Ep. 326 – Shifting landscape of global talent with John Winsor, Open Assembly CEO

Ep. 326 – Shifting landscape of global talent with John Winsor, Open Assembly CEO

On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with John Winsor co-author of the new book, Open Talent. John and I talk about the shifting landscape of talent and tools and dive into what companies need to do to adapt and thrive in a new global marketplace for talent. Let’s get started.

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Transcript of Interview with John Winsor, CEO and founder of Open Assembly and Co-author of Open Talent

Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another Inside, outside episode. We are here today with another amazing guest. Today we have John Winsor. He is the CEO and founder of Open Assembly and Co-author of the new book, Open Talent: Leveraging the Global Workforce to Solve the Biggest Challenges. Welcome to the show, John.

John WinsorJohn Winsor: Hey, thanks, Brian. Psyched to be here.

Brian Ardinger: I’m excited to have you on for a couple different reasons. One, you’ve been at the early days of experimenting in this whole world of talent, you know, before covid, before people knew what remote work was and that you’ve been an advocate for that. I think you started your career in the creative space.

You built Victors and Spoils, which was the first creative agency that was built on crowdsourcing principles. You’ve started Open Assembly and that, so what’s this term, open talent, and what does it mean to you?

John Winsor: You know, I think people got confused and when we were doing research on it, you know, I started using kind of what I would call alternative, you know, talent models way back in the eighties.

Because I owned a magazine, I couldn’t afford to I have a bunch of editors and writers, so I had the readers write a lot of the stuff, and so it worked out really, really well. I sold one of the magazines, Women’s Sports and Fitness to Conde Nast, and it was a, you know, pretty a great win. But what we’re talking about is we’re talking about really the digital transformation of talent writ large.

Open TalentAnd so, we believe that there’s this kind of seismic shift between companies that set the terms of employment because there’s more supply than there is demand. Today, there’s more demand than there is supply. And so that’s just kind of basic economics that, you know, especially in tech these days. I mean, Korn Ferry says there’s 85 million jobs that will go unfilled by 2030.

In the tech world, it’s going to cost companies $8.5 trillion. I suspect that’s going to be reduced a bit just because of, you know, generative AI and things like that. But my sense is that’s still a big deal. We’re excited about that. So, one of the things we started talking about, I kind of used the term back in the day, co-creation.

And that was an idea that came out of the magazine work where the customers were actually co-creating, and I coined that word in a book called Beyond the Brand 2002. But as things got going, you know, we started using the word crowdsourcing and then obviously gig got big. But I think gig is a misnomer in that gig to me is all about having somebody be told by, usually by an algorithm of where to work and when to work.

You know, I need to pick up, you know, Brian at the airport at this time. Whereas, you know, open talent is really a mixture of freelance. We kind have three legs to the stool in this kind of digital transformation of talent at the higher end. It’s building external talent clouds, building internal talent, marketplaces, and then open innovation capabilities.

Brian Ardinger: Very interesting. Let’s talk about, you’ve written a new book called Open Talent. Yeah. And it’s leveraging some of these new things that we’re seeing out there. What made you decide that now’s the time to kind of summarize this and help people figure this out?

John Winsor: Because Harvard Business Review asked me to write a book. We started this journey, you know, I was at Harvard, but we had a thing called the Crowd Academy. We were about to gather the hundred, you know, top thinkers about these kinds of alternative, you know, hiring practices.

And essentially what happened was that we started a conversation, Balaji Bondili, Dyan Finkhousen, Balaji’s from Deloitte, Dyan Finkhousen from GE, and Steve Rader from NASA just on a regular basis.

Then as Covid hit, you know, John Healy had joined the group from Kelly and said, hey, instead of making these kind of monthly and private, let’s make these open to the world. And about 4,000 people came to the calls. So. There seemed to be a really a need for figuring this stuff out. And then obviously trying to frame that up and that group was really, really, our community is really, really important to figure out what the idea of a networked organization should be. What’s the framework? All those things.

And, and we felt like one of the things that wasn’t happening in the market is that there are thousand platforms out there that are doing this great work. But the problem is, is like if you look at adoption of other things, let’s say cloud computing, for an example, cloud computing, you know, the big guys got together, and they decided on common language and common process.

And you know, all of a sudden it was cloud computing. The name was the same across companies and across platforms. And adoption was easy. So for customers, it was really easy to say, okay, I can kind of get what it is, I can start exploring it. Whereas in this kind of freelance open talent space, everybody says it’s something different.

Gig, freelance, open talent, everybody uses a different process. There’s always compliance and security stuff. Some companies do it, some companies don’t. And we really wanted to kind of build that framework for the industry to just to create, you know, a higher amount of adoption from enterprises.

Brian Ardinger: Obviously with Covid and that there’s been a rapid shift for people paying attention to this. So, you know, I, I’ve been in this innovation space talking a long time, and you talk about disruption and five years ago, 10 years ago, it was like, yeah, yeah, I get it. Disruption may happen. But then you have something like covid and literally everybody’s life is somewhat changed or altered. So, it, it becomes more in the forefront. And now we’re coming out of it to a certain extent and folks are now trying to figure out, do we go back? How do we move forward? What are you seeing from your corporations out there? It’s like, how are they trying to navigate the the new way?

John Winsor: Yeah. It’s really hard, right? It’s a generational change. I mean, I think that if you put the hat on of a guy my age, 64, and you’ve been running a company for a long time, you know your cultures is having your people around you and seeing face to face.

Yeah. And having meetings. If you’re a millennial that grew up on your phone, you know, and you’ve been in the job market for a couple years, you don’t really care. You know, you’re going to like work where you want and how you want. And so I think there’s this big dynamic going on, you know, and I think we as executives don’t realize the kind of pressure we put on people.

So what I mean by that is if you’re a mid-level marketing manager in a company in New York. Pre Covid, you know, you might be making 85 grand a year, but it was costing you 90 grand to live there. Right. And it was really a struggle. So you’re calling your parents or your grandma or whatever to make, you know, ends meet.

And then covid happens. You know, I live often, I spent a lot of time in, had a house in Mexico for 29 years. And so, during Covid it was just an amazing boon. A lot of people moved there, and I kept asking like, what brought you here? And he is, and they’re like, well, listen, I can surf twice a day. I can work and I pay about a thousand dollars a month for all the food I, you know, need to eat.

And I really, you know, I have fast internet and I can, you know, do what I want, but I can also work and it’s great. And instead of, you know, losing five grand a year, I’m making 65,000 bucks a year. Yeah. And I’m doing the same thing my company does. My company is always looking for ways to, you know, arbitrage value and I’m just doing the same thing as an individual. I think that’s hard for a lot of people who built companies, have infrastructure, have offices, and I just don’t think it’s going back.

Brian Ardinger: Yeah, I agree with that.

John Winsor: Especially, especially now, you know, with the acceleration of gen ai, it’s just going to be, you know, it’s going to be radically shifted.

Brian Ardinger: Well, it’s interesting it, that a lot of companies haven’t figured out how to take advantage of the advantages that that open talent and the access to talent. And you think back and in the days where you had to find the talent in your backyard and so you gravitated to cities or where that talent was and, and now literally any company anywhere can access talent around the world and it’s like, who’s the best person for this particular job? Exactly for their role. That mindset hasn’t always been triggered, I think from companies like, well, how can we actually take advantage of this versus how do we you know, morph it back into something that we’re more comfortable with.

John Winsor: Yeah, I love that. And we know from our work at, at, with NASA at Harvard that, you know, when you use these open talent models, typically, at least in the research we’ve done is as good or better results, four to five times faster, eight to 10 times cheaper.

It’s not cheaper because we’re paying labor cheaper. It’s cheaper because the matching cost. If you hired Deloitte or Accenture, you’re paying five times that individual salary to make sure that, you know, you’re paying for the brand and the executives and the executive, you know, probably, you know, jet rides and all those kinds of things that, you know, private jets and things like that.

And these days, the whole matching thing, one of the things I get a lot of questions in the talent space of like, oh, this is still a human thing, it, it’ll never happen. And I’m like, well we were sitting around 25 years ago, we would be maybe looking for a dry cleaner. If I said, Brian, what’s the best dry cleaner in, in Lincoln, Nebraska, you’d pull out your yellow pages and you’d look flip through, and you’re like, oh, this is the biggest ad. This must be the best one.

Well, in 2007, the Yellow Pages for Boston alone cost a hundred million dollars to produce. And what’s crazy is that it was great. I mean, they sold $225 million worth advertising in that, so they did really, really well. But now we got a thing called Google and we search for best eye cleaner, and it comes up immediately and we see what somebody had an experience yesterday and the marginal cost is zero.

So, you know the a hundred million dollars to zero to do the exact same thing, find a dry cleaner. And so that’s what has happened in every sector of our economy and it’s going to continue to happen and, and it’ll happen in talent as well.

Brian Ardinger: Are you finding typical or types of roles or companies that are doing better in adapting to this new world or?

John Winsor: Yeah, I think that, you know, it starts with using, capturing the cognitive surplus of your internal teams and using kind of those kinds of tools, whether it’s a, a software platform, you know, platform like a Gloat or something like that. Those are interesting. We call those internal talent marketplaces and those I think are a way to start.

But I also think it’s really important to think about like where are those friction points, right? So, one of my favorite stories, we did a case study recently with the UST and we’ve worked with UST bunch and Vinod Kartha, who’s the head of strategy he kind of got wind of, you know, open talent and freelance and, you know, he was, he’s interesting. He’s a really curious guy.

One of the things he noticed when he was looking around the company is there was a lot of consternation around the HR department keeping a bunch of records on Excel spreadsheets and not having the time to put them up into their Oracle system. So, lots of frustration. So, he went to them and said, Hey, you know, what do you recommend?

And they’re like, well, we’re, we’re way too busy. We recommend you hiring a big consulting company. So, we went out to the consulting company, got a bid for $250,000 and about three months to do the work. He thought, well, wow, I wonder if I could find some people on a platform and I wonder if that could, you know, get them to do the work and I wonder how much it would be and how long it would take.

He found four people that could do the whole project together. It cost 25,000 bucks and five days to do it. Wow. And so that kind of had him spark the idea that, wow, we could use this on a much more consistent basis and really break down the frictions of getting work done. And really, it’s not the job or the work, it’s the friction of matching the work, getting work, you know, to the point of scoping it to the people to do the work. Right. And there’s just lots of new digital deal tools to get those done.

Brian Ardinger: Going back to the Star Trek days of the Borg, like the, the idea that your company has a borg of knowledge and insight. How do you tap into it in such a way that you know, you can find the right person that either has the right connection or the right talent set or the right experience, that, that can real time pull that together and, and you know, I think that’s where ultimately that’s where, where you want to get to.

But finding that and pulling that out. You mentioned there’s a couple things out there as far as tools and stuff. Are you seeing either startups or companies or trying to provide services in and around this space to make this more efficient.

John Winsor: Yeah, for sure. I think you’ve got companies like; you know, they’re doing a really good job like Lettuce that is doing, you know, kind of worker benefits, which I think is a really needed area if we’re going to make this transition. I mean, my vision is that we’re all going to have portfolios of jobs, right? You’ve got portfolios jobs; I’ve got portfolio jobs. That’s going to be the way the world works, right? We’re going to have, we might have something that’s half our time, but we’ll have fill that in with passion projects and yeah, things we really want to do and, and use tools.

So certainly, we’ve got to, in order to do that, society, especially in the US has to change. We have to have some kind of nationalized healthcare or at least more effort into that. We’ve got to have a better retirement, you know, effort. It’s not company sponsored. There’s been this paternalistic relationship that’s been born out of the, you know, out of the industrial age that just is going away.

It’s just becoming digitized. So, from my perspective, I think there are those tools that are really interesting. There are tools, you know, like Worksome that’s helping companies really figure out how to keep people, you know, freelancers compliant and secure and all the, the data that you need, you need to have.

Those are interesting. And then I’m really intrigued by platforms like Torque, just sold to Ronstadt, which was, you know, a really great thing. I guess it was only last Friday or last Thursday they, they announced it. But, you know, so Ronstadt is actually taking torque and making it into their digital operating system. So all their talent’s going to go through there. So that’s kind of interesting.

And then again, another platform that’s really intriguing to me right now, well, two other ones, Andela, is actually figured out how to tap into a lot of African talent that’s been really not trained well. So, all of a sudden, they put a lot of effort, they’ve trained a third of the tech talent in Africa. And they’re finding really great results there. Then Invisible is another platform that’s actually atomizing the work. And then deciding when work is taskified. Is it better for AI to do the tasks or is it better for human to do the tasks? So I think there’s lots of really interesting things going on, and these guys move so fast.

You know how it is like entrepreneurial companies move really fast and these big companies can’t keep up. So, the choice is either implement software solutions, buy the company, but they’ve got to innovate and they’ve got to either innovate or die.

Brian Ardinger: You know, you mentioned it already a couple times, AI obviously shifting the landscape. Again, when you think about tools and the, the access that talent has to the changing landscape that’s going to dominate or change the way these things work currently and, and will work in the future, what are you seeing when it comes to AI and what are the pluses and minuses that you see on the horizon?

John Winsor: I mean, I think the first thing is, is that it’s not AI versus humans. It’s really humans with AI versus humans without AI. Right. That’s the real bump. And, and I was just, came back from a conference at Harvard. We put on, first of all, I was really blown away. We expected 300 people there, 1200 people showed up and 6,000 people online.

So it was, it was a much bigger deal. But a couple of the interesting things was, you know, Ethan Molik from Wharton talked a bunch, and he talked about the productivity, you know, ramp up because of AI. Steam engines increased productivity by 15 to 18%. Early reports from Ethan’s work at Wharton is showing a 45 to 80% bump in productivity, and so you’re going to see radical shifts, right?

My point of view, or my feeling is that I think what the winners are going to be the learners. The people that really jump in and learn how to use it and start really playing with it in solving problems. You know, and the reality is, is the average company in America gives their employees 0.3% of their salary to go learn job specific tools.

Whereas the average freelancer spends 15% of their time actually learning. And so, I would always bet on the freelancer, the micro entrepreneur that’s, that has to, they’ve got to stay current or they’re, you know, there’s an existential threat.

Brian Ardinger: That makes total sense. You know, it’s, it’s very much, I mean, maybe it’s a difference in scale, but you know, go back 30 years ago when Microsoft Office came onto the play and Excel was a tool that some people got, and some people didn’t. And you saw, you know, a shift in, in that. So, you know, AI I see as that augmented tool set or, or a tool set on steroids that like you said, it’s up to the individual to figure out how to best utilize that tool set. Totally. So, let’s talk about the book. Thanks. Yeah, thanks. Leveraging, all the biggest challenges.

John Winsor: It’s been really, really fun to do and, you know, we got on some bestseller lists. I think that’s a conversation that businesses seem to be having. Have had a really a, a blast traveling around Europe on book tours and in here in the US and, and I’m seeing some good momentum. It’s, it’s interesting, even in the classes I taught, I talked taught 178 C level folks at Harvard two weeks ago and a couple years ago it was, you know, what the hell is this? It seems so crazy. We’ll never do that to, oh my God, we we’re really short on tech talent. Like, we’ve got to solve new ways. This sounds like an interesting way to make it happen.

Brian Ardinger: So, for the listener out there, break down what the book’s about and how you structured it.

John Winsor: We spent some time kind of talking about the history of industrial age and how our current business model, kind of the industrial HR complex started, right? The idea that you know, is from the military and very much, you know, deploying lots of people to solve these big problems, And I think the reality is, is digital is rewriting everything.

The way we work, the way we, you know, connect with people, the phones have changed the world in a dramatic way, and it’ll continue, especially in the context of AI. So, we need a new model for an organization, and we call this a networked organization. We think that companies have to be ready and built to tap into a network of talent or a workforce ecosystem.

To do that, you have to have a networked culture. Like how do you really think about your culture? Not think about us inside you outside, but we’re, you know, this cacophony of freelancers and internal people and customers and we’re all working together to solve some problem. So, it starts there. Really, that’s the mindset you need to transform.

And then what we recommend is really building a center of excellence. It could be just an individual person that’s really passionate about it, or a few people to really assess the needs, like where could this really work? What, what are the possibilities inside the company? And then, you know, the idea of starting to build a small group of platforms that you can start thinking about in this kind of learn and experiment phase.

Like what are the platforms? How do they work? What are the internal talent marketplace platforms, open innovation capabilities, external talent marketplaces. Once you go through those two phases, then really launching into the build phase, like how do we build these tools? How do we make sure this is sustainable for companies?

How do we make sure that the metrics really drive the results? And I think that’s what we’re seeing, right? We’re seeing this, this quantum shift. If you think about network organizations and network culture, you also have to start thinking about, and especially again by the pressure of AI, you have to start thinking about the outcomes. Like what are the outcomes for the company? Not like what are the jobs and roles. But what are the outcomes? And then what are the tasks that need to be done to, to hit those out outcomes? Then what are the skills that you need to accomplish the task, to get the outcomes?

And really, I think my perspective is throwing out this whole idea of jobs and roles. I mean, could you imagine, let’s say you became a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and the board commanded you to create an AI strategy, right? And so, you’re a big CPG company in the Midwest. You know, like, okay, I’ve got two paths. One is, you know, I go to my CHRO and I could hire a an SVP of AI.. That’s going to take eight months at least.

Yeah. And then it’s going to take four or five months to hire her team and three months to write the strategy. Alternatively. You could say, let’s go to the platforms and find the 10 best folks that have AI experience and CPG experience. Let’s invite them to room in Lincoln, Nebraska. Let’s sit down with my team and them, and let’s come up with a hundred tasks that need to be done to create the strategy.

Start aggregating teams, internal people, experts. Assign them to those tasks. And lo and behold, in a month, you probably have a pretty decent strategy. And I would say, you know, let’s not let great be the enemy of good here. I mean, obviously 18 months you could probably create an amazing strategy, but these days, especially in the context of AI, you’re out of business, right? It’s going to change, right? So we’ve got to move faster. And the way to do that is with variable cost labor.

Brian Ardinger: Well, I think that’s the biggest thing that I think a lot of folks still aren’t grasping, you know, even though they understand disruption and that it’s, it’s the pace of what these types of disruptions are happening.

Yeah. It used to be, you know, you could spend doing your, your task or your business model for, you know, years on end and, and now the, the ability to execute on your existing plan for a long period of time is gone. So, the more we can get comfortable with that exploration phase where we don’t know the plan yet before we can optimize it and getting more familiar with how do we, like, like you said, maybe might not be the perfect plan in a month, but it’s probably closer than waiting for a perfect plan in eight months. Exactly. And then we can iterate in between there.

John Winsor: Yeah, and it’s interesting to me too, right? You think about what we’re doing right here, podcast. If we would’ve done a podcast 20 years ago, my God, we’d have to have a big studio. We’d have to have a team, we’d have to convert, you know, analog sound to digital.

It would be really expensive. And I’m sure like you, you’re like me with my podcast. I have a freelance team and I get everything set up. I send them the files from platform I use, and they spend a few hours on it. They send it back to me. I post it. It’s just, it’s really slick. But those things, you know, it’s, they radically changed the world. If you’re still back there trying to support a team, trying to support a studio, you can’t do it anymore.

For More Information

Brian Ardinger: Yeah, absolutely. Well, this has been a fantastic topic. Love to have you back on and talk more as the world does continue to shift and change. In the interim, if people want to find out about you and the book, what’s the best way to do that?

John Winsor: Yeah, the best way to find out about the book is opentalentbook.com. And then me, I’m all over the place. I’m always on LinkedIn and stuff, so anybody can, you know, reach out and I’d super psyched to talk to anybody. So just, you know, you know, hit, hit me up on LinkedIn or, or wherever and, and I’ll, I’ll answer you. I’d love to have that dialogue.

Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, John, thanks for being on Inside Outside Innovation. Looking forward to continuing the conversation and have a great week.

John Winsor: Thanks Brian. Take care.

Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.


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Ep. 326 – Shifting lands...