I had the pleasure of interviewing Alison McCauley is CEO and Founder of Unblocked Future, blockchain strategist, and author of ‘Unblocked: How Blockchains will Change Your Business’. Alison is a self-proclaimed nerd focused on the intersection of human behavior and technology with 20 years of consulting with over 100 technology-first startups and Fortune-500 companies. Unblocked Future is a blockchain consultancy helping businesses to shape their role in the decentralized future.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of how you decided to pursue this career path? What lessons can others learn from your story?
It’s 100 percent pure serendipity. I’m trained as a social scientist, and have spent my career helping entrepreneurs drive adoption of emerging technology. I was working primarily with AI and machine learning companies when a client approached me with an idea for a blockchain pivot. I was skeptical and grilled him and his team — and came out dazed. I saw the potential in this technology to attack, one by one, so many problems we face today in our digital lives. On the way home, my mind raced through industries and potential applications. When I look back on that drive, I now see it as the moment I fell down the rabbit hole.
It’s important to understand that although the space is dominated by technologists today, many, many more skills are needed. Whatever functional or industry experience you have, there is probably someone who needs you.
Also, don’t let the raw or amorphous nature of the space keep you out. When I was just getting started, I would begin each day with a list of questions, some very basic, and then go search for answers. It was uncomfortable. I had hundreds of pages of notes. But at a certain point, it clicks and you start to understand, just like it does when you learn a foreign language.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
I am lucky that we get to work with a range of clients — and at this early stage, it’s always interesting because so much is totally new. We have to think on a lot of different planes at once. For example, many of the entrepreneurs in this space not only have achieve a deep understanding of their customer, but also wrangle a raw technology with no established best practices. If that wasn’t hard enough, they are often faced with the challenge of designing and developing what is essentially a new mini economy. It’s a systems thinker’s playground!
But I’m most excited about the book I just finished writing, Unblocked: How Blockchains will Change Your Business. There is a huge disconnect between what those in the space understand about our future, and what everyone else believes. I think this is dangerous — this technology is poised to have a huge influence in our world, and we need more voices involved in shaping it. One of my missions is to raise blockchain literacy. My hope is to help more people understand what blockchains and related technology make possible, and inspire them to learn how this can make a difference in their lives and business — maybe they’ll even get actively involved with making something meaningful or useful with the technology.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I would do homework, my father would make me to break my thought process down in excruciating detail — even if I knew the answer. As an aerospace engineer he had to answer “impossible” problems, and wanted to equip me to navigate the unknown. In my first job, as a consultant in a large firm, I worked in four different industries over a year — but was expected to add value in each on day one. Every night, I would come home with a list of things I didn’t understand, and would break them down and start to see answers. I learned how to be comfortable even in the uncomfortable space of the unknown — and that’s helpful in this space!
What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
What are the 5 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
One thing I’ve been working on is piloting small groups that provide targeted support and mentorship for girls and women looking to achieve a specific, shared goal. Once the group strikes on a good formula, I share best practices and learning's with others interested in starting their own similar groups, amplifying impact. My first pilot was focused on mother-daughter communication, and I started recruiting in 2012. The initial group of teen girls and their moms is still meeting regularly to talk about thorny subjects like sexuality and body image, and has spawned similar groups across the country. I’ve used this approach for groups on mid-life career change, starting a business, and going through shifts in family structure.
As you know there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the blockchain space to thrive?
Follow the leaders. A lot of the early stories focused on male characters, but there are many incredible leaders in the space who happen to be female. I advise anyone coming into the space to find credible voices to learn from, and not limit themselves to the same handful of people that tend to show up on top 10 lists. I interviewed dozens of incredible women for my book and every single one is an important voice to follow.
Craft a cohort. This space is moving too fast for any one person to be able to learn on their own. Find people that have similar learning goals and team up.
You are not too late. It’s early, and the perfect time to jump in. Very few have more than a few years of experience. So many skills and kinds of knowledge are needed that you may be able to really quickly start contributing.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the blockchain industry?
The actress Geena Davis started a Gender in Media Institute with the idea of “if she can see it, she can be it.” The organization advocates for media to tell more stories about women and girls in roles of influence. I think the same thing applies here — we need to tell more stories about the incredible minds in the space that just happen to be female so that others can see that this space is being built by both women and men.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
“Whatever you are, be a good one,” often attributed to Abraham Lincoln. It recognizes that although we all have a different recipe of skills and ideas, we can all use them for good. I am a single mom of teenagers, and this guides my parenting style. These kids need to find their own way in this world. It is not up to me what they become, but I can mentor and coach them to be “a good one” in the path of their choice.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Technology does not make a market. People make a market. When you stand on a street corner and use your phone to connect with a car service, this is a vote: a vote for what company you are behind, a vote for how you this technology will shape your life. And we are voting continually, every day, by the choice of products and services we use. As blockchain-driven alternatives start to move into the market, they will not be as refined as today’s well-honed giants. But they may offer a future that is better for our world. I would like to see a movement in which more people consider their choice of product or service as a vote, and take their role in this voting seriously.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!