Brynne Kennedy on the Talent Mobility Revolution: An interview by Bob Morris

Brynne Kennedy is the author of Flat, Fluid and Fast, a guide to success during the Talent Mobility Revolution. Brynne is the Founder of Topia, a global talent mobility company, and currently running for election to Congress in California’s 4th Congressional District.

* * *

Before discussing Flat, Fluid, and Fast, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

My mother. She owns a retail store that she started 47 years ago. She taught me from a young age all about business and how to be a strong and resilient woman.

The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

I have had many mentors throughout my career. One of the first investors in my company, Topia, became a great mentor and friend over the years. He taught me a lot in terms of professional and personal development.

Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

I’ve had a few different epiphanies that have impacted various parts of my career to date. My first was in college when I decided that I wanted to learn Chinese and understand the rest of the world. This led me to working around the world in real estate and infrastructure finance. The second was in business school when I realized that the way we work is changing, and decided to start Topia, now the world’s leading global talent mobility company. The third was when I had the chance to work with policy makers and realized just how polarized and detached Congress has become. This led me to run for Congress here in California’s 4th District.

To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

I am so grateful for my education, both in college and in business school. My father was the first in his family to go to college and he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree, after serving in the military and getting help from ROTC. So, I am particularly grateful for my education. It provided me with a broad base of knowledge, but also opened my mind to different perspectives and people. I believe so deeply to my core that listening to different perspectives is so critical to solving problems in the best possible way. This is something that I took into my business career, and am now taking into my political career.

What are the defining characteristics of a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive?

Culture is critical for any company. Personal growth and professional development often thrive in environments where people have the opportunity to learn new skills, interact with diverse colleagues, challenge their assumptions and take risks, in terms of new projects and responsibilities.

Looking ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Any advice?

The nature of work and jobs is rapidly changing. Companies face increasingly frequent disruptions and must build agility into business, talent and operational processes. At the same time, the current (and next) generation of the workforce will work across multiple companies, jobs and departments, requiring companies to understand their employees’ skills and more dynamically match them to new jobs.

Now please shift your attention to Flat, Fluid, and Fast. For those who have not as yet read it, hopefully your responses to these questions will stimulate their interest and, better yet, encourage them to purchase a copy and read the book ASAP. First, when and why did you decide to write it?

I spent the last 15 years working around the world, and then building Topia, the leading global talent mobility company. Through this journey, I had a front-row seat with business and HR leaders as we all tried to understand the future of jobs – where our economy and workforce are going. I realized that the vast majority of businesses and policy makers are not ready for what’s ahead.

To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

It actually doesn’t vary much! I had thought about the book a ton before I wrote it – basically the ideas for it came together over the better part of a decade. I actually took the time to handwrite most of it and structure it (on paper!) before I actually sat down to fully type it. So by the time, I typed it, it was very quick!

All revolutions have root causes. What are they for Talent Mobility, a revolution that seems certain to have great impact in months and years to come?

There are major trends sweeping our economy and workforce – including globalization, demographic change, and automation. Together, these are causing more work across geographies, locations and jobs. This is the Talent Mobility Revolution, which I cover in great detail in Flat, Fluid and Fast.

Why is traditional thinking insufficient to respond effectively to this revolution?

We have traditionally thought of a career as a linear career path with a 9-5 job at an office with the company providing the benefits to the worker. Today, we increasingly see careers as a “zig zag” with people working across locations (home, office and across offices), across teams (tours of duty across different departments) and in and out of full-time employment. All of this means that we must rethink how we recruit, retain and develop employees. But it also means that we must ensure all workers are supported in this new world – we must think of our workforce as one workforce, and ensure everyone has good pay, good benefits and a dignified retirement regardless of how they are working.

In your opinion, what specifically is — or at least should be — the mindset leaders must have to guide and inform their organization’s response?

Leaders must think with an agile mindset! I talk all about developing agility in Flat, Fluid and Fast and what this means.

Which are the “dynamic jobs” on which you focus in Chapter 4?

Workers today will increasingly work across different companies, jobs and departments. Let’s think of these as “tours of duty.” In the past people have had “static” jobs – in one company and one department. Today, a single worker may work across many different tours of duty. In my book, I compare my grandfather’s career to a millennial career today. Flat, Fluid and Fast provides practical insights and advice on setting your company up for this.

In your opinion, which of the material you provide in Flat, Fluid, and Fast will be most valuable to those now preparing for a career in business or who have only recently embarked on one? Please explain.

The book is written as a playbook for any business or HR leader. A majority of its principles apply to different companies and teams. The beauty of the book is that it is broken down into a 9-step playbook to transform your thinking for the Talent Mobility Revolution, with a 10th chapter on designing policies for unleashing these principals across the economy. You can read it as an end-to-end playbook or dive in and out of each principle when you want!

Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

There are two!

“Do the principles in Flat, Fluid and Fast apply to all careers and companies?”

No. It’s really important to note that the book is written for those in the knowledge economy, often working in the fast-growing companies. I note that many of the broader forces discussed in the book have seen abuse and negative impacts on certain workers, which is why I include a chapter on policy to ensure that all workers can organize and benefit in this new economy.

To put a fine point on it, it’s important to understand there are a lot of professions – such as construction, healthcare delivery and many vital public services – where a linear career is and should be still very much the norm. That’s one reason why I am a big proponent of collective bargaining and apprenticeship programs that enable workers to earn a skill, earn a good living and have a path to the middle class that is not through a 4-year college.

“Why did you decide to shift from the business world to running for Congress?”

When I was leading my company, I didn’t have the luxury of only pursuing solutions from one ideological perspective—I had to focus on finding the right solution. I saw the power of welcoming different perspectives, respectfully debating and finding common ground to solve problems But as a business leader who had the opportunity to try and help policy makers understand the forces that we were living each day, I saw first-hand just how polarized and detached too many of these elected officials had become.

Few are more reflective of this problem than is my opponent, Tom McClintock — a 40 year career politician and who is rated among the most partisan members of Congress. Given the big challenges facing my community—from a changing economy, decaying infrastructure, costly healthcare and growing threats from wildfires, it was clear to me that we needed a new generation of leaders, one that is both willing and able to solve problems without partisan bias. That’s what my campaign is about, and it’s how I’m determined to lead in Washington.

* * *

Brynne cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Flat, Fluid, and Fast


Congressional Campaign



Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.