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Female Disruptors: Reagan Hales of Innovation Outpost On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

If you aren’t uncomfortable, you aren’t growing. This was such an impactful lesson from my boss at Texas Tech. It reminds me of a Jeff Bezos quote I recently read, which was “I believe you have to be willing to be misunderstood if you’re going to innovate.” That isn’t easy, and that isn’t always what we are told, but it is so important to learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable in this industry.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Reagan Hales.

An Amarillo, Texas, native, Reagan is the Executive Director of Innovation Outpost, a space launched by Amarillo College to foster innovation, collaboration and technology among students, residents and the surrounding business community. Before joining the Innovation Outpost, she served as a long-time executive with the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation leading marking and business development. Her experience ranges from fixed income sales at Merrill Lynch to managing public/private research projects for Texas Tech University to non-profit fundraising at the American Heart Association.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My resume spans the map because we moved around quite a bit for my ex-husband’s job. So, I have done a little bit of everything and have gained a lot of valuable experience throughout all of my roles.

What led me to my current job was my experience in economic development at the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation (AEDC). At the AEDC, I tried to find a niche in economic development that wasn’t just about finding the largest manufacturers or organizations to partner with but finding and supporting small companies that were growing quickly.

This led me to build a huge network of people I never expected to find. From there, my network continued to grow, and I began finding people that were ecosystem builders, doing entrepreneurial ecosystem work. Through those individuals and connections, I was exposed to campuses similar to the Innovation Outpost. In Amarillo, Texas, there aren’t a lot of people with the exposure to the industry and the networks that I have, while also understanding Amarillo’s business community. That is why I fit this role of launching the Innovation Outpost. I am so glad I am here and proud to hold this leadership opportunity in the Amarillo community.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

When people think about transformation, they immediately think of technology and information. They think about hardware and software, but our approach is what is different and disruptive.

Companies have learned that regardless of how intelligent your workforce is or how intuitive the technology may be, you can’t do these massive pivots if you don’t prioritize the people behind the technology and the culture of the company. As we have seen during the pandemic, and will continue to see as we transition post-pandemic, a lot of companies fail to thrive after these forced technological organization changes. We have recognized that without focusing on the people and emotional intelligence of the workforce, technology implementations will not be as successful.

At Innovation Outpost, we address the technical aspects of digital transformation, while also addressing the fundamental and foundational gaps or issues related to human skills. We are uniquely focused on this, while others are focused solely on incubation or product development. We are committed to going a step further to ensure people advance with technology.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was 21, I was just starting out at Merrill Lynch doing institutional sized trading. At one point, I accidently put in a buy order when I should have put a sell order on a commodity. In that industry, if you made a mistake and lost money on a trade, you had to cover it out of your own pocket, and I was just starting out and only had about $5 in my bank account.

I was scared to death, and I didn’t want to tell anyone that I’d made such a huge mistake. But I had to tell someone, because I didn’t know how to fix it by myself. So, I told my boss, and by the time we’d corrected it, the market had moved in such a way that we actually made money. My boss had told me I’d just dodged a huge bullet. It was an important lesson in owning your mistakes and asking for help when I didn’t have the answers.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I think one of the biggest mentors I had was the Vice President of Research when I was at Texas Tech University. He was and still is one of the smartest, hardest working people that I know. He was the type of visionary that could see something into the future and distill it all down to two bullet points, then give you 48 hours to make it happen.

He recruited me to start a new division and immediately threw me into these impossible-seeming situations. I remember feeling lost and completely out of my league, but he taught me that if you aren’t uncomfortable you aren’t growing. If you’re not doing things that stretch you, you will never get to the next horizon. I realized that he was pushing me the same way he pushed himself, and he was tough, but I absolutely respected him for that. Now, I do this with the new people who work with me, because you will take so much more pride on your work if you were able to figure out problems and challenges on your own.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

It’s almost impossible to boil it down to either or. I think that any time you disrupt something, there are both positive and negative aspects, no matter how you look at it. What it comes down to is the motivation behind your disruption to determine the true value of the disruption and whether that was worth the negative aspects.

For example, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives are relatively disruptive and largely positive. However, it is the motivation the company has behind these initiatives that reveals the nature of what they are doing. If it is not a genuine attempt to improve your company, but an effort to improve your image, then that is a manipulative motivation, and that initiative will not withstand the test of time.

Another good example is when a company tries to introduce a new technology. There are positives and negatives to these decisions, depending on your perspective, but it all comes back to the company’s motivation. With new technologies, many people feel that the motivation may be to eliminate jobs. However, the motivation may actually be to eliminate medial processes to retrain and reskill the workforce for new opportunities. That, in itself, is a largely positive disruption. It is just important to remember that no matter which way you look at it, disruption will always have a positive and a negative element.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

If this career isn’t who you are and isn’t what you love, then you need to have the guts to get out. My boss had said this to me when I was at Merrill Lynch at a time when the market was shifting quite a bit. The .com bubble had burst and there was so much change happening around me. I was also at a point where I had to make a decision about committing to this career path and really putting in the work required to move up. I looked around me and saw that the women I worked with were mostly unmarried and most of them did not have children. Even though that worked for them, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted for my life.

My boss was a great leader and a family man, and he pulled me aside and told me that if you don’t absolutely love what you are doing, then you need to do what’s best for you because it can be so easy to get sucked into a career path that isn’t right for you. I quit within 30 days with no real backup plan, just knowing that life is too short to sacrifice everything for a career that you are not passionate about.

If you aren’t uncomfortable, you aren’t growing. This was such an impactful lesson from my boss at Texas Tech. It reminds me of a Jeff Bezos quote I recently read, which was “I believe you have to be willing to be misunderstood if you’re going to innovate.” That isn’t easy, and that isn’t always what we are told, but it is so important to learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable in this industry.

There is no prescribed path or timeline for when you have to accomplish certain things. A good friend of mine that I met through a magazine campaign recently turned 60 years old, and I often turn to him for advice when I am considering taking a new path or opportunity. He reminds me that he is over 60 and has had five different careers and reinvented himself a dozen times, and you can be 60 and get a new job and start on a new path if that’s what feels right to you. This may seem obvious to younger generations, but for many of us, we were taught to expect a linear career progression. But this advice reminds me that you need to give yourself permission to change things along the way, at whatever point in your life.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

This year, we have some big things planned for the Innovation Outpost in Amarillo, in addition to the launch of our physical space. The programs at the Innovation Outpost exist to educate and support individuals and business leaders across all demographics that are looking to transform their business or career through advanced technologies or digital transformation.

Currently, we are joined by strategist, Todd McLees, for Greater Amarillo 2025 — Living, Learning, and Leading in the Age of Transformation, a series of industry-specific workshops designed to prepare businesses for digital transformation. In 2020, the transformation of the way work accelerated by ten years and has already disrupted how we live, work, and educate. The convergence of intelligent machines and humans in the workplace is inevitable, and although the long-term impacts are still to be determined, the growing demands on every business leader make it clear we will need to shift our thinking toward transformation, innovation, and continuous learning.

These workshops initiate the discussion with business leaders to start unpacking the steps that they need to take to prepare themselves and their workforce for the digital transformation necessary to compete within their industry. We are also offering extended individual workshops with companies to assess and provide change management tools and resources that they may use to implement business transformation within their organization.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I think that this varies a lot based on geography. I know when I talk to women in larger metro areas, the tolerance for being disruptive seems different and those communities seem to have a larger appetite for female disruptors. For me, in a smaller community, it can sometimes feel like disruption is met with a lot more skepticism.

I also believe we, as women, take on a greater emotional burden with the people we are managing. If you take a staff or an organization and do something that is disruptive, women tend to worry more about the people that change is affecting and how they will react. I want to kick people out of the nest so they can gain confidence, but I worry about how they are handling things and want to make sure they don’t feel that they are going out on a limb in any way they aren’t comfortable doing. I don’t know many men that share those same concerns about their staff.

This is a hard question for me because I don’t know many female disruptors that I can compare my experience with, which I think is one of the biggest, inherent challenges for female disruptors. Men have many networks and mentorship programs where they can discuss challenges and learn to be effective entrepreneurs, but women don’t have the same institutionalized support systems in place. I had very few female mentors and role models throughout my career, which is an example of a greater generational representation issue that is present across the board.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

One of the best books I’ve read is “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle. There is one chapter in particular that has stuck with me, which I reference a lot. In this chapter, the author takes her daughter to the zoo where they see a cheetah in a cage performing tricks. The daughter goes on to make several observations about how the cheetah does not belong in the cage but is meant to be free.

It’s a powerful analogy that I think a lot of disruptors and innovators can relate to. We know deep inside that there is this fire in our bellies and at a certain point, you can no longer stay quiet or stay in your corner. After a while, you must break out and go create and do things differently than the way you’ve always known you were meant to.

Another one of my favorites is the podcast “How I Built This” with Guy Ross. He interviews hundreds of people who have started companies or developed products, many of which you immediately recognize, and asks them about their entire journey to success, failures included. Every single story includes some sort of colossal failure or massive emotional breakdown, which is important to see as an entrepreneur. Too often we see shiny success stories, however, none of this happens overnight, and it can take years to accomplish excellence or success.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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.

I wish there was a way that we could create more financial vehicles for kids to be able to bring ideas and products to market. They have such a unique perspective on things, and they are capable, so why are we so afraid to invest in their ideas? My own girls are athletes, and they are always shopping in the boys’ section for longer shorts and looser clothes because they aren’t comfortable in the tighter, shorter clothes being designed for young girls. They came to me asking to start their own line of athletic clothes to meet that need.

I think having more entrepreneurship programs available to kids would create an opportunity for them to become entrepreneurial at a young age, so it doesn’t become such a huge leap of faith later in life. Kids have so much to offer, but we never ask them what would make them feel valued. I think with the rising rates of depression with young kids and their struggles with self-confidence, a vehicle like this would really help them build confidence and feel like they are contributing something valuable to the world all on their own.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is “Ships are safe in the harbor, but that is not what ships are for.” We can be comfortable and avoid getting tossed around in life and work, but that is not what people were created for. Things will get scary and tough, and you may walk away with bruises and scars, and that is fine. We weren’t made to stay comfortable and quiet, and we all need to figure out what it is we are going to contribute. Whatever that may be, you must go out and do it to the fullest of your abilities, and don’t be afraid.

How can our readers follow you online?

The best way to follow me is through the Innovation Outpost social media channels, @InnovationOutpost.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

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