Medina Abdelkader, Foresight Strategy Consultant

Medina Abdelkader, Foresight Strategy Consultant

Medina is a Foresight Strategy Consultant working in organizational design. 

What is your morning routine?

I’m a rower, so I wake up at 5:30 am most mornings, make myself a tasty pour-over, and hit the dock. I’m not a morning person at all, but one thing I’ve learned is that when you really, sincerely, love something, getting out of bed for it is easy. After rowing, I’ll make breakfast (a shake or oatmeal), browse the New Yorker, and start my day.

Tell us about your career path

I’m a super curious person, and my career has always been at the mercy of that curiosity. I want to know how things work, and more specifically, understand the factors that drive human behaviour. I began my career in journalism and was pretty sure I wanted to write for a living, because, what better way to satisfy my curiosity? I majored in political science and communication studies in my undergrad, but I worked as an editor at my campus paper for years, which is where I stumbled into design. And I fell in love.

What’s beautiful about design is that you have permission to interrogate different aspects of human life, but then you get to do something about it. I got a Masters of Design (M.Des) in Strategic Foresight & Innovation at OCAD University, and while in school, started doing part-time gigs and contracts in digital strategy, foresight strategy, and research. Eventually, I found that what was really lacking, specifically in the organizational theory and innovation management spaces, was a perspective on human factors – why are some organizations better at considering the future? What’s the culture like at organizations that are highly innovative? In my masters research, I observed the intersection of organizational culture and social neuroscience – whether what we know about the brain can provide insight into why some organizations are better at considering the future than others.

I’m now a consultant working in organizational design. I work under the moniker Outpst Co. to help organizations better understand their culture and ways in which they can intervene to foster the conditions for long-term thinking, innovation, and well-being. I am also a co-organizer of Femme Futura, a retreat for personal futures.

What challenges do you or women face in your industry?

There is a really big difference between leadership and management, and in my experience, that’s a nuance that most organizations don’t get, especially ones dominated by men in senior positions. I’ve met many men and women alike that are great leaders, with vision and strong business acumen. But I’ve met far fewer men who know how to manage people well. I think bro culture in corporate environments is really, really real. And it’s often so subtle, and so pervasive, that women ourselves can’t always articulate it. Which makes it really tough to challenge and overcome.

At the core of a designer’s mindset is empathy, and I think it can be especially challenging for an empath to survive in that very alpha, male-dominated space because an empath is naturally very sensitive to subtle micro-aggressions. In my experience, the margin for compassion and nuance is so narrow when men dominate the leadership of an organization, and those are very critical components of managing change. Lots of very talented women end up leaving companies because the leaders are not good managers and because people don’t understand the difference.

What advice would you give to young girls who want to be the NEXT you?

The first thing I would say is to build your savings account. Even if it means getting a terrible job right out of school and sacrificing a trip or two at the beginning – put aside a few thousand dollars. The salty name for this is a Fuck-Off Fund. It’s to provide a safety net for yourself so that no employer, boyfriend, or roommate can fuck you over (mind my French).

Another big one is to find your tribe. This can be tough because I think a lot of young women try to fit themselves into a certain mold or contort themselves to fit into a role they think they should enjoy. But you will do your best work when you feel psychologically safe, and feel like you can trust the people around you. The research shows us that when we feel threatened, the brain actually has fewer resources (like oxygen and glucose) to solve problems and think creatively. Find work that challenges you in the right ways.

I would also say, get really good at feedback—giving and receiving. It’s something that I learned later than I would have liked, but I’m working hard on providing feedback that’s productive and kind, and I think it’s key in supporting a team. Eliciting productive feedback is also huge, both in work and in personal life. The term radical candour is great – it’s a kind of honest frankness that doesn’t stimulate a threat response.

Lastly, seek amazing managers. It almost doesn’t matter where you work when the management is strong, especially when you’re just trying to grow. The only critical ingredient in a positive experience is management that empowers you, who will take an active role in identifying your strengths and then support you in applying them.

How do you separate work life from your personal life?

I have a lot of hobbies. I really think that’s the key to happiness in a lot of ways – finding things that bring you joy and meaning that are completely separate from your work life, that almost laugh in the face of your career. It’s been critical for me to gain a healthy distance from my work and not take life too seriously.

I’m also a hospice volunteer, and nothing is more humbling than spending time with someone who knows they don’t have very much of it left. It gives me the perspective to assign a proportionate amount of value to things in my life, and step off the hedonic treadmill on which we can sometimes find ourselves stuck.

What inspires you?

I’m really inspired by other women right now, and the sisterhood that’s forming both in the corporate world and in our family lives. If you get a chance, pick up a copy of All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister. In previous generations, because there was *only so much room* for us at the top, women were competing with one another for a very small share of power. But things are slowly shifting, and we’re the generation that will get to experiment and gain access to the power we need to make significant systemic changes.

I’m also really inspired and impressed with projects like BTNH, where women are taking the time and energy to support young girls and spread empowering messages. It gives me hope!

When you’re off the clock, what are your indulgences?

I really, really enjoy fancy meals. I will happily drop coin on an obnoxious, indulgent gastro-fest with wine pairing, and I really LOVE cooking and hosting at home too. I also really enjoy watching films and will happily take myself to TIFF in the middle of the day on my own to take in a good indie flick. I also spend an inordinate amount of time browsing real estate on the internet. And, I still buy a lot of books. That’s a lot of indulgences. Is that a lot?


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