Have you ever been to dinner with a Russian KGB agent? Kath Blackham has – and she was just 13 years old at the time.
Was she the world’s youngest intelligence officer? Not quite. Kath’s father travelled a lot for work, and he’d routinely take her along for the trip.
This one turned out to be a trip she’d never forget.
Kath still remembers the moment an entire restaurant emptied, mid-meal so that their meeting could take place in peace – the rest, unfortunately, is highly classified.
It’s the type of incredible story Kath is full of, and one we’re very lucky to hear in Episode 2 of Humans of Creative.
Over the course of the episode, Kath – Founder & CEO of VERSA, a leading digital transformation agency that’s powered by conversational AI – shares the early life experiences that led her to where she is today.
Here’s a short recap of the full episode, which includes conversations about AI, the 5-day week, change management and much, much more.
No Fear, No Failure
Fear, or rather a lack of it, is a recurring theme in Kath’s life. It’s taken her down some pretty remarkable paths; more than a few of which seem to have led to Russia.
At the age of 19, when most teenagers are more concerned about university, dating and music, Kath was in Vladivostok working her first major job.
Her task? To help open a foreign supermarket.
If it sounds a little crazy, that’s because it was. But no one had told Kath about the possibility that it could all go wrong. “I hadn’t had the memo that people fail.”
Her incredible exploits were covered in The Australian, which Kath still has a copy of, and sparked the beginning of a remarkable career.
Automation and AI for All
With so much going on at home, Yianni feels his life could have gone either way. As the founder of a digital agency with AI at its core, it won’t come as a surprise that Kath is passionate about progressive automation and machine learning.
Kath points to the significant productivity gains humans have achieved in the last 30 years as evidence of its success.
Automation and AI have been at the forefront of those changes, and yet, the benefits only reach a select few. Kath argues that more needs to be done to benefit the workforce; currently, only the employers, business owners, and investors are really gaining.
“We are so much more productive than we were at the beginning of my career, so 25 years ago,” she says.
“I am still being expected to accept the fact that I've got to work five days a week to get the same amount of work done. It just doesn't make sense.”
The Argument for the 5 Day Week
Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos… these men and their companies are making billions, yet their workers are still working long weeks, much like they did 60 or 70 years ago.
It’s time for that to change, according to Kath.
“At some point, we've got to stop and say, we need to give a day, at least a day, back to employees, because we're just more productive,” she says, pointing to the gains made by improved tech.
Kath highlights Amazon in particular, which receives constant criticism for the poor working conditions of its warehouse and delivery staff.
Days given back could be used by staff to recharge mentally, spend more time with their families, exercise more, and, ultimately, live longer.
“When is it that Amazon are going to stop and say, ‘actually, yeah, we're making so much money here – when are we giving a day back to all our employees?’”
Teaching Change Management in Schools
Kath is a big believer in the power of change management. In fact, she thinks it should be taught in schools alongside science, languages and mathematics.
These skills could give children the tools to succeed in the real world, as well as the knowledge to pass exams.
“I think it is much, much more important to learn how to cope with conflict, how to cope with change,” says Kath.
“The kids that are coming out of school now, the world is a really uncertain place. If you could be good at feedback and conflict, you could pretty much do any job,” she says.
Download or Watch the Full Episode Now
That was just a fraction of Kath’s remarkable story and career.For the rest of this truly unmissable episode, head over to your favourite streaming platform, or watch it via our site, here.
Watch the full episode here.