“Photo by Rambo Elliott”
Tell us your name and a little about yourself.
My name is John D. Wood, and I’m an author and attorney focused on technology law and policy.
I speak and advise executives on one of today’s most disruptive business changes: artificial intelligence—and how to implement it strategically without threatening humanity. It’s the subject of my new book, The Humachine: Humankind, Machines, and the Future of Enterprise co-authored with Nada Sanders, Ph.D.
My professional background includes membership in the New York and Texas State Bar Associations, and I’m a graduate of New York University School of Law and Texas Christian University.
What exactly does your company do?
I provide executive training, corporate education, and keynote speaking on artificial intelligence law and policy.
Through my law firm, I represent commercial property owners. For intellectual property owners, I mainly provide strategic general counsel. For clients with real property, I help them manage risk from casualty and loss through insurance recovery.
What were the biggest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge was graduating from law school in the depths of the Great Recession. My first semester in law school coincided with the financial crisis, and when I entered the job market three years later, the legal profession was undergoing its greatest retraction in history. Lawyers were furloughed, unemployed, or underemployed when in years past, all it took was a law degree and a pulse to land a cushy law job. This undermined my goal of being a public interest attorney because the nonprofit sector had been hit hard.
I overcame this challenge by squaring the circle: If I could assist entrepreneurs who were themselves helping the public, then I could reconcile my desire to advocate for those who are economically or socially marginalized. I started representing small business owners who were doing things I believed in. My clients were helping people rebuild after natural disasters, or they were women-owned businesses, or they were technology companies trying to transform healthcare.
The challenge I face today is maintaining optimism despite the dire problems we face as a human race. When you care about broader issues, it puts matters like climate change, biodiversity loss, and threats from artificial intelligence in your head at night, particularly when those defined by greed and lust for power seem to do an awful lot of winning.
What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?
Be patient. Don’t be so serious. Don’t be a perfectionist. Don’t overcommit. Exercise more. Spend more time outside. Stay in touch with your friends. Protect your evenings and weekends; save them for the non-work-related fun stuff.
I recently heard an expression that resonated with me: Make time for your wellness, or you will give time to your illness. You have to take care of your body and spiritual well-being because sacrificing them will undermine (rather than enhance) your professional goals. Go out of your way to foster goodwill toward humanity. Be the grownup you needed when you were a kid. Learn to quit worrying and love life. It’s easier said than done. The mind is the biggest obstacle to anyone who wants to make a difference in the world. No one will give you permission to be brave. You have to take the initiative.
Who are your biggest influences and people you admire and why?
My biggest influence is my late philosophy professor, Gregg Franzwa. He was my undergraduate professor in Philosophy 101: The Meaning of Life at Texas Christian University. After my freshman year, he invited me to become the teaching assistant in the department, a position I held until graduating. I spent a lot of time with him talking about my beliefs and values, trying to understand why and what I truly believed. I always left his company with great advice and an enhanced sense of self-worth. He always encouraged me to seek the true, good, and beautiful from any situation, and to find wisdom in all things. It was never about him. Somehow, any time you visited with Gregg, it became about you: what you were dealing with, how to improve your life, what is inspiring you, and so forth. He was equally funny and wise. He was a pragmatist and never rude.
I look back on it now, and I still don’t understand how he was so consistently graceful in his demeanor. He gave me an example of how to be a leader: listen attentively, object politely, use humor to enforce your point, and have fun! He was not only a tenured professor but also had a rock-and-roll cover band with the rest of the philosophy department. He would put me to work cleaning the dead leaves from his gutters, so he kept me humble. Gregg was an intellectual father figure for me. He was just the coolest mentor any undergraduate could have. The funny thing is, he must have been so generous of the spirit because there are probably at least 100 other former philosophy students who had their lives changed for the better because of him.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to those who helped get you to where you are?
Absolutely. That person is Professor Nada R. Sanders, Ph.D., a respected author, and internationally recognized business professor. She is the reason I was able to publish a book at such an early stage in my career. After law school, I worked with environmental nonprofits for a spell and developed an overwhelming desire to write a book for future business leaders. She vouched for me and guided my prospectus through the publication process, providing a framework and valuable feedback along the way. Without her, I would never have published my first book, Foundations of Sustainable Business: Theory, Function, and Strategy. Without the first book, it’s hard to imagine a second.
What do you see as your greatest success in life?
So far, my greatest success has been cultivating an attitude of optimistic and charitable goodwill toward humanity in spite of the world’s challenges. I still believe in ethical leadership and savor the fact that I’m able to act on my convictions. Not everyone gets to do that. Many of us have to compromise. I am so grateful that I can provide professional education to my colleagues in the bar associations and to future business leaders. Being able to advance in your career while staying true to your most cherished values is exceedingly rare, and I consider that my greatest success in life.
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Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/john_
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