On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we speak with Diana Wu David, Author of Future Proof: Reinventing Work in the Age of Acceleration. We talked about the changing landscape of work, how you can better prepare for a 100-year career, and the opportunities that can be found in remote online communities. Let’s get started.
Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast that brings you the best and the brightest in the world of startups and innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger founder of insideoutside.io, a provider of research events and consulting services that help innovators and entrepreneurs build better products, launch new ideas, and compete in a world of change and disruption. Each week we’ll give you a front row seat to the latest thinking tools, tactics, and trends and collaborative innovation.
Interview Transcript with Diana Wu David
Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Diana Wu David she’s the author of the new book Future Proof: Reinventing Work in the Age of Acceleration. Welcome Diana.
Diana Wu David: Thanks so much great to be here, Brian.
Brian Ardinger: Hey, I’m excited to have you on the show. Actually, we’re doing this from Hong Kong, one of my favorite cities in the world. You actually teach as an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School, E-MBA Global Asia. You’re a former Financial Times executive. You worked with clients like Mandarin Oriental, World Bank, Expedia, Credit, Suisse, and your career is long and amazing.
You actually started your career working with Henry Kissinger. I wanted to have you on the show because you’ve got a book out. And you actually wrote this book futureproof before the pandemic and now we’re post pandemic. What are your thoughts of where we sit now versus when you wrote the book then?
Diana Wu David: When I wrote the book, it was to convince people that we were going into this new world where things would be globalized and lot more remote and virtual and more flexible, and that fundamentally companies needed to change.
And the hypothesis really was that people were going to have to change. Individuals would have to take agency over their own careers and change because companies weren’t moving fast enough. Fast forward to, I think February I did a podcast and we were talking about China’s largest work from home experiment, and now it’s become the entire world’s largest work from home experiment.
So, yeah, I think right now it’s not a hard sell to say that we’re going to be working virtually. It’s not a hard sell to say that we’re going to have to be more flexible and companies have actually massively accelerated to accommodate this. So, the landscape has changed quite a bit.
Brian Ardinger: Totally agree. And you, and I’ve worked in the space of innovation in that for a while. Sometimes it felt five years ago, like you’re pushing this rock up the hill, like no, really this disruption thing’s coming. And I think, you know, with the pandemic, it really has accelerated, and people are now fundamentally understanding what that means.
I don’t think we’re at the point where they fundamentally understand what to do about it yet. So that’s one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show to talk about the specific steps and the way to approach this idea that you’re going to have to reinvent yourself. And especially in, I think you wrote in the book that, you know, we’re having longer careers, you know, there’s a a hundred-year career kind of things. Let’s dive into the book a little bit and talk about some of the skillsets and the mindsets and the tool sets that you recommend for understanding this new world of acceleration we’re living in.
Diana Wu David: Absolutely. I had so many people that I met that when I was at Financial Times, we were doing the board director program and I launched that as an internal entrepreneur, and they were all talking about what’s next. You know, they were, I would say 45, 55, 65 and really could see that they would have this massive amount of time where they could continue working and continue learning.
And yet company lifespans are predicted by a firm like Innosight to be averaging 12 years. Yeah. In a couple of decades. So, people are waking up to the idea and certainly now with COVID and companies being under even more pressure, everybody’s waking up to the idea that I’m going to have to re-invent no longer can I learn everything go work and retire.
It’s very much going to be sort of looping model of I’m going to work a little bit. I’m going to learn on the job. Then I’m going to take a break and learn some more and upscale and rescale and pivot and have to go get a new job. And I shouldn’t say half to get a new job. I have the opportunity to do something completely new. So, I think it’s really exciting.
Brian Ardinger: I guess there’s core things. First thing you have to probably do is recognize like I’m in a new world, I’m okay with that. And then you probably start thinking about, well, how do I apply my old skills to this new environment? And so maybe talk through that early stage process of really understanding and thinking through what should I do next?
Diana Wu David: First of all, I found that a lot of leaders in particular, weren’t thinking about themselves. And I think this applies across all different people in organizations where they’re thinking about the business future of work, but not thinking about, gosh, what does that mean for me and my career and how it needs to change?
What do I need to proactively do? So that awareness is important. The idea that it’s up to me, that I’m the captain of my own ship, as something that some people need to go through a process. And then there’s four real actionable chapters in the middle of the book. And that is looking at experiment, reinvent, collaborate, and focus.
Those are really the four skills I felt were super important in the future of work, that frankly has always been a bit the now of work. And really going into deep dives about what does that mean? I guess the first one experiment is really about getting out of our comfort zone, right? So the day that you decided, you know what I’m going to do, not only I’m going to do all the things I do, but I’m going to do a podcast, you know, that sort of.
If I want to experiment with that, not everybody does a podcast and you’re like in 250 episodes or something by now, God, I can’t believe it. But everybody has to take the first step. So, starting to get that muscle going of how do I do that? How do I take small steps in small and perfect actions that will test my assumptions? Give me feedback and allow me to move forward and out of my comfort zone.
Brian Ardinger: But one of the great things about where we are living, if you flip the chaos and disruption on the positive side is the opportunities are there for the individual. We talk about kind of the democratization of innovation, where everybody can be an innovator now because they’re new tool sets. There’re new skillsets out there that are accessible to everyone. I’d like to get your opinion on some of the new tools sets that you see out there, things like no code or your ability to spin up a podcast or take some risks or do some experiments. Have you seen anything out there that’s interesting or exciting when it comes to the tools and the things that you can do to spin up and take advantage of this?
Diana Wu David: I believe that video is one of them. I know that I started doing more video and when I launched my book and just before got more equipment and now, I see that seems to be the biggest one because everybody now is more comfortable in video. There was a time when, you know, you couldn’t get most of the people I know on to do a short video or even a video call.
And now we’re having board meetings where, you know, now in Hong Kong, we’re transitioning to in-person and half the people said, Oh, I didn’t know we were going to do in person. I, you know, that they’re surprised they had to actually be there. But so many people they’ve got practice cause they had to, they have often and times much better equipment than they did in February.
We’ve seen these months where whatever it is, the Ring Light has been sold. Never you shop in your neighborhood. And I think that’s going to have an explosion of people generating content, which is nothing new per se, user-generated content is something that’s been something people who really were interested in it could do. But now I feel like people who never wanted to do it now can go and that has broken down the entry barriers, which were mostly psychological to putting yourself out there to do different content.
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Brian Ardinger: The other thing that’s interesting about this whole thing is that when you talk about the new tools and that again, a lot of times just taking that first step and saying, we’re going to try something new. We’re going to see if it works. When we first started the podcast five years ago, it was an experiment to have some friends on and talk about some of the things that we were seeing.
And, you know, over the years, it expanded and changed, and continuing to work. We’re actually, Susan and I were talking yesterday about how we’re going to plan for 2021 and what are we going to do? And, you know, quite frankly, we need to change it because again, now there’s new worlds of things out there.
The other thing you talk about in the book is, so we talked about reinvention and another core tenet I think is this whole idea of collaboration. You know, innovation and that is not a solo game anymore. And we have access to people and places that we’ve never had access to before. So maybe talk a little bit about this whole concept of collaboration and why that’s so important.
Diana Wu David: So, in the book, I talked about how companies were going to transform from these behemoth hierarchies to much looser collaborations with work being more modular and with all of us being more gig economy but putting together portfolios of work. So, if you need one particular set of expertise, for example, I’m working with somebody who’s setting up a fund and they need help setting up their board. They don’t need that and they don’t need to hire me forever. They just need that expertise for a certain amount of time and maybe some other people around it. And then from there, they’ll go on their way.
So, I think that that coming together to do interesting projects and then going off and recombining with other teams will definitely become more the norm. And the other thing I talked about in my book was the rise of semi-private networks, SWAT teams and community gardens. So that we can find the people A that we work with well, which AI is doing an amazing job of putting teachers and students together. And I think in the future, putting whole teams of people and leaders together, if we even need a leader for some teams.
I wrote about that for Fast Company and, and I think that that’s really the wave of the future, where we have to come together we have to form fast trust and norms for working together. We have to get stuff done and then figure out how to break apart and maintain whatever it was we did and go on to the next gig or the next opportunity.
Brian Ardinger: Do you have any examples or case studies of folks that have done that well or somethings maybe in your own career that you’ve done to build that network and go beyond what your normal collaboration efforts are.
Diana Wu David: Yeah, I actually see it happening more and more. It’s fascinating. So, something that’s fairly traditional, but sort of fits the mold is becoming a part of the Future Work Forum, which is based in the UK. And it’s a loose collection. It’s a think tank, but it’s a loose collection of people where they have curated different people from people who work with boards and senior execs, people who work with organizational development, people who are working on innovation ecosystems, because they’re head of a whole number of business parks and people from all over the world.
Those people all have their own practices, but we come together to co-author articles for management journals. We’re talking about actually collaborating on different work together. And that I think is something whereby you really can start to build those relationships and use them in the future. So, I see that here, there’s something called the neon collective and it’s all chief marketing officers and it’s basically fractional leadership.
I know that they have these in the U.S. As well, and they will go and work on a client project and maybe they’ll go and actually work with that client. But then when they’re not working full time for a client, then they will go back to this kind of loose cooperative of chief marketing officers. There are so many guilds and interesting confederations of like-minded people that are banding together to do great work.
Brian Ardinger: And that’s one of the things, there’s some things about online communities and the fact that we’re based in Lincoln, Nebraska, and a lot of people ask me why we’re based in Lincoln, Nebraska, but it’s like we can do work anywhere. The ability to reach out to communities. And we just got off our Inside Outside Innovation Summit, and I was talking to some folks and we were talking about the fact that some of the speakers I had met, I literally had met on Twitter or an online chat room of some sort and said, Hey, this is kind of interesting.
Here’s what we’re doing. And to build those networks from the center of the United States and being able to communicate with folks like you in Hong Kong or any, any tech field around the world, that’s quite exciting. And I think that’s only going to accelerate as we’re getting more comfortable with this whole process.
Diana Wu David: As you create this group of people in the insideoutside.io community, do you think people can have relationships and trust without ever meeting physically?
Brian Ardinger: It’s definitely a different beast. So again, this is our first year that we did a virtual conference the first three years. One of the primary benefits, I think, for like the speakers to come into our own town. It’s like they got to see a different take on innovation and innovation happening anywhere. And I think that’s one of the reasons they would be willing to come to a conference like this as they could actually come to the conference and spend a couple of days outside of the traditional tech hubs and that and get a different feel for innovation and people.
And obviously that’s changed in this particular world. Can you build trust? Absolutely. I mean, there are some people that I have never met physically, but I’ve had on the podcast and we continue conversations and I think it’s possible. It changes the dynamic. You’ve got to be more intentional, I think. And you have to give reasons to continually connect.
It’s something that’s very easy to fall off your network and you know, what can you do to continually remain in people’s faces, so to speak and saying, Hey, here’s how I can add value or here’s what we’re doing. So, the things like our newsletter, we’re trying to consistently talk with that community so that they’re engaged and give them opportunities then to connect as well.
Diana Wu David: That’s great.
Brian Ardinger: How do you go about from going from your traditional career to a portfolio career. This idea of everyone’s going to have a slash and their thing. So, I’m a director of innovation here slash podcast slash entrepreneur slash investor. This idea that everyone’s going to have these slashes of different skillsets in that. Any recommendations for rebalancing that portfolio of career and, and taking the next steps towards future proof?
Diana Wu David: Diversification across the portfolio is certain a way of futureproofing. And I see that not as something whereby you get the perfect six things or three slashes that you need, because it’s constantly evolving. And usually when the people I work with in the futureproof course come together, which is based on the book. They are senior executives. They have spent their entire lives really focused. So, we have one person who’s been basically in central banking, all across the world. We have chief marketing officers. We have people who have certain things and have had to focus on scaling the ladder of success, because that’s what you did in that moment, but they’re smart enough to realize that they’re going to have to diversify.
And generally, it’s about experimenting. So, it’s about knowing themselves well enough. To be able to break down all the things that made them successful and figure out how to recombine them like a kaleidoscope. Why was I such a great central banker? What are my true values and interests and how can I apply the skills and characteristics for board work or podcast or whatever it is that really is interesting to me, that is a value to the world?
And once they go through that reflection, it’s the, what is that one little adjacent thing that you can do? Sometimes for people it’s just writing a LinkedIn article about their experience. A lot of people are like, I can’t do that. I can’t do that. I can’t put myself out there. And for other people, it’s just getting the clarity to figure out the focus of, for instance, one of the guys Watson Jordan started the Resilience Initiative and it’s basically an initiative to help people become resilient and include financial literacy in Eastern North Carolina.
Everybody’s got different ideas of how to take it forward, but it’s usually how do I start that little seed of my project. And some people go, Oh, you know what, that wasn’t at all the project I wanted to do. Right. I hated that. And that’s great. And then you go, okay, how else could I recombine to find a new way to combine my personal assets to make a difference?
Brian Ardinger: Yeah. That ability to learn and unlearn and quite frankly, just take action and move at some kind of pace that gets you moving and gets you an opportunity to see what’s actually out there.
Diana Wu David: Intentional learning. That’s what I think is the sort of commonality between everybody. They’re really good at just showing up and continuing to test.
For More Information
Brian Ardinger: Well, it’s fascinating stuff. We’re living in a fascinating world. I encourage people to pick up the book Futureproof. If people want to find out more about yourself or more about the book, what’s the best way to do that.
Diana Wu David: My website is www.DianaWuDavid.com and the Future Proof checklist I can put Into your show notes, but it’s at Bit.ly/prepareforfuture. And it’s 11 questions to get you started on the path to seeing if you are prepared for the future and where you might start.
Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Diana, thank you again for being on Inside Outside Innovation. Look forward to continuing the conversation and can’t wait to get back out to Hong Kong and say hi in the real world.
Diana Wu David: Oh, that would be great. Can’t wait to have you here, Brian. Thanks so much for having me.
Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.
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