Author, speaker, board member and entrepreneur Diana Wu David talks to Campfire about future-proofing yourself and your job
When Diana Wu David left a successful career at the Financial Times after more than a decade, she faced challenges many entrepreneurs find themselves confronted with. “When you leave a high-status brand and easily explained job to do something new, it is hard,” she says. “Doubly hard to find a way to answer the perennial question, ‘What do you do?’, while still giving yourself space to explore.”
But, says the author, board member and company founder –– “Playing it safe will always be easier, but never quite as satisfying.”
Since leaving the FT – she is still a member of their faculty, by the way, helping boards and independent directors become more effective and improve their strategic thinking – Diana has achieved plenty, and one would assume that has been quite satisfying. For starters, she wrote a book – Future Proof: Reinventing Work in the Age of Acceleration – and she also founded Sarana Labs and Sarana Capital, working with young people, start-ups and CEOs and board members to improve agility, influence, collaboration and resilience. Sarana Labs recently founded the Opportunity Project, and its 2018 Opportunity Festival, which encouraged innovation and creativity in young people. She also speaks at events around the world about resilience at work, future-proofing yourself, and much more.
“I believe in identifying what I feel is important and working hard to make it happen,” says Diana. “When I initially took time off after over a decade at the FT, I asked my daughter what she had learned from me. She said, ‘Sometimes you have to take a risk to do what you really want to do.’”
Here, Diana shares her insights on reinventing yourself and your career, and how women can empower themselves.
You’ve written a book on future-proofing ourselves and our careers. Could you please give us some quick tips about how today’s workers can learn to be more agile and resilient in the face of constant change?
Prepare to reinvent: with companies’ life spans decreasing and our own increasing, you will have to change jobs, if not careers, multiple times over. That means you have to manage your life to ensure you get the right skills and learning, from your company or otherwise, to keep you on top of your game.
Master your story: translating your skills into new value you can bring to a project or job is essential. Don’t get tied to your job title, imagine how your unique collection of traits can make you a category of one.
Invest in your network: as our relationships with an extended network of peers begin to supersede the relationship with our boss, a network of key comrades is key. Use your ‘connectional intelligence’ so that you know who complements your skills, who you like to work with and who can provide you your next growth opportunity. Likewise invest in your personal network of people with whom you can celebrate or commiserate.
How do you yourself stay resilient and agile in the face of constant change?
I put time in for learning, exercise and spending time on my relationships. Ironically, with the publication of my new book, I’ve been up at 5am doing podcast interviews in the US and travelling to speak for companies and conferences so have had very little time for those things. Recently, I looked up to realise it had been ages since I’d seen my girlfriends. The ensuing lunch provided instant restoration to sanity!
How can parents help their children prepare for the future?
Children need a growth mindset to keep approaching work and learning with optimism as the world warps at, well, warp speed. Letting them experiment and fail in order to self-learn is key. Resilience of spirit is also something I hope to instill in my children. Showing them that it is ok to be vulnerable, important to build quality, supportive relationships and teaching them to care for themselves is as important as coding and AP classes.
How can women empower themselves and future-proof their careers?
Remember that it doesn’t all have to happen at the same time. Expand your time horizon so that you can do and be the many things you want to over a long life. Respect yourself. Don’t settle for the life you’ve been given. Work hard to build the life you want.
How did your career at the FT prepare you for what you do now?
When I started at the FT, people called it a 100+ year start-up. There was an interest in innovation and an understanding and processes that allowed ideas from all ranks to be heard.
As someone who had done management consulting and corporate innovation for companies large and small, the ideas of taking small bets, minimum viable product, tight feedback loops and iteration was useful on a company level. My new work takes that into the world of personal reinvention and talent development.
Diana spoke on 13 March 2019 about creating a sustainable, satisfying career and life as part of Campfire Collaborative Spaces’ women’s empowerment series, ‘She Can. So She Did.’ The series – which encompasses panel discussions, film screenings, workshops and more, all curated by women, for women – is the first of its kind in Hong Kong. Kicking off on International Women’s Day, the series has been showcasing some of Hong Kong’s most empowering and inspiring females.