a traditional way in terms of lecturing. In fact, you’re anti-lecturing. (laughs) You are experience. Go out there and build something, and do it together. I think building these cohorts and these teams of very entrepreneurial students is something that you’ve really done with your team here at the University of Nebraska­–Lincoln, but also now, you can see the effects of that in businesses and communities beyond campus, which is very exciting. Tom also does a lot of consulting with companies in terms of helping them grow their businesses, but I loved too, how you focus on mindset with that. So much of it is about mindset and passion, and what you really bring to the table in terms of your talents. Fill in some gaps for us. Tell us a little bit more about Tom Field.

Well, I’m a son of a ranching family in western Colorado. As a little kid, I actually in the summers, we would go up into the high country. It was called Cal Camp, and I lived with my parents in a one-room cabin with no running water, no electricity, a wood-burning stove. From that sort of humble beginning, and which was actually a great experience as a kid, had the opportunity through so many people investing in a small community in western Colorado to see the world, and to experience a little bigger picture, and a different perspective. Eventually went off to university. Got a degree in animal sciences, but if I would go back and finish my practicums, my second degree would be in human development and family studies, with an emphasis in early childhood. Which is in my second life, maybe that’s what I’ll go do.

Now, why is that? Why would you pursue those fields?

Well, it’s sort of an interesting story. I took the first class at human development because I heard that there would be 80 women, and me. (laughing) And so that’s really a shallow reason, but when you’re 19, you make a lot of shallow decisions. I walk into this class and I encountered this fireball of a faculty member named Jill Kreitzer, and I did not walk into that class expecting to be transformed, but she changed my life. And then the entire faculty in that department, Kevin Ulchenbruns, and Janet Fritz, and Rex Colt. There was just a whole group of people that really invested in me and in helping me figure out that the human condition is not this static place. That there’s this developmental sequencing that goes on. It’s all this connecting the dots, right? I mean, Steve Jobs was right. Eventually, the dots connect. Being a cowboy and hanging out in this sort of child development, human development space, being really active in 4-H, having a deep interest in history, being wildly curious, having faculty who let me explore what I was interested in, and it all eventually connected to set me up. I didn’t know it was happening at the time, but it set me up to help grow the Engler program, and to create a program that’s focused on transforming the lives of students by putting them in command of their own ships from the minute they come to campus, and hopefully setting them up for the rest of their lives to actually be the master of their own destiny.

I think it takes a unique leader to be able to do that, and it sounds like you’ve had a lot of experiences that have helped shape you as a leader. And I know you’re also a dedicated family man, and really balancing that career, but also really, I would say, advancing society in many ways in the next generation. What does that need to look like going into the future? Tell us a little bit about you as a leader and your leadership philosophy.

Well, I think first and foremost, for me as a leader is that I rarely see myself as a leader. I see my team as a leadership group. Those who know me know that my love of hierarchy would be close to zero, if not negative. (laughing) I just think flat structure makes more sense. I mean, hierarchical approaches in ranching didn’t work because you had to be adaptive. I really learned a lot in the very chaotic ecosystem where things were changing all the time, and you had to work with a team. You had to work effectively and well. I’m a big fan of the team, and I think from a leadership perspective, the leader in the future will by and large, be responsible for attracting talent, and then for empowering that talent, getting out of the way of the talent. Keeping the culture alive, keeping the team focused on the right ball that you’re chasing, but to do it in a way that invites people to the table. I just can’t imagine an effective organization that operates without people around the table, and making decisions together, and then moving those things forward and assigning accountability. I think that’s the key to what we’ve been able to do. We’ve built the Engler program in six years from really scratch, up, because we’ve had a great team and people who were willing to engage, and then to be accountable, and to take big pieces of it and run with it. I’m also a big believer, if you’re a little further in your career it’s really critical to listen to younger talent. It’s hard to do because the older you get, the more you try to protect things, right? You start thinking, well I’ve gotta protect this. I’ve been working with companies and telling them, look, you gotta get the youngest voices in your team in the room and at the table. Certainly, experience matters, but you really have to be listening. We actually took it to heart in our own program. We just went through a really intense strategic planning process, and the person who led our team through the strategic planning process was the youngest member of our staff, 23 years old. And I’m very proud of that.

Well, and I think that’s a great thing to bring forward is that you really are about lifting people up. You’re about empowering them, getting them to where they’re able to lead not just the team, but themselves and get those experiences they’re needing and craving. I’ve seen a lot of that in the Engler program, and you’ve really helped the Rural Futures Institute think about that co-creation model a lot, as well. We’re not living in a vacuum. We’re not just in our offices. We’re all out trying to create the future together. Part of what we want to do with this podcast is explore the future of leadership, but also, how our leaders and people who are leading these types of incredible, cutting-edge programs, see the future changing. What do you see in terms, and it’s kind of a two-part question, I think for you, changes in entrepreneurship? Obviously, that’s where your program is focused, but also changes in higher education. How do you see the future sort of shaping in those areas?

Well, entrepreneurship I think, is this sort of two-edged kind of game. When we first started in this program, we thought our goal was really to build companies. We probably took too much ownership in that, because in fact, as mentors, and advisors, and facilitators and coaches, we can’t really build the company. The companies have to be built by individuals and teams who are really committed to the company. Over time, we figured out that really the key was, is our mission as a program was to empower people to courageously pursue their purpose through the form in art of entrepreneurship. And we thought that was a great way for people to actually let who they are bubble out, and to actually have a forum through which to express that deep sense of purpose.


I think that’s entrepreneurship in the future, and I also think the other thing that’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen very, very quickly. The new economy will be called the side gig economy. As robotics, and artificial intelligence, and too much process oftentimes, and the regulatory environment, all those things sort of press on people, what they’re gonna do is they’re just gonna get creative, and they’re gonna do side gigs. We’re gonna see people who are doing amazing things in teams for short periods of time creating value, being rewarded for that monetarily, or professionally, or personally, and then find another side gig. I think that’s the new economy. I’m not sure anybody’s really ready for that yet, because it’s going to be this kind of frontier-like deal. If the side gig economy is where we’re going, the institution least prepared for that is the university.

Well, and you’ve been pretty vocal about this. How do we, as a university, how do we as higher education evolve? Because the economy is evolving very quickly, and people aren’t quite ready, but we should have a place in this new economy and helping people in our rural communities, but also urban communities. Anyone who wants to be involved get there. Tell us your thoughts on that.

Well historically, America’s great unfair advantage in the global marketplace has been our university system. I mean, just take a look at how internationalized the American university is today. We’re attracting people from all over the world because they value what happens in the university. The challenge is, is that big organizations, old organizations with very clear histories, including fight songs, and certain colors they wear, and all those things, they get caught up in protecting what they’ve done. I think that’s where we’re at. We’re at this tipping point. Every institution in the world is going through this sort of transformational process. Whether it’s a family farm, or whether it’s a major corporation that’s traded in the international markets. There’s just transformation happening at every level. It’s just sweeping. The university’s challenge is, is how does it encumber itself from the processes and the structure it’s built actually become this nimble, agile, service-oriented, outward-focused organization? That’s gonna be difficult. The challenge will be, is how do we create that? We have to create it by unleashing the creative power of the faculty, but more importantly, the creative power of the student. A faculty-centric institution in the future just isn’t gonna work. And an administration-centric university, just start preparing to find a new use for those buildings ’cause that’s gonna fail. And so, I think the university has to go through this shift, and the shift is how do we help people prepare for a future that looks nothing like where we’ve been?

Tom, we’ve talked about the new economy and how things are happening so quickly. We don’t have 10 years to make these changes at the university, or even for individuals. What would you say to individuals who are sort of nervous about the future? We hear a lot of people having like, oh, these robots are gonna replace my job. What’s gonna happen to me? But what advice would you give to people around this changing economy?

Well I think two things. One, I heard an entrepreneur one time say, look, when there’s fear, there’s opportunity, and when there’s a lot of fear, there’s huge opportunity. I think we’re all a little fearful about the changes. Things are happening so fast. Whether it’s job replacement, whether it’s economic and political discord, it’s all those things, right? I think the reality is, is that if people really want to be the master and commander of the ship that they want to ride on, they have to take the helm. Taking the helm means actually lots of small starts. Try things. The name of the game is action. You cannot plan your way into the new economy. You act your way into the new economy. I would encourage people figure out problems that need solving. They don’t have to be big, sexy ones. They can be simple problems that just need a clear solution. Find markets that are underserved. Find resources that are not utilized correctly, and begin to just work in that space. The reality is, is the world is going to be different. Change is always present. For goodness sakes, I did my PhD work on a CYBER 205. A computer that today is in a museum, and that wasn’t that long ago. It’s action, and action is the key, and not being afraid of failure, and not being afraid to just start. It all begins with the start.

Well, and I think one we can’t totally anticipate. So, getting used to having that change, to creating your own jobs, your own gigs, whatever that might look like, I think is such an incredible challenge in so many ways, but such a great opportunity too, for people to use their talents and skills. But for the university, also to reinvent itself. I think thinking about ways it can serve people in the lifelong learning process is so important. Here at the University of Nebraska for example, we have 4-H, which we call the first class for a lot of people. But at the same time, we have the ability to help people in high school, in college, in graduate school, and through their lives. As that economy and the technologies continue to change, those communities are also ready, but that means we have to be listening. You’ve talked a lot about that, in terms of how do we add value to their lives? How do we continue to rethink ourselves in so many ways, and how we’re helping people learn, and grow, and really make a good living in a life wherever they want to be? That might be rural, it might be urban. That doesn’t matter as much as just really getting people the life they want, and really helping them thrive.

Yeah, I think a university that figures out how to create certainly a network of learning, but more importantly, a network of deep curiosity, and it connects that curiosity across ages and across all kinds of socioeconomic, what we might consider barriers.


To just slay those barriers by creating this network that allows curious people to go to work on things that they care about. To work on problems they care about, and markets they care about, customers they care about. Solutions will take care of themselves. It’s find the right problem to work on, and find the right customer to serve. I think we solve a lot of societal problems if we can unleash entrepreneurial spirit. We just have to find a way to let people work on the things they care about early enough to help them determine their own future. I’ve got this belief, and I think it’s dangerous to put there’s two kinds of people, but in the world of entrepreneurship, and those who come to entrepreneurship and stick and those who don’t, I think there are kind of two mindsets. One mindset is, is we’re waiting on the cavalry. That’s a problem because if we’re waiting on somebody come riding in to rescue us from whatever, right? From some hardship, we’re gonna be waiting a long time, and we oftentimes won’t like the fine print in the contract when somebody comes in and, hey, I’m gonna rescue you, but here’s what you owe me now. We become subservient to the system that has purported to rescue us. And then I think there are people who are, I’m not waiting. I’m getting in the boat, and I’m going. The Lewis and Clarks, right? They provision, they plan, but they get in the boat and they go up the Missouri with no knowledge of what’s coming at them. But they know the only way to find the future is just to get in that boat. I think that’s something we’ve gotta really work out in university, is what do we want to produce? Do we want to produce more folks waiting on the cavalry, or do we want to produce people who are willing to get in the boat? I think that’s a fundamental question for the institution.

Absolutely. For those people that are wanting to get in the boat, and they’re wanting to create their own future, what resources would you have to share with them?

Well, the first thing we do is with our freshman students is we give them permission to work on something interesting. From day one, we don’t give exams. Because I don’t even know what an exam in entrepreneurship would look like, right?

That’s a good question.

Come back with the biggest, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t even know what it would look like. We started that apparently at, I don’t even know how to do this. Let’s do something more interesting. Let’s do projects, and let’s get high immersion for students with minimal financial risk, ’cause we don’t want people to make $100,000 mistakes early because that’s devastating.


It’s hard to dig out from. But you can make a $50 mistake and learn an awful lot. We run a little program where we have students that are put together in teams, and they do a $50 startup. We give them $50, they start a company, they have 60 days to generate revenue, and we tell them, look, it’s gotta be legal and it needs to make your mother proud. If it meets those constraints, then you’re good, right? We’re not gonna constrain you any more than that. Let’s see what you do. What’s interesting is they will as a group, make all of the mistakes that most early-stage companies will make that are dealing with hundreds of thousands of dollars. But we’re only out with seven teams. It’s 350 bucks, and boy, have we learned a lot. Well, that’s powerful. We do crazy things like we have a little bucket when students will come into class and there’ll be a bucket of pencils and a bucket of red paper clips and we’ll say okay, pick one and sit down. They pick one or the other, and they’re kind of looking at it. They’re like, what is this guy up to now? We say to them, okay, here’s the deal. You have two weeks to trade that item for as much value as you can create. Trade it for something, trade again. We want you to make as many trades as you can. What’s interesting is in two weeks’ time, just in the sort of negotiation, and trading, and bartering world, we had students who traded red paper clips that eventually ended up with these really high-end gas grill barbecue deals, and Vera Bradley handbags, and it was amazing, right? What’s the value of that? The value is, is they’re having to make a cold call. They hate it, and they all talk about, oh, those first three, like will you trade me? It was so hard, and it was painful, but I did it, right? And then the negotiation, and understanding value, and knowing when they got to a value that they were willing to stick with. This one kid, he said, I got this super cool baseball cap. I really didn’t want to trade for anything else. (laughs) This is the value I wanted. I really wanted that cap. Well, that’s pretty cool. That’s a very different experience than memorizing a bunch of stuff.

Absolutely, and getting what you want. Asking for it, and being okay to go for it. Right. Such an important part of entrepreneurship. But I do see you brought a book. Do you have any resources you want to share with our listeners?

Yeah, so I mean, if you go to our website, engler.unl.edu, click on the resources page, lots of the books that we think are valuable, but one that I just really love is “Essentialism.” The subtitle is The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Here’s the challenge we have. We’re in a yes culture, right? And it doesn’t matter if you’re an educator, if you’re a church, if you’re a business that sells a manufactured good, if you’re a business that does consulting. Human beings, we are in a yes culture, right? Let’s pile more on our plate, never take anything off. The do more with less, but don’t stop doing anything. Well, that’s not sustainable. Eventually, that just tears you up. Greg McKeown has this notion that we can actually narrow down and focus on those things that actually have impact. The big rocks. Focus on the things that matter the most. And certainly, in entrepreneurship, there are key things to spend your time and energy on at various stages of the process, and things that you shouldn’t be focused on at all at certain stages of the process, right? Oftentimes, entrepreneurs, they want to build something really quickly, right? But they haven’t asked their customer.

But I’m glad that’s what you’re teaching your students. Where do you really focus first? How do you start building?

And that’s what essentialism does for you, right? It gets you to focus in the right places. We love everything that Seth Godin writes. “The Dip” in particular. Knowing when to quit. This is very antithetical to Midwestern values. Yeah, right. Right. But there are things that we literally should quit. We need to stop doing them because they don’t add any value, or we’re never gonna be very good at them, right? I quit playing competitive basketball a long time ago because I was never going to be a very good basketball player, right? I like basketball, but it wasn’t gonna be my future, right? So, spending tons of time on that would’ve been silly. Dan and Chip Heath. They’ve got a number of great books. “Made to Stick.” But they have a new one called “Moments,” and it’s all about this sort of reality that what we provide for our customers, whether we’re educators, whether we’re business people, whether we’re in the nonprofit sector, quite frankly, if we’re parents, is the power of what we create for our customer is moments. Memorable experiences that shape the way the person sees the world. I would be willing to bet that most people when they’ve been given things that gave them moments, they remember them, but they probably cannot remember the stuff that they got in their Christmas stocking three years ago.

Well, and I think as leaders too, how we create moments even in our culture, how do we build that type of culture so our employees want to be engaged and stay, and they also want to do great work, and we’re empowering them to do that? Appreciate your time and all your insights today, Tom. We could talk forever. (laughs) I know that we do. We do. But could you give us your website again, and let us know where people can find you?

You bet, feel free to contact me directly at tfield2@unl.edu. And you can find our great stories of wonderful young entrepreneurs at engler.unl.edu. And we would love to engage with people listening to this. We are coachable, and we need your help, and we love to meet you at the intersection of good ideas.

Great, thank you so much, Tom.




Episode 2: Microsoft GM Shelley McKinley intersects fourth industrial revolution, inclusive leadership

June 12, 2018
        Shelley McKinley, Microsoft General Manager of Technology and Corporate Responsibility, discusses the company’s mission, goals and projects around diversity and inclusion as well as rural broadband connectivity. She and Dr. Connie challenge listeners to think beyond …





Shelley McKinley, Microsoft General Manager of Technology and Corporate Responsibility, discusses the company’s mission, goals and projects around diversity and inclusion as well as rural broadband connectivity. She and Dr. Connie challenge listeners to think beyond current technology to the potential solutions and opportunities of artificial intelligence and how it can impact healthcare, the environment and community development in the future. Shelley also offers leadership advice that she has learned from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.


“It’s all of these advances in technology, like Artificial Intelligence, that are allowing us to take big data sets and use machine learning and computing on them in order to develop insights and take intelligent action—things that we couldn’t perceive before as humans. But it’s when you combine humans and Artificial Intelligence that you get the best results.“
Shelley McKinley
Microsoft General Manager of Technology & Corporate Responsibility

About Shelley


Shelley McKinley is the General Manager of Technology & Corporate Responsibility at Microsoft, responsible for helping the company reach its goal of eliminating the broadband gap, as well as focusing on diversity and environmental sustainability. She has worked at Microsoft for 13 years, serving in international roles and leading diverse teams from around the world. She is an attorney by trade and a personal advocate of diversity and inclusion, with a special interest in STEM education for girls.


Show Notes

Hi and welcome back to the Rural Futures podcast. Today it is my pleasure to introduce Shelley McKinley, General Manager of Technology and Corporate Responsibility with Microsoft. Welcome to the show, Shelley.

Thank you so much for having me.

We are super excited to have you here and you know, this is the first time we’ve physically met and so I think this speaks to the power of online relationships and communication. But before we dive into what you do at Microsoft, we’d love to just know a little bit more about you. So tell us who you are. Who is Shelley McKinley?

All right, I was born in Missouri in Kansas City and stayed there until I was about five years old and then I moved to Texas with my parents and I grew up in the Dallas area and I spent many, many summers back and forth between Kansas City and Dallas. I stayed in Texas until I was about 21 years old after I finished my undergraduate degree and then started moving west. After that I spent about a year in Idaho as a ski bum before moving to the Seattle area to go to law school and then on to Europe a couple of times and working in Seattle most of my adult life.

So tell us a little bit about what Microsoft is doing, you know, we’ve known about the Rural Airband Initiative.

One of the parts of the roles that I have at Microsoft is I work on environmental sustainability issues as well as rural broadband issues, accessibility issues, for people with disabilities and human rights issues, all fall under our umbrella of corporate social responsibility. And that is not all the corporate social responsibility work that we do, that’s the part I work on directly. I have many colleagues that also do many other things that are related.

I’d like to dive into a little bit about yourself as a leader. I want to read this ’cause I thought this was a really cool piece of just information that I learned about you. So the group that you’re leading, the Technology and Corporate Responsibility group delivers on Microsoft’s mission of empowering every person and organization on the planet to achieve more by ensuring that the opportunities of technology are available to all and used to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges. That’s huge. That’s a huge mission statement and a big undertaking as a leader. So tell us a bit about your leadership style and philosophy to accomplish that mission.

Sure, well we have a great thing about Microsoft is we’ve had a brand new CEO about three years ago, a guy named Satya Nadella and it was a huge change for us, a huge cultural change for us. One of the great things Satya’s done is really kind of think about what are the principles of leadership, what are the things that make people successful leaders? I really enjoy his way of thinking about it which is generating energy, creating clarity and delivering results. Now every leader is gonna have strengths in different parts of that and weaknesses in different parts of that and so what I think my strength is really around creating energy. I’m a very energetic person. I’m very passionate about what I do and I think by doing that you can certainly bring your team along and you have to be able to bring your team along. You have to be able to articulate a vision and you have to set goals and you have to hold people accountable to them but if you’re not passionate about what you do, at least for me, then it wouldn’t work for me.That’s my strength. Creating clarity, that’s that clarity in vision. What am I supposed to do? What are we all reaching for? How can we have a common mission that really unites us as a team? And you’d think with the different things that I oversee, we have people doing a lot of different things and so having people really focused on what that core mission is, even though I may be doing accessibility or I may be doing environmental sustainability, which can seem very, very different things, we’re all very focused on this mission of empowering everyone around the planet. These things are very, very interrelated. So from a leadership perspective, I would just say I think you need to constantly be looking at what is my strength, what is my weakness. How do I do the best I can in my strengths and how do I certainly improve on my weaknesses and so always learning and improving and listening to others is incredibly important. I’m relatively new in this job. I’ve been at Microsoft for 12 years so I know the company relatively well. This job I’ve been in say eight months to a year so it’s something I’ve been able to learn a lot about and what I found is you have really smart people working for you. Listen to them.


So important because we don’t always do a good job of that, right?

We don’t. Listen to them, understand what they’re thinking about. What you will find is if you are open to hearing what other people have to say and to not being immediately set on the path that you think is the right one, you might learn something and you always will learn something. I found surrounding myself with other people who are as passionate and creative has always been the best way to success.

I know as a leader too, you are very inclusive and your team is very diverse.

It’s something I’ve learned over time. Before starting this job, I was in Europe with Microsoft for five years and I had the opportunity to work with people around the region and we covered 50 different countries which is a little more than Europe but according to Microsoft sales territory, that was included in the European sales territory and that included Mongolia.So that was part of my territory as well.

Wow, that’s cool.

But we didn’t have people in every country but I dealt with people that spoke different languages, that had different cultural points of view every day so everything was quite enriched by these different points of view and you can learn a lot. When I came back to the US, to Microsoft’s headquarters, I thought, “Huh, I’m gonna come back and I’m gonna get a “team full of regular Americans.” What I found, to my delight, was that in fact, when I came back I started working with a team that had people from all different cultures. I have a team, accessibility team, which I have I think four people who have visual impairments that work for me. Our Chief Accessibility Officer is deaf. She can read lips fantastically which is always, I’m always like whoa. I always forget she’s deaf and I’ll do things like we’ll go into the ladies room and I’ll keep talking to her when we go into separate stalls, then I’m like, “Oh Jenny, wait you couldn’t hear me, could you?” She’s like, “I thought you were talking to me.” But you know, she couldn’t hear. So you learn so many things from people like that. One of the kind of crazy things, the questions people ask were, “How do you say hello to a blind person?”


And Jenny says, “You say hello, number one, “number two, you ask.”So I learned I need to kind of announce myself when I’m coming down the hall and say, “Hi Ann, I’m on your right.” And then of course after she saw me several times, she knew who I was from my voice. Then when we have morale events, how do we make sure that they’re accessible for everyone? Research has shown that diversity, in the beginning, can make teams start a little bit slower as they get used to each other but very quickly, diverse teams achieve much, much more than non diverse teams. So working at a place that is diverse and inclusive is really one thing that I will not compromise on.

Could you speak a little bit about some of the advanced hiring practices Microsoft is really developing and I would say, leading in so many ways?

We have a couple of things that we do. We’re very focused certainly on racial diversity

and bringing in minorities. We are also incredibly focused on bringing people of all kinds of different skill sets. So I think we have to make sure that we focus on underrepresented minorities and we also expand our horizons as to what does diversity actually mean. Gender diversity clearly is one key thing. Bringing in people with different kinds of abilities. As a company our success depends on our ability to serve our customers. If we don’t reflect what our customers are, then how can we actually adequately serve them? We have a program that we recently started called the Autism Hiring Program and we were featured on the news recently, you may have seen that.

Yes, absolutely. So incredibly amazing what you’re doing.

What we do is how do we figure out how to make the best possible interview experience for a person who maybe doesn’t do well in the standard interview experience and so in that example, we bring people on campus basically for a week, who can work and show us their skills instead of having that one hour pressure cooker interview with a bunch of questions, a person with Autism generally is not going to love that type of interview and may not shine to their fullest potential. So when you bring them for these alternative types of interviews, you’re not sacrificing on quality at all but what you’re doing is giving that person opportunity to demonstrate their skills and your team will be so much richer for it.

I love how you’re expanding that definition of what it means to be diverse and inclusive but then also changing your culture, your practices, the strategies to make that actually happen rather than just giving it lip service and then not exploring, well what does that mean and how do we change as an organization to make sure this really happens and not just in a way to say we’re doing it but in a way to really make people thrive in that environment, which also of course, helps Microsoft, right? So if they’re doing well and if they’re highly engaged, Microsoft does better but also it is that representation of your customer base. So how do we better serve customers through our team but also knowing what our customer’s needs and wants are in a very quaint way, in a very cohesive way that increases that level of understanding? So how do you see, to recap leadership a little bit, how do you see leadership evolving in the future?

I think leadership is going to depend more and more and more on diversity inclusion. You cannot have leaders who aren’t diverse and inclusive who are really bringing everyone else along. I think that what we’ll see is technology leadership. The good news for people who don’t study engineering is that everything is going to continue to need the humanities behind it.

Oh dive into that.Tell me what you mean by that.


So everyone can breathe a collective sigh of relief. You can still study law, you can still study economics, you can still study social sciences. Because as things such as Artificial Intelligence really get traction we’ll have machines that are making decisions, right? So how do we make sure those machines make a decision in an ethical way? When you’re an engineer and you look at a problem, we like to say, you know, when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.


So when you’re an engineer, you’re probably just trying to get to the most efficient way to get it done, right, and so ensuring that not only engineers understand humanity and social sciences but making sure we have people in the technology industry that while they may love technology, they aren’t engineers themselves, they have a skill set in the liberal arts so they can bring to the picture to ensure that we develop using ethical principles but that’s built in from the start. Everything we do really has that sense of ethics and values built into it so we understand how does an algorithm work? How do we get from where we were to where we are in an intentional way. Not just in an engineering way that gets you to the most efficiency immediately.

At the Rural Futures Institute, that’s really what we’ve been exploring but I think what is missing from that conversation is exactly what you’re talking about. Humanity will continue to change and evolved over time regardless of technology but at the same time, it’s this interaction and what new jobs or careers or businesses will be created in this next generation economy that we see evolving. What does it mean to be both high tech and high touch in that economy so that the world does have technology and it’s used in these really thoughtful intentional ways like even, earlier today, talking about is it possible to use AI in rural development or community development in different ways? How do we take this concept and help scale what we do or make it more sustainable or even more impactful by leveraging technology rather than having every community sort of bootstrap itself and do its own thing? What understanding can we develop not only locally but globally around this? At our Institute we’ve been working with the Japan society. Japan’s very interested in this. India is very interest in this. So I think there’s real opportunities for rural in this space but at the same time, it’s also rural and urban. How do we bring these worlds together in a positive way?

Well I think we have that opportunity today more than we’ve ever had before. In every previous industrial revolution we’ve had, jobs have been lost and new higher paying jobs have been created. It hasn’t always been an easy situation. I think we have the opportunity in this revolution, this fourth industrial revolution that we call it to really be thoughtful about it and sure that what we’re doing, we’re reskilling people. We’re developing really quickly. The technology is just really changing things at just a breathtaking speed.


So how are we going to ensure that people have the digital skills they need to get these new, better, high paying jobs? When you think about, just go back to 1905 when you had, New York City was fueled by horses, literally by horsepower. Really not that long ago, it wasn’t that long ago. And then over 20 years, those horses were replaced with motorized vehicles. There were entire industries at that time that were built on maintaining those horses, feeding them, cleaning up after them, creating parking spots for the horse carriages and in 20 years, that was all gone and those people had to transition. We’re gonna have that same thing now where we have people who are in jobs today that are no longer going to be around but our ability to navigate this successfully and create new jobs and retrain people to take those new jobs is going to be critical to landing this industrial revolution in a way that’s much better than we’ve done in the past. So when you think about rural and urban today we have the internet that connects us all. At least that connects us who have access to internet and broadband and we know we’re facing a huge challenge in rural America on internet access and really on broadband access. I mean, most places you can still get somewhat of a signal. Not everywhere but you don’t want to sit there while your data downloads at just an excruciating rate. That’s not really internet. You have broadband speeds everywhere so as we get more broadband those rural and urban divides can be bridged. If you’re a kid, how do you access your homework if you don’t have access to the internet? It’s actually mind blowing for people who live in areas with good internet access. How would I actually do that? You can’t make a room more nervous today than if you turned off the Wi-Fi in the room and people couldn’t access their devices.

That’s absolutely true.We tried that with my nieces before. It’s like they went through withdrawal, just setting their phones over on the counter. But like you said, they’re learning through that. They’re living essentially through access in some way, shape or form and it’s not all just entertainment. It’s really advancing people’s lives through that technology.

Entertainment is great.

It is, absolutely.

We know that, I mean who doesn’t want to put a movie on for that kid while you’re driving across country. Now there’s no doubt, it’s a necessity of life. But when you think about advances in telemedicine, advances in agriculture, advances in, you name it, education, small businesses. Imagine not being able to pay your bills online. A small business not being able to access their accounting software. All of those things, if you don’t have broadband access in communities, how can you actually take advantage of the opportunities that the new fourth industrial revolution brings, you can’t. That’s something that’s critical that we are very focused on is getting access to these areas. Telemedicine I think is a great one too.

Oh absolutely, huge.

I think a disproportionate number of our veterans live in areas that don’t have great access, they’re also a community that really need access to good medicine and when you have to drive for hours to get to the next hospital, I remember when my grandmother, until she died a few years ago still lived in rural Missouri. So we had to drive her from Gravois Mills to Jefferson City to get to the hospital or to Columbia to get to one of her doctors and that was a good hour and a half drive. Now she drove until she was 91.

Wow good for her.

She didn’t like driving up to Columbia but when we would go visit her, my Dad was up there a lot and would drive her into town. Imagine if you could do that over the internet, over the phone. You could avoid a lot of your trips you make every year and you could have better access to more frequent and consistent healthcare. So these are huge issues that can be tackled with the internet and underpinning that isn’t just, it doesn’t just happen when you have the internet. It’s all of these advances in technology that are really, like Artificial Intelligence that are allowing us to take big data sets and use machine learning and computing on them in order to develop insights and take intelligent action, things that we couldn’t perceive before as humans. But it’s important back to that point that we talked to before is that when you combine humans and Artificial Intelligence, you get the best results. There’s a number of studies out on X-rays. How does a person look at an X-ray and interpret the results. When a human does it alone, I’m making up these statistics, let’s call it 10% error rate, when a machine does it, there’s a 5% error rate. When you put the two together, you end up with like an almost 0% error rate. So it’s important to think that yes, there will be machines that will help us augment human capabilities, that can help us do what we do in a much better way but we won’t be replaced by machines.

That’s right.

There will be certain things that get replaced by what machines can do better than we can do but you always have to have that person in the mix.

I think that’s such an important message for people to really think about and hear because I do think there’s sort of this alarmist futurist sort of approach to oh someday we’ll be, you know, singularity is gonna happen and we’re all gonna be like a robot or something but I don’t think we’re that close to it.


I’m not really worried about that right now. I think it’s more so like how does this continue to evolve and how do we get more people connected and in a way that helps them really advance their lives, just like you’re talking about. One of the questions we’ve been really focused on lately at the Rural Futures Institute is why rural and why now. I mean, so many people think it’s just a choice to live in rural, which in many ways it is but there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s really quite complex and you know, the election

brought forward a lot of thoughts and feelings around this rural urban divide which we’d really see as more of an opportunity for our continued globalized world to grow together because in our rural areas we do produce a lot of the food that is consumed in urban, for example. We need those wide open green spaces as well for environmental sustainability so there’s a lot of issues around it but tell us what you think about why rural, why now and why is Microsoft really thoughtfully trying to help people get connected?

Well I think why rural, why now, there is so much focus on it right now. Grab it while we’ve got it. I mean, really it’s one of the issues of the time. We need to do something now while we have a lot of support behind it. I mean, a lot of people are investing in rural issues right now so I think you should absolutely take advantage of that 2016 election where a lot of those issues were forefront where we realized there’s a significant number of people living in America who felt they weren’t being heard.


And so now, we’ve got a lot of focus. Let’s leverage it while we can, for sure. I think companies like Microsoft, why do we operate in those areas, Microsoft has a long, long history of being local. We sell around the world in the same way that we think our technology has to reflect our audience, really our employees in some ways, very much reflect the world. Now we haven’t always been this invested in rural areas as we are today. We’ve invested in many areas around the world but we’ve made a concerted effort in the last few years to really think about how can we better serve people in rural communities and it’s core to our mission. Our mission is to empower every person on the planet to achieve more and that means whether you live in an urban area or you live in a rural area, we want to help you achieve more. And it’s not just about being philanthropic. This is good for our business. What I didn’t mention before on the diversity topic is our employees expect this of us. Our employees demand these kind of things of us. It’s actually good for the stock price.

It absolutely is.

Our employees are our biggest asset and I’m telling you they are a very passionate bunch of people and so no matter what happens in the news, you can imagine that my inbox gets hit with all kinds of ideas and requests for what we could be doing and so when we think this helps us attract and retain good people, you think purely from a Microsoft interest, beyond just our mission, our ability to execute our mission is dependent on us addressing these issues. So for a long time we worked in communities around the world because we’ve had sales teams and communities around the world. In the last couple of years, it’s been really a focus. We have a program called TechSpark.

Yes, tell us about that.

We invested in six communities. We have put an employee there who is from the community. So we didn’t put them there, we actually hired them from there and they’ve stayed there and so they work with the community to understand what do they need in the areas of digital transformation, education, connectivity, all of these different things that we work on in many, many ways around the world and really making that super local and understanding what the local community needs. We can build these models and think about how we can engage and we can scale things like that. Now right now we’re focused on six communities. So everybody always asks the question, “How do you come to my community?”

Right, right.

I don’t have an answer for that today but what I will say is that we know that when we invest in a community, we can make a pretty big difference in that community, much more than we can in say other areas when we invest in a smaller community and it’s fantastic to see the changes that can be made there.

I appreciate that local model but with the global implications and the global connectivity but really, having somebody in place there that knows that community is assessing those needs but also it’s good for the community and good for the business and I think that’s, you know as we’ve gotten to know each other a little bit more, I so appreciate you bringing that forward. It’s not just about giving. That’s not really what the corporate responsibility piece is. It’s partly that but it’s also about Microsoft doing well so it’s really creating that win-win for the social responsibility aspect, the environment, the people but also the company and it makes it a sustainable model in the long run and a growth model for everybody involved. I think it takes unique leadership and culture to be able to do that but I also think it’s a model, you’ve talked a lot about this, moving forward that more companies even universities are gonna have to start embracing in a richer, more dynamic way. How do we make this a win for everybody involved and how do you lead that? What does that look like as a leader?

If you don’t make models that are sustainable, it’s a flash in the pan of 2016, 2018 and then it all kind of goes away. You have to make sure that you’re really thinking about these things from a long term perspective. Grabbing the zeitgeist while we’ve got it and really making it work from a long term perspective and that’s why we’re so focused on actually being really local versus having such centralized operations.

So Shelley, what would your personal vision be for this rural urban dynamic and the use of technology and what would that be for you, like what would you love to see happen in the next five years?

I would love to see that if people want to stay in rural communities, they can stay in rural communities and have good high paying jobs. There have been a number of communities around the country that have developed into these sort of centers for technology people who can work remotely. That’s a great thing.


And if you can make the diversity of work in different areas, work from home, work remotely, enable all of that via this technology, it’s actually in some ways quite simple once you get used to it because it really is just a, in some ways, just a telecommunications to start with but people are so used to being in their office all the time. So you think oh if I’ve got a big high paying job in Omaha, I can’t actually do that job from another place in Nebraska because I have to be in my chair at the office but if we can really start getting a culture around people working remotely, taking advantage of technology, then we can enable people to have good, high paying jobs and they can live where they want to live and these communities can flourish. Some of the products we’re doing, I’m really hoping that we can get to really see some progress in those areas over the next five years.

I appreciate how you’re saying, “Good, high paying jobs.” I mean, it’s not something where it’s just barely scraping by. The vision is bigger than that and the possibilities are bigger than that.


I’d love to know and our listeners would love to know what are some practical pieces of advice that you could give them as leaders, as entrepreneurs, as people doing amazing things in their world.

I think the time is now as we’ve established. Really the time is now for a lot of these issues. Technology, we are really on the brink of this fourth industrial revolution. We need to take action now and I think our students are so great at that. They have, in some ways, such a blank slate. No idea is a dumb idea. Now I think when they get into the workforce, it is a challenge thinking oh I don’t really know anything, I haven’t had years and years of experience but what I find is when I talk to our youngest members of Microsoft or people who have started a new career, that’s also another great one, they have such a fresh perspective. We need that fresh perspective to advance so don’t be shy.

Okay but before we wrap up, I have to dive into something you said there. You said, “starting a new career.” So tell me more about that.

Super important and the thing that’s really cool is when I think about what our kids are doing today and they switch platforms left and right, whereas when we were in school, if you got a new update to your Windows, you thought, oh my gosh how am I gonna use this? Our kids are so flexible now.


So I’m not as worried about later like our kids being able to change careers.

We’re very natural, right.

People in our generation need to do and we’ve gotta help people who are, when you think about technology advancing, we need to make sure people aren’t left behind and that today really means about people starting new careers and if you are hiring someone, be open to someone who has changed careers. Understand that they’ve got years of experience behind that, that could also be something really important for what you want to do. So when you look at a resume of someone who’s maybe had a gap in employment for whatever reason, understand that they actually have years of experience that they can bring to bear to start something new. Be open to those kind of opportunities. If I did something, if I was a truck driver and I was replaced by automated vehicles, that person’s gonna have to look for a new job. They maybe acquired some more skills and so as a hiring manager, I need to be open to hiring not just the person who has exactly the right skills and experience but a person who has a perspective that I don’t have today. One of the things I forgot to say earlier that I had on my mind and forgot about it was one of the most important lessons I learned as a manager was from someone who gave me an anonymous piece of feedback and we have a tool for it and said you know, “Shelley is very focused on diversity and all these things but she tends to hire people who are just like her in terms of extrovert versus introvert.”

Oh interesting.

It was an aspect of diversity that I had not thought about. I thought, I mean like I love this person, they’re so enthusiastic and they’re bubbly and they’re amazing and then I would go for that candidate versus like maybe someone who’s a bit more reserved. I looked across my leadership team and I thought, wow. I had one person one time on my leadership team who was an introvert and I was like, I really hope that he’s the one that gave me that feedback but I thought, you know what? He’s absolutely right. I’ve unintentionally hired people who are like me. So it’s something to be, it was a great learning experience for me, it’s something to be really, really aware of as you’re thinking about the teams you build and you work with and you’re thinking about how the discussions we’re having need to be built and formulated. Unconscious bias is something we talk about. It’s just how it’s been named but everyone has it.

Thank you, Shelley and thank you all for joining us at the Rural Futures podcast. Here’s to creating your best future.

Thanks for listening to Rural Futures with Dr. Connie. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at Rural Futures and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss an episode. Next up, we talk higher education for entrepreneurship with Dr. Tom Field. Dr. Field is innovating education within the University of Nebraska, Engler Agribusiness and Entrepreneurship program.

A new economy will be called the side gig economy as robotics and Artificial Intelligence and too much process oftentimes and regulatory environment, all those things sort of press on people. What they’re gonna do is they’re just gonna get creative and they’re gonna do side gigs and if the side gig economy is where we’re going, the institution least prepared for that is the university.



Episode 1: Higher ed tech futurist Bryan Alexander intersects leadership, connectivity, globalization

June 12, 2018
         Bryan Alexander is a futurist focused on how technology transforms education, specifically higher education. In this episode Bryan, who is homesteader in rural Vermont, describes megatrends, such as globalization, that are impacting societal and business sectors …





Bryan Alexander is a futurist focused on how technology transforms education, specifically higher education. In this episode Bryan, who is homesteader in rural Vermont, describes megatrends, such as globalization, that are impacting societal and business sectors as well as several scenarios for the future of higher ed. He and Dr. Connie ask listeners to consider not only what they need, but what they want for the future of our country in terms of education, healthcare and rural areas. In his words of wisdom, Bryan encourages practice of visualizing a future that is not based on the present or immediate past.


“For me a futurist is somebody who helps people think about the future more strategically and with greater imagination. And this matters because, well we’re all heading into the future, but also it matters because I think it’s very difficult for us to really think about ways the future can be different, especially in ways that are practical and matter to our lives or families, and our jobs, and our immediate political world. So, I think futurists are really essential guides to living in the near, medium, and far future.“
Bryan Alexander
Higher Education Futurist

About Bryan


Bryan Alexander is an internationally known futurist, researcher, writer, speaker, consultant and teacher, working in the field of how technology transforms education.

He is the founder of the Future of Education Observatory, a writing and media production hub, and of Bryan Alexander Consulting, LLC, through which he consults throughout higher education in the United States and the world. Before BAC Bryan taught literature, writing, multimedia, and information technology studies at Centenary College of Louisiana, then worked with the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), a non-profit working to help small colleges and universities best integrate digital technologies. He completed his English language and literature PhD at the University of Michigan in 1997, with a dissertation on doppelgangers in Romantic-era fiction and poetry.

Latest Articles

Here’s How Higher Education Dies
The Atlantic
June 5, 2018

How to Be an Ed Tech Futurist
Campus Technology
January 25, 2018


Show Notes

Hi, and welcome to the Rural Futures podcast. This is Dr. Connie, your host, and joining me today in our conversation is Bryan Alexander. Bryan is a futurist specializing in how higher education and technology are changing. He writes, speaks, and consults widely, while living in Vermont. Bryan, that’s a little bit about you, tell our audience a little bit more about you, give them a snapshot of Bryan Alexander.

Well, greetings, and thank you very much for having me here, I really appreciate it. I’m coming to this rural podcast from rural Vermont. We live on top of one of the Green Mountains, about half off the grid, and we have a very, very deep connection to rural life. As homesteaders we have raised goats, chickens, turkeys, all kinds of animals. We heat entirely by firewood,  most of which we log ourselves. Meanwhile, at the same time, we have a thin and dodgy internet connection through which I do most of my work, we have a Tesla Powerwall to backup when the electricity fails. We try in short to bridge the 19th and the 21st centuries at the same time.

I think that’s such a perfect spot in which a futurist and his family lives and creates an amazing life combining that sustainability and what you love, with building the future at the same time. Okay so Bryan, you are a futurist, and I know people on the show know I’m a futurist, but I think for them to understand what a futurist is and the value it brings would be amazing, so tell us, what is a futurist? And why is a futurist so valuable in this day and age?

For me a futurist is somebody who helps people think about the future more strategically and with greater imagination. And this matters because, well we’re all heading into the future, but also it matters because I think it’s very difficult for us to really think about ways the future can be different, especially in ways that are practical and matter to our lives or families, and our jobs, and our immediate political world. So, I think futurists are really essential guides to living in the near, medium, and far future.

I love that, essential guides, I think that’s such a strong and powerful statement about what futurists bring to the table. Now you have a specialty around education technology, so tell our audience a little bit more about what you do in that sphere of futuring.

Sure, well the sphere is the future of education, that’s primarily higher education, although I do work in K12 as well as corporate learning, and also informal learning, and I have a strong emphasis on technology. That’s where I think an awful lot of changes are happening, and there’s a great deal of potential right there to do this work. I do a lot of consulting, so I travel to places, I do this online, I do research on spec, I do a lot of speeches, and workshops, mostly in the US but also in Europe and east Asia. I make a lot of stuff, I make books, I write articles, I do a weekly video conference discussion about the future of education. I have a podcast about ready to launch, I interview people, I am interviewed, so I like to make, I guess instead of stuff I should say media, of all kind.

And you have a prolific website, a prolific online presence, and you’re doing that all from a rural community, which of course at the Rural Futures Institute we appreciate, and would love to see your connectivity expanded just to continue to support this endeavor.

Yes, well, as part of my work I travel a great deal, so that gives me exposure to a wide range of internet connectivity. So just last week I was driving across the midwest and northeast, had to pull over at a rest stop to do a video conference, so I ended up propping up my phone in one corner of a semi-abandoned Burger King, and my laptop on another table, and jerry rigged this. Meanwhile I can, the next day, drive to a place where I can get 100 meg down, it’s quite variable. I just want to emphasize that point about the web presence for a second; I find many, many consultants in general, not just in the futures world, tend not to have a web presence.

They tend to run pretty dark. My practice is quite the opposite. I believe in conversation, so I like to throw stuff out there, through social media as well as in person, to try and provoke discussions and conversations. I try to host and facilitate those discussions. I think that combination of openness and conversation is a terrific way to move forward. It’s risky in some ways, but I think it’s really an appropriately 21st century way to look ahead to the 21st century.

As a fellow futurist I totally agree, and I appreciate your presence because I learn a lot from what your posting and the thoughts that you’re putting together, from all these different data points, phenomenon, different types of futuring tactics and tools that you’re using, and I think this really speaks to you as a leader. I’d love for you to describe to us a little bit more about you as a leader, and your philosophies around leadership.

Well, I think leadership has really changed in our generation, and that’s something that we’re still trying to grapple with. Because a lot of the older practices, a lot of the older habits still persist, and you can see this in politics, you can see this in pop culture. Some of the changes are very interesting, for example, we have the capacity to be more network centric in our leadership, and less hierarchical, and that can be challenging in all kinds of ways. Hierarchies famously exist to defend hierarchies, and it’s difficult to break out of that. And network centric thinking, or horizontally organized thinking, can flop miserably. So I think we’re still learning how to make that work. And it’s tricky, there’s new ways of learning that way, and there are ways of inspiring people and sharing vision through networks. For example, you think about the idea of the personal learning network as a way of learning. Now, to assemble a PLN, you have to deploy a whole bunch of skills, aptitudes, and habits that many people weren’t trained in. It can be something as basic as pruning your Twitter feed. At the same time we have to figure out ways of doing this globally. It’s a truism to say that we are increasingly globalized society, but it’s the truth.

Just to jump in there a little bit, one of the quotes I wrote about you in our pre-conversation prior to this episode was that leadership has not taken globalization into account, and I hear you talking about that right now, and I’d love for you to expand on exactly what you’re saying. There are people that want to go hyper local and that’s working in many ways, but it’s because we’re in a global society, so talk a little bit more about leadership and globalization, and that evolution that you see happening.

Well I mean this in the broadest sense, that humans are more interconnected than we ever have been before, for better or for worse, and it shows up across a full range of human endeavor. Our conversation right now is gonna be accessible potentially to more people than it would have been 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago. It means that when a disease spreads it can spread more quickly through a larger population than it used to be, historically. It means that politics, and media, pop culture, sports, cross national boundaries much more rapidly, more frequently, and we really haven’t fully taken that into account, we often think of ourselves in strictly national terms, or at best regional terms, and that takes a bit of practice, I think, a bit of attitude, a bit of habit forming so that we can get used to saying, alright, my words may be heard in Kazakhstan, in Australia, in Ecuador, and maybe I should shape them accordingly, and think about those different contexts. There’s a self awareness where you have to think of yourself as being a member of a certain nation, or a certain region, or even smaller than that, a state, or a province, and that’s a little trickier. And you get so many incentives not to do that. You can hear voices from your locality and really adhere to them. I think in rural areas this is especially true, because we are less densely populated, we value those voices a little more highly, I think, it’s harder to disappear into a crowd when you’re in the countryside. And I think also because of our relatively poor infrastructure, it’s harder for us to get used to conversations with people around the world. And I think that’s something that we really, in the countryside, we need to work on, both in our practice, but also in our infrastructure.

Well, and speaking of that, I mean, obviously technology is a huge part of this conversation in enabling people to do exactly what you’re saying, like how do we all emerge, and act and have different habits, and really opportunities in a connected world. Another change that you talk about is this gigantic force of demographic shift. How do you see that influencing the future of both rural, urban, and also globalization.

Well geographic shifts are fascinating, because through most of the world, we have this phenomenon that we are aging, we are living longer, we are having fewer kids, and this is relatively new in human history. There are very few societies that have done this, especially at scale, and we’re still struggling to figure out what this means, and how we respond, and you can think of these responses that are really, really diverse. For example, you can think about Japan, which is pushing very, very hard for robot development, so they can have more workers, and more caregivers, because they’re running low on workers and caregivers, and they look at automation as a solution.

Absolutely, one of my favorite emails is one of our partners, the Japan Society asking, hey Dr. Connie, what is the future of rural Japan? Because we don’t know, and our government has now made it a national priority.

Well, and it’s a huge issue to think about, because the rural world, is in many ways, emptying out. One of the biggest trends of our time is this huge, oceanic shift of the human race out of the countryside into cities, see this around the world. You see this in Africa, you see it in China, you see it in the US, and it becomes self perpetuating because as more people pile into cities and suburbs that’s where more and more of the action is, that’s where more of the jobs are, that’s where more of the excitement is, it draws still more people from the countryside, and in response the countryside looks emptier and then that just accelerates. Meanwhile, there are other forces driving this too. We have more automation in agriculture, we have more large scale agriculture, so that part of the countryside is no longer demanding large numbers of people. We have change in family size, so we’re not spawning 10 kids per couple, but more like two or fewer, so it may be that the countryside’s future is to be very quiet and empty. You think about the part of Saudi Arabia called the Empty Quarter, that might be a model for us. Now there’s an alternative, which is if we had decent infrastructure, if we had that set up, many people could, what used to say, telecommute, or do work from home. I mean if you can work in a cubicle, if you can work from anywhere, why not be in the countryside where you can enjoy all the benefits of country living rather than in the suburb or city?

Yeah, I agree, I don’t think we’ve fully explored or tapped into the potential of the 21st century model of work that really does include telecommuting and technology.

There’s a terrific futurist named Bruce Sterling who writes nonfiction and fiction. He has this resonant phrase that I keep coming back to. Someone asked him, well what do you see as the future? And he said, for me, I can’t do his accent, he has a great Texas accent, to me the future is old people in big cities afraid of the sky.

Oh wow, that’s really interesting, yeah. Perspective and phrase.

It’s got three things in it, you’ve got the demographics of aging, you have the shift to the cities, and you have climate change. People argue with this phrase a lot, they push it around, but it just resonates. And then, okay, let’s move on from the cities, let’s move our point of view to the countryside, and you’re gonna have very few people, is that something we want? Is that something that a country can risk having? And we have to really treat that seriously. We can’t get nostalgic, we can’t think, ah, if only people appreciated the countryside, they’re not doing it.

That’s right.

We have to now think this as existential moment.

And I think that is where the discipline of futuring and strategic foresight comes in. So how do we more deliberately create the future we want, rather than just continuing on in the same path we have been with that mindset that we don’t control what happens? And that might be partially true, but the other truth is we are not really having these bold conversations that need to be had in so many ways to address this from a systems level, not just one topic or the other. And I think futurists can really bring that to the table.

I agree, in part because these are frightening conversations, but also as I mentioned before, it’s difficult for us to think of a future in ways that really break out.

One of the challenges we wrestle with at the Rural Futures Institute is answering these questions of why rural? Why now? It’s been our theme for this year, how would you tell someone, or describe to them, especially because our population is very urbanized, and decision makers live in mostly urban areas, why should our country invest in infrastructure and rural when the population there is in decline?

I think there are a lot of great reasons. And one of them is simply economic benefit. There’s a project in China right now where the Chinese government goes out into central China, which is very rural, and goes to villages that are obviously very rural, and poses to them a deal. If the village will try its best to form internet based businesses, then the Chinese government will wire them up to high speed broadband. It’s a real smart deal, because the villagers get the benefit of internet connectivity, and the rest of China gets the benefit of having this boost to their business development. And the businesses can be anything. They can be selling flowers online, they can be services online, you think of this as an enormous untapped business opportunity, for really growing an overall economy, I mean how many businesses, how many consumers are out there? There’s a Pew study which said 40% of Americans over 65 are not connected to the internet, 40% in 2018. Now you think about that, if you’re still in economic terms, you think, my gosh, what a population that could be buying stuff on Amazon, or selling things, or offering services, and so just the economic market is one. A second is the cultural argument.That we can use the internet, especially broadband, to grow our culture. We know this as ways we can consume culture, more and more, everything from YouTube videos, Netflix streaming, to podcasts, to reading Wikipedia, but also to producing culture, that we can shoot video and upload it to YouTube, where we can write stories and make stories of all kinds, and share them with just about any platform. So if we can connect more people, we can further deepen and grow our culture, and that benefits everybody. A third reason, and this is my line of work, is education, we have such capacity for teaching and learning online, it’s truly extraordinary. I mean, in many ways, the business of education is pretty fragile right now.

That’s right, we know that, here at the University of Nebraska, it’s absolutely true. We’re going through a huge shift in higher education and I think that’s where the futurist perspective, and futuring and strategic foresight are so critical for organizations, industries, like higher education and others right now, and I know you’ve talked about this tipping point of online versus face to face, when do you see that happening?

I’m not sure at this point, so just for listeners, there’s this interesting question, at what point

will the number of learners taking classes online roughly equal the number of learners taking classes face to face? I know Creighton Christiansen predicted this would happen around this year, it hasn’t quite hit there but we’re closing in on it, and at some point soon we’re gonna hit that point, and I think that’ll be an interesting milestone. It’ll clarify a lot of developments for a lot of people. So we’ve seen some institutions where the online branch teaches more students than the face to face branch. And in fact I’ve worked with several institutions where the online branch makes more money than the face to face one, and now subvents and supports the face to face one, which is quite a 21st century moment. I mean, it’s possible that we will look at education kind of the way we look at movies. Where if you want to watch a movie you have tons of options from where you’re sitting right now. Phone, from your TV, and you can get a pretty nice experience, so if you’re gonna go to a movie theater, you need to have something special to haul you out there, and that’s why you have, depending on the theater, you have stadium style seating, you have more food, you have a bar, you have places like Alamo Draft House where you can go off and have fun previews, and have food served to you and all that, I think a lot of businesses are doing that, where they’re trying to figure out ways to compete with what we can get online.

Absolutely, it’s an experience economy, in so many ways with that.

Yes, you go to a campus, bricks and mortar institution, what’s gonna make that different? So that’s what education has to work on.

So looking ahead five years, thinking about education specifically, higher education, what do you see evolving and changing? In addition to this sort of experiential economy emerging even in higher education?

Looking ahead five years, there are a few trends that I think are pretty predictable, not too controversial, and one of them is, to come back to an earlier point, demographics. In the US we’re following many other countries and we’re getting older, and we’re also seeing shifts within the US as the northeast and midwest are aging much more rapidly, and losing children, and so we’re seeing institutions in the midwest and the northeast marketing more and more to the Rocky Mountain central area, to Texas, Arizona, and trying to find where they still grow 18 year olds. And so I think we’ll see that continue, in education that means, among other things, trying to reach out more and more to adult learners, but also trying to more aggressively recruit other students, recruiting more and more international students, and that’s been a success until last year. I think higher education institutions in the US are gonna aggressively recruit. It’s not just in the US, many, many nations are seeing themselves now as being part of an international higher education market. So you’re seeing European institutions marketing, I’ve seen European universities marketing themselves to American high school students, with a pretty clear message. They’ll say come to our interesting cities, and we won’t give you student loans, pretty convincing.  

Yeah, I would say so, I mean I think that’s one of the great conversations, and challenging conversations we have in higher education right now, so, if you choose to go to college and pursue higher education, the student loan debt conversation is a big part of that, but then also that means people will have to go where there are jobs, and that means it’s gonna be hard for them to start a business, and specifically in rural communities in our case, we can’t expect all that to work. So re-envisioning this whole network of how people learn, start businesses, work for other companies or businesses, has really been changing, and it’s really interesting to watch right now as all these areas such as healthcare, education, retail, are experiencing this exponential shift at the same time.

Well healthcare’s an interesting piece of this, because the American healthcare sector is very, very large, economically, and socially, and it’s growing larger and larger, and again, as we continue to age that just means statistically we’re gonna consume more healthcare, and also the R and D of our medical sector, which is tremendous, is gonna produce more market options for healing people, and it adds an interesting kink to the evolving pattern. Because we now have this tendency of more and more young people are born and grow up in cities and in suburbs, and they’re more and more likely to go to higher education in cities, and then they’re more saddled with debt, which about two thirds of them are, they’re more and more likely to want to stay in cities so they can find a job, enable them to pay off that debt. But meanwhile, in the countryside, as we age more rapidly, healthcare becomes more and more important, and in fact when I go across the country and I go to small towns, small cities, it’s interesting to see how the healthcare sector, architecturally, looks kind of like the way churches used to. A looming hospital, which becomes central to the community, the drug stores are no longer pharmaceutical dispensaries but they’re full grocery stores. They’re like general stores right now. So maybe these young folks in their 20s, early 30s, will be lured out to the countryside simply for the opportunity to work in the medical sector. And I mean the full gamut of allied health, I mean home healthcare aids, I mean surgeons, I mean people doing medical informatics, medical administration, radiology, EMTs, the whole healthcare sector is actually very, very large, so maybe that is one way forward for the rural world is center ourselves less on agriculture and more on healthcare.

Yeah, I work with a lot of rural hospitals and part of that discussion is how do those hospitals really become more engaged within the community? Because they are an epicenter for those rural communities in so many ways in terms of not just providing for people that are sick or hurt or injured, but also wellness has become more of a factor, they are, in many ways, the economic driver of those communities, so how do we make sure that they stay viable in a time when they’re having to shift their business models, but also really look at the opportunities ahead in terms of being able to really help these rural communities thrive in a different way, and I think technology is just a huge part of that. We’ve talked about DIY dentistry, home birth, et cetera, I know you’ve mentioned that in other conversations, and that’s going on all over, we have a medical center here in Nebraska that’s just doing amazing things with virtual reality and all types of technology, so it’s very exciting to see those trends, but also the opportunities that are coming with them, even though we have to recognize there are challenges.


Well I know you’ve built about 40 scenarios for higher education through the work you’ve done, and one of the things that you and I both really have explored is this whole issue of non traditional learners through this lens of higher education as well. So thinking about, right now recruitment’s still focused on high school students, largely, for all these institutions, very few, I mean there are some, but so few have decided, you know what? We have a lot of non traditional students that also benefit from higher education, or continuing education, but they can’t come to a campus. This whole piece of online and real time learning, all the different types of technologies available, specifically in rural. I just published a paper where I talked a lot about this. In the evolution of rural healthcare, the importance of teaching people in place, where they are, not expecting them to move, but rather let’s value who’s already there and give them some new opportunities.

For those listeners who haven’t seen this, in healthcare there’s a long tradition at this Finnish University, and I was walking through their medical school, and they were showing me their simulation wing where they had devoted an entire wing of their university to simulation. It’s kind of a no brainer, it’s better to have medical students work on simulations than on live human beings. You might think of say, the Resusci Anne doll where people learn how to do CPR. So I walk through this corridor and I looked into a room where they had a robot that simulated a woman in childbirth, in the next room they had a kind of multi purpose room where you could see patients going through multiple procedures, there was another room which was a ward, which had a mix of human actors and robots, it was tremendous stuff. And then the last room we went to blew me away, because it was a living room, a meticulously tricked out living room, with a carpet, a TV in the corner, a sofa, I said, well wait a minute, have I gone in the wrong building? They said, no, no, no, one of our biggest demands is home healthcare.

That’s absolutely right, it is where it is at right now.

Literally where it’s at.

Yes, if it blew you away, it had to be awesome.

(laughing together)

It was so surreal, I thought that I had walked into a movie set, and the idea is, well what do you do with students who grew up in a major city, lived in the city, learned the city ways, and now they’re gonna be sent to central Finland, which is as rural as it gets, to help people in their homes? And so it was a really great idea to do that, so I think care in place, learning in place is something that we’re really, really going to be doing more of. When it comes to education, I think, in many ways, we have to think about this in some more imaginative and more effective ways. So if we have a learner who’s in rural Nebraska, and we want them to learn, we have to really think hard about how we do digital learning, so we have to figure out where synchronous technologies, like video conferencing, really work. How to do asynchronous learning, how to create a sense of learning community online, how to do that better, where a lot of online learning is really not community based, it’s more instructor, student, and pile of stuff. So beginning to recreate that.

I would love to see rural places be one of the first areas to use holograms, in these sorts of places, so it doesn’t just have to happen in Silicon Valley, it could really happen in our rural communities.

It really should, and it shouldn’t, I mean, in many ways, one of the great uses of virtual reality, or holograms, or any visualization is helping learners visualize something they just can’t get to. And that happens across the disciplines, for example, people in classical studies. Building visualizations of ancient Rome, because it’s gone, and also because most people can’t fly to Rome, and check out ruins right now. In sciences, people do visualizations of say proteins. So imagine, again, this hypothetical learner in the middle of rural Nebraska has the chance through VR say to glimpse Cairo, or a human skeleton from the inside, or the solar system from the outside, again, when you describe it, it sounds blindingly obvious, yes, we have to do this, but we have to do this, and it takes some work to do.

Well and I think it’s one of those things that could help stop, or at least slow down, this exodus from rural into our more urban centers, because there is the perception that there’s more opportunity in urban, and I think to some extent that’s true, but I think the other part of it is we need to think a little bolder, and bigger, to say how do we create that community? How do we create access? How do we recreate rural in a way that’s a 21st century model that people can use?


Well Bryan I’d love to know some parting words of wisdom that you could share with our audience.

A few things, one is to focus on imagining a future that can be different. I find this to be very, very challenging, for various reasons we tend to think about the future as an extension of the immediate past. For all of our vaunted love of disruption, we really see that as an exception, and tend to think of the future as being version seven of version six and five that we’ve just experienced, and it’s really important to think about the ways it can be gradually and even exceptionally different. And this is a mental habit that I recommend that science fiction is a good way of spurring that habit, in fact I really think if you’re not reading science fiction you’re not really ready for the 21st century.

I agree, I think that’s a great point.

Second thing is to connect with people. I don’t mean in a kind of Hallmark card cheesy way, I mean to take advantage of these technologies and reach out and connect with people so that you can learn from them. The future right now is such a vast and dynamic, complex system that it’s very difficult for any one person to get a handle on it. Really need the points of view of different people, and I think using the technology well is a really great benefit, and we really need to do that, and it’s not just a consumption angle, we have this inherited mid-20th century habit of sucking down media. Really, more importantly with 21st century media, as literally interactive. I think we really, really need to do that. So that’s a second bit of recommendation. Third is I think really to focus on, and advocate for, the rural world. We’re not really on the cultural radar. We don’t have much of a presence in pop culture, and we really need to, I think, push for ourselves, because right now we’re on the back foot, we’re not the most important sector anymore, and we have to really, I think, experiment with what we do, and we have to make our voices heard.

Yeah, I just think that’s so incredibly important. One of the things the Rural Futures Institute has been working on is really elevating the voice of rural, because you’re so spot on, it’s very lost, I think in the media world today, but also when it is out there it’s portrayed in a pretty stereotypical, negative way, and so elevating that conversation to really demonstrate the value of rural, but all the amazing, cutting edge innovation happening in rural is something we’re hoping to do, and we’re so excited that you’ve spent this time with us, during the show, to help us do that. I know you do that in your work, and we appreciate and value what you’re doing,

so as people are looking to creating the future, they’re getting help from people like you to do that in a very positive way. Well Bryan, thank you so much for this conversation today, I know people are gonna be curious and interested in finding you, so where can our listeners find you?

Well, you can find me pretty much everywhere, I’m very, very active online, I publish almost everything I do to the open web. The best central location is the Future of Education Observatory, just go to FutureOfEducation.us, you’ll find an introduction there, as well as links from there to my blog, to my other social media platforms, and my weekly video conference, that’s one way. You can find me on Patreon, where I have supporters there who help keep me going, Patreon.com/BryanAlexander. And naturally I’m on Twitter all the time, just my handle just BryanAlexander, B-R-Y-A-N, Alexander.

Excellent, I know our listeners will want to check that out, I’m a huge fan, and will continue to be, and we so appreciate all the insights, and futures perspectives that you shared today, thank you.

Well it’s my pleasure, thank you for the opportunity, and thank you for the great conversation.

Thanks for listening to the Rural Futures podcast with Dr. Connie, subscribe where you listen so you don’t miss an episode, and reach out to us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at RuralFutures to let us know what questions you have and who you think we should bring on the show. Next up, Dr. Connie talks with Microsoft General Manager Shelley McKinley, about rural connectivity and leadership in a world of exponential change. We are really on the brink of this fourth industrial revolution, we need to take action now, one of the number one things going forward is we have to ensure that we’ve got a good, diverse, and inclusive set of people around the world that are working together to really try to tackle some of these humongous challenges we have in front of us in things like the environment, and things like accessibility, and things like human rights.



Episode 0: Intro! Intersecting technology, leadership and rural-urban collaboration

June 12, 2018
      Through the Rural Futures podcast, host Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild, associate executive director and chief futurist at the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska, and producer Katelyn Ideus, RFI director of communications, connect achievers, mavericks …




Through the Rural Futures podcast, host Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild, associate executive director and chief futurist at the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska, and producer Katelyn Ideus, RFI director of communications, connect achievers, mavericks and doers in both rural and urban communities, organizations and companies to bring forward a thriving high-touch, high-tech combined future.

In this introductory episode they share their educational, career and personal backgrounds as well as their goals for the show. Throughout season 1, listeners can expect to hear from researchers, entrepreneurs and innovators from healthcare, agriculture, education, technology and from communities around the country.

The calls to action for this episode — let us know what questions and ideas you have to make this a valuable experience for you and subscribe where you listen, so you don’t miss a weekly episode!


Connie Reimers-Hild, Associate Director, Rural Futures Institute
“A lot of leadership theory developed in a different era. What we really want do is focus on the mavericks, those doers who are doing cool things already, really leading themselves but, at the same time, leading communities of change and purpose.”
Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild
Host & Futurist

More from Dr. Connie




More from Katelyn



Show Notes

Hi, I’m Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild, host of the Rural Futures podcast, and today we’re introducing episode zero.  We’d really like you to subscribe. Right now I’d like to introduce our executive producer, Katelyn Ideus.

Hi, Connie! Yes, I’m so excited. I’m Katelyn, this is episode zero of Rural Futures. We’ve been planning this for such a long time. So, Connie, why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about your professional background and your personal life.

Absolutely. I’m kind of an odd hard/social science mix,  which is great to be a futurist, right?

Absolutely, it fits perfectly. Yeah, so, I mean that’s kind of where the futurist lens I think comes in to, to kind of bring that all together. But I have a bachelor’s degree in natural resources, a master’s degree in entomology, which is the study of insects for anybody not familiar with that concept. My PhD is in human sciences and leadership studies and my goal with those degrees was to blend the hard and social sciences together in an effort to help people become more entrepreneurial and create innovation for a more positive future. On the personal side, I’m married, I’m a mom, I’m a wiener dog lover. I think anyone that’s ever had a class with me or associated with me knows that. But I very much am focused on family and value quality of life as well as technology and some of the cool things we see emerging. I have a keen interest in how the planet sort of will continue to evolve over time with all the exponential change we’re seeking now. Alright, so that’s probably enough about me. People will get to know me more as the podcast moves forward but what about you Katelyn?

Alright, thanks, Connie. I am a communicator, I’ve been a communicator my whole career. I was a journalism undergrad and then I have a master’s degree in PR and marketing. Really what I kind of tell people is I’m a storyteller. The journalism, news ed, and broadcast background, I always thought I would be a newspaper writer and then newspapers have really changed, right? So I have really embraced kind of the digital side of storytelling and this frequent content, right? Even as a communications professional and an organization, you’re a publisher these days. So it’s really, really fun. And then from the kind of rural perspective, I did not grow up in a rural community. A lot of times people are surprised by that, being the communications director for the Rural Futures Institute. But I actually grew up in several large cities, and so I think it’s kind of a cool, I bring kind of a cool perspective. I do live in the country now. I did marry a part-time farmer, so that kind of comes with the territory. Absolutely.

And I think that background has really helped position the Rural Futures Institute in a different way and is really one of the reasons for the podcast, right? Is to get these stories out and create global conversations around, you know, what we’ve seen happening in terms of, not just rural, but rural and urban, and bringing those two worlds together in a thoughtful way that benefits everyone. And I think your unique perspective really helps us be able to do that in a very proactive but also positive way that’s translational for the listeners in terms of those takeaways that we want to make sure they have.

And what are you, I mean, who are the types of people, I mean obviously we’ve had this conversation a lot of times of who are our listeners and I’ve always, yes, they’re leaders, but I think we have, we’ve talked about being careful, right? With that term leader, too, because it’s like, you know, a lot of people don’t self-identify as a leader but if you’re an achiever, if you’re a doer, if you’re kind of a gritty person in your rural community, or in a start up business, whether that’s rural or urban, I think it’s all of these different types of leaders. Talk more about that.

Yeah, I think you’re spot on. I mean, I think part of what we’re missing somewhat in leadership was a lot of leadership theory developed in a different era. You know, I lead this organization, I’m leading these people. What we really want to do is focus on the mavericks, those doers who are doing cool things already, really leading themselves but at the same time leading communities of change and purpose. I think sometimes we’re not focused enough on that and in an era of exponential change like we’re in right now, we’re gonna need more of that whether it’s in a university or in a community, in a private business, because things are changing so quickly we need leaders to be able to adapt but be very entrepreneurial and innovative at the same time.

Right, right. One of the things, too, that we’ve talked about that I think is interesting and even some of the guests that we’ve already started lining up are having a little trouble saying, “Okay, so what’s the connection to rural?” Right? And I think, though that’s, right there is our purpose, is we are making this connection even for some of these, I mean, kind of high-flying leaders and entrepreneurs in this space. You are connected to rural, we all are in some way. And we’re not gonna force that on anyone or anything but I think it’s great perspective.

Yeah, I mean, I think what one thing that we’ve seen happen is rural and urban have become very polarized, right? And so people either talk about rural or urban. But at the Rural Futures Institute, we’ve really thought about how do we those conversations together. We do live in a globalized society and that’s only going to increase as more people become connected and we have major companies now investing and connecting the billions of people who are not yet connected and most of them reside in rural. So everybody has a stake in this game. And as those people become connected, how does that change business, how does that change life?

Not just in those rural communities but the urban communities as well, and how do we all thrive together in this planet. I mean, I think it’s great to think about going to Mars and colonizing Mars, and all these really futurist things, but some of the questions I think we ask which are so interesting are how do we make it better here now? You know, and into the future for your kids, my kids, those next generations that, you know, we want them to be able to choose where they want to live and have the life they want to live whether they’re here or somewhere else.

Absolutely. So you talked about some of the questions we’re going to ask. So tell our listeners, give them a sneak peak of some of the questions we might be asking.

Absolutely. You know, I want to dive into leadership, of course. How do they define themselves as leaders. But I also really want to know that personal side of leadership because I think along with the technology and sort of scientific types of changes we’re also seeing changes in our social structure and our social fabric, the social norms. You know, as more people are working and dual-career couples, for example, or not having kids or, you know, balancing life in different ways or even questioning why is the work day set up the way it is? How can we change that? Why is school set up the way it is? How do we continue to change that? You know, diving into their thoughts around that and how they’re creating lives that work for them because a lot of these mavericks are doing that. They’re questioning the norms, right? But they’re also setting a new standard at the same time. And that’s causing a bit of controversy and conflict in our society, but at the same time, from that I think can create, be creative opportunities that really advance our society in positive ways if we choose to direct the future in that way. I want to know what they do for fun. I mean, really, it’s like sometimes I think we see these thought-leaders and it’s so serious and it’s like, “Oh, you know, how are you growing your business? “How are you doing this?” But they’re people. You know? And that human side I think is so important. And also what do they see as the major changes happening in their industries? You know? How do they see technology changing, but how do they also see that influencing workforce development, jobs, new opportunities in the future?

And how are they integrating different cultures together? We talked about this I think yesterday. It’s just how are, how are some people’s leadership styles just different because of how, of their experiences or their culture or how they were raised? How can we learn from that and kind of adapt to that and change? I mean, it’s just an interesting, I think they’re interesting topics. And we’re gonna ask them to tell a lot of stories, too. Right? That’s one thing, too, that I think, Connie and I listen to a lot of podcasts so we don’t want this to be very structured or, or super serious, like you said, but more storytelling and really giving some, some good value and some good takeaways that our listeners can put into action in their job or in their home or in their communities.

Yeah we want people to get something out of this. You know, if you’re gonna invest your valuable time into listening we want you to have those takeaways that matter to you but that’s where we need listeners to help guide us through that process as well. You know, we don’t want to just create something and keep going down a path. We really want to hear from people. You know, who should we have on? What are some things that people want to know? You know, we want this to be like a co-creative process, very highly interactive, so we get better and we better serve our audience. You know, it’s an experiment for us, too. Something new for both of us and so I’m excited that our team at Rural Futures and embarking on this journey and really then opening up our engagement beyond where we are physically and into this global, very virtual world so we can really crowd source this whole conversation.

Absolutely. And I think we should say here with that, it’s obviously, the Rural Futures Institute is located at the University of Nebraska in Nebraska, and we’re very passionate about Nebraska, but I think what we’re trying to do with this is, is bring Nebraska out to the world and then bring some more of the world into Nebraska. So it’s very much this kind of perspective-building that we’re looking to do.

And we can only do it with our listeners so we appreciate hearing from you.




Meet the Team

Dr. Connie is supported in the production of this podcast by:

Katelyn Ideus


Theresa Klein

Katy Bagniewski
Production Specialist