Technological integration into work and life focus of Disrupt Madison conference

More so than in previous years, digital transformation will be explored at this year’s event focused on the future of work.

When Disrupt Madison started four years ago, the idea of a next-generation approach to HR was still a novel one, at least locally. Now, the way businesses look at the future of work — not just human resources — has grown, and with it so has the Disrupt program, which licenses its format from the national Disrupt HR movement.

Disrupt Madison 4.0, which will take place Wednesday, June 5, at the Sylvee, is taking a page from Disrupt Milwaukee 2.0 this past fall and incorporating an overarching theme for the first time. Focused on “Being Human Centric in the Era of Digital Transformation,” Disrupt Madison 4.0 is taking its usual topics on the world of work and considering how technology is changing everything about the way we do business.

Disrupt Madison 4.0 is a night of quick-hit talks from experts and professionals from diverse educational and functional backgrounds, notes Coreyne Woodman-Holoubek, president of Disrupt Madison. Each speaker has 5 minutes and 20 slides rotating at 15 seconds each to present their unique perspective on the world of work, future of work, emerging HR technology, and digital transformation. Scheduled topics include: empathy in the workplace, artificial intelligence, employee experience, people analytics, automation, blockchain, and more.

Woodman-Holoubek says she made the changes to this year’s program because with the rapid pace at which technology is changing, the jobs people are doing today will not be the same ones they’ll be doing in a few years.

“Our workplace and HR leaders are currently grappling with the fact that we may not be prepared for the changes coming down the pipeline,” notes Woodman-Holoubek. “We may not be able to ‘train’ skill sets for the future, as tech keeps moving us faster and faster. If we are going to move forward, these topics need to come to the forefront of discussions in our workplaces and we need to be ahead of the curve.”

Hinckley Productions has handled video production and live streaming for Disrupt Madison since the event began in 2016.

To accomplish that, Woodman-Holoubek believes the rapid-fire Disrupt format is ideal for practicing a mindset of experiential learning, social learning, and a lifestyle of disruption and adaptability.

“It sounds cliché to say we really do not have the time to sit in an hour-long presentation to learn about a topic today,” posits Woodman-Holoubek, “but it’s more about how our brain takes in information. We’ve all heard the analogy about how human attention spans are becoming shorter than that of a goldfish. The status quo for learning is to quiet our minds, to better listen and take in information. I argue it should be the opposite.

“As humans, we are meant to hear things that spark our interest, and our brain naturally makes connections that help our learning,” continued Woodman-Holoubek. “We’re wired to reflect on our thoughts verbally and hear what others have to say, too. This is why social learning is becoming really popular and events like hackathons and design sprints are popping up — not just as a way to do work, but also to learn from others in an exponential form. Plus, with the pace at which technology changes, in an hour-long lecture what the presenter started saying in the beginning could be digitally irrelevant by the time the lecture finishes.”

Transformational technology

The slate of speakers already secured for Disrupt Madison 4.0 offers a diverse look at the scope of technology’s influence on the way we work.

Quentin Allums, CEO of Urban Misfit Ventures, will discuss digital storytelling, from the benefits of creating content online as a professional to how creating will shape the person that you become offline.

Angela Nino, an improv comedian and entrepreneur, and founder and CEO of Empathetic Workplace, will speak on workplace empathy. With more and more leaders recognizing the importance of understanding employee EQ, Nino notes empathy is so much more than telling someone, “I understand how you feel.” She believes a company culture is tested when someone messes up, and the way we handle the difficult conversations that follow could be the difference in whether or not someone comes back.

Looking at the sharing economy and workplace transportation, Bill Reilly, entrepreneur and founder of Impulse Car Share, will discuss the potential for creating an employee benefit or amenity that makes cars available for a company’s employees to use if needed. This would allow employees to make transportation decisions that cut personal expenses, while also creating opportunities for organizational cost savings. Additionally, a novel benefit like this could break down the transportation barrier for lower income workers.

Amanda Daering, a recruiter and CEO of newance, is planning to talk about the employee experience, and more specifically how the evolving digital future holds a tremendous opportunity for talent teams to provide much needed human connection. With automation taking over many day-to-day “to-dos,” talent teams can use technology to enhance experience with updated distribution of information, real-time feedback, and more time to spend “human to human.” Daering will look at how we can move from glossy websites to creating magnetic, people-based experiences, which can be a company’s real employer brand and the future of their talent pipeline.

Considering the relationship between AI, human ethics, and open-source software will be Alec Shaw, co-founder of blockchain consulting firm Euphrates and manager at the Marquette Blockchain Lab. AI will soon be able to understand context and create original thought, an idea of artificial super intelligence that inspires many but terrifies even more. Shaw notes to ensure the future is one where AI super-intelligence works FOR humanity instead of AGAINST humanity, a few key attributes must be enforced. These key attributes can be accomplished through utilizing open-source ecosystems instead of centralized powerhouses like Alphabet or Facebook.

Takeyla Benton, creator of We Write Too, a nonprofit writing and coaching support system for women and minority writers, will talk about meaningful mentoring in the digital era by using social media to connect with mentees to reach them where they are, and build connections that allow opportunities to advise and continue mentoring beyond the timeframe of volunteer activity.



Sheri St. Marie, an entrepreneur, realtor, and owner of Storylane Properties, will discuss the idea of augmentation — blending biology with technology. Did Three Square Market microchipping its employees freak you out, she asks? Adaptability will be the most durable skill in the years to come, both professionally and personally. Real-world biometric technologies are happening, like CLEAR, which transforms the biometrics of your eyes and fingerprints into a unique, encrypted code that is able to only identify YOU at airport security, large sports and entertainment venues, and other practical applications in life and home. It’s time to be street smart about humanistic digital tattoos, St. Marie argues.


Andrew Bohacek, HRIS manager for Duluth Trading Company, plans to talk about people and predictive analytics. You have all this employee data, now what do you do with it? HR analytics is the ring to showcase your company’s main event. Sharing the story of your organization’s HR analytics creates a tag-team partnership with department leaders built on trust, strategy, and opportunities.

Kristin Strunk, organizational development manager for Harley-Davidson, will discuss the “smartization” of workplaces. By leveraging technology, smart organizations can collect user information related to customer experience, training effectiveness, behavior change, and team dynamics to help the organization learn and change. Organizations are starting to use bits and pieces of this technology for talent acquisition, resume screening, and automated voice interviews. Strunk believes there is a huge benefit to developing a strategy for all of these approaches and data, including how the data will be used to help the organization adapt and evolve.

Many more speakers are still being added, notes Woodman-Holoubek, and the deadline to apply for a speaking slot is May 3.

“Our issues locally are similar to the national level, in that everyone is looking for talent, how to development talent, how to retain talent, and how to move our skilled labor workforce to an era of automation and digital transformation,” says Woodman-Holoubek. “In Wisconsin, our further challenge — that is not on a national level and one that is prevalent in the Midwest — is as we move from skilled labor to automation and into the era of digital transformation, it is important that talent graduating from our top Midwest schools stay and settle in the Midwest to create new industry, develop their ideas here, and not be drawn to the coasts and other tech hubs in the U.S.

“Showcasing our thought leadership in emerging technology and our forward human-centric workplace approach, as well as creating platforms and forums for innovation, experiential learning, knowledge transfer, and the like is important to keep our talent here.”

Robot co-host

Blending technology into everyday life won’t just be something the presenters at Disrupt Madison 4.0 talk about, it’s going to be an integral part of the event, if Nick Myers has anything to say about it.

Myers, of RedFox Creative, is one of the few local people actively working in the voice space of AI. Through RedFox Creative, Myers specializes in voice-first strategy and Alexa/Google Assistant skill design, development, and deployment for brands of all shapes and sizes.

Since Myers spoke at Disrupt Milwaukee 2.0 on AI and the future of work, he and Woodman-Holoubek have been looking for a way to bring Alexa “on stage.”

“It has been a goal of mine to put Madison on the map when it comes to this amazing technology, and I have been lucky enough to talk about how brands can unlock the power of voice at events across the country, and soon internationally,” explains Myers. “With all of this in mind, Coreyne approached me to learn more about what integrating Alexa into Disrupt could look like. Right now, only 28 percent of companies are using voice technology with consumers. Within the next two years, more than 94 percent expect to be using voice AI in their marketing and customer engagement strategies.”

According to Myers, he’s still in the planning phase of how this new Alexa skill is ultimately going to look for Disrupt. For it to be built, Myers needs a complete speaker list, speaker bios, speaker order, etc. Once all the information is obtained, Myers can move forward with actually building and testing the skill before launching it on the Alexa Skills Store.

“Since the whole concept of Disrupt is to be innovative in the world of work, I think including an aspect like this into the overall program model fits perfectly,” says Myers. “I would be shocked to see if any other Disrupt events have done something similar. Showcasing a skill like this at an event like Disrupt could open a whole new market opportunity for how voice can fit into the fabric events almost seamlessly. In this case, Alexa is not meant to be the main actor, but rather a partner that adds an element to the show. The audience will get a true glimpse as to how voice technology can fit into daily life and how apps and skills can be designed to do almost anything we need as humans — the #VoiceFirst revolution.”

Myers says the purpose of Alexa being a “co-host” during the event is to showcase how technology like voice has evolved and how it has already become so woven into our everyday lives. It will also be an opportunity to show that, in the end, it was humans who built the skill, and AI — for the time being — will always need to learn from humans. “Smart humans with the intention to do good and have a little fun.”

“In 2019, most mainstream people have heard of Alexa and most have probably used the service in some way,” Myers adds. “If this technology were to be presented in this fashion five years ago, people would think we were crazy. To date, more than 66.4 million Americans own some type of voice-enabled smart speaker, so to many Alexa already will feel like a familiar face in the room. This year’s event is more emerging-technology focused than in years past, and showcasing this technology will only help immerse people further into why and how technology is going to impact the world of work and everything else.”

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