Book Review: Future Proof

As the focus on the disruption caused by the 4th Industrial Revolution’s frontier technologies intensifies demand is rising for concrete solutions across a number of constructs. Leaders and managers in organisations are looking for solutions to scaffold between old and new business models and between legacy human capital skills and empowered human workers. And then there are those that find themselves at the top of their game and looking at ‘retirement’ but who feel they have a lot more to give and (as we live longer lives) a lot more to live. If you are the latter, this book is for you.

Easy to read and consume and packed with wisdom Diana Wu David’s Future Proof is a must read for those ready to reinvent themselves in the Age of Accelerations.

Out today on Amazon you can read an excerpt or secure your copy here.

Want to know more? We spent time with Diana delving deeper into the key drivers and themes of Future Proof.

Future Proof is in many respects a guide to reinventing yourself that is designed specifically for a time in history of exponential change. What drove you to write this book?

In previous days, this was a more straightforward learn, earn, retire process. Now professionals over 55 years old are moving from the smallest segment of the workforce to the largest by 2024. As more people live in good health for longer, they are all asking how can they continue to add value amidst massive technological and industry disruption?

Over the the last six years of preparing incredibly successful professionals for encore careers as effective independent board directors, at least once a month someone would come to me and say, “what can I do to live and work in a new way?” With a longer lifespan and disruption the whole rhythm of work has changed. Exponential change means that everyone is perpetually considering how to re-invent themselves to keep up with shifting careers and mores.

For example, last week a banker invited me to coffee to discuss board work. “I’m  at the top of my game, 55 years old and retirement age is 60. I worked hard to get here but I’m not sure what I need to do to best prepare myself for a healthy, happy and purposeful next stage. I don’t want to retire, but I don’t really want to work the way I do now, forever.” This conversation has been echoed across non-profit leaders, fine art specialists, fashion buyers and teachers throughout the years.

At the same time, I felt like my own career was at risk of obsolescence. The media industry was being disrupted and, while I loved the company, my team and my work, I hadn’t been learning much of anything new. I wanted to research trends and people who had great stories of transformation for my own inspiration as well as to share widely with the larger community.

There are also huge challenges in the world and capturing this wisdom to help future generations come up with solutions is important.

The concept of reinvention isn’t new yet the pathway provided in Future Proof contrasts to those decades past. What is so different now?

As Henny Sender of the Financial Times wrote about the book, “It is both a curse and a blessing of our fraught times that reinvention is no longer an option, but an obligation. Resilience rather than any formal qualification has become the key to both success and satisfaction”.

The pace of change has accelerated and complexity has increased. People are saying the new “Q” after IQ and EQ is your “Adaptability Quotient”. In order to respond to the changes you have to develop your agility muscle. Like a tennis player, training  body and mind to be able to respond in multiple ways to the ball, we have to train ourselves to anticipate and take advantage to each new opportunity or challenge.

Preparing for these accelerating shifts in technology, globalization and demographics means moving beyond reliance on what you know to developing a practice that will allow you to keep up with change.  You can see learning in school and workplace slowly adapting to this. Rather than acquiring knowledge, instructors and students understand what tools, information and skills are available and assess hot to bring them together to create value. It’s a fundamental shift from regurgitating facts on an exam.

My entire career has been in facilitating disruption, mainly the transition to a digital, information economy. This is the most pervasive era of change I’ve seen and managing your ability to take advantage of it, as well as the mental and emotional network to be resilient, is key.

The Future Work Skills Academy of which you are a faculty member is an agile coalition.  An example of collaboration in the age of accelerations. What has changed with collaborations and why are they needed now more than ever?

Most organizations today are optimized to efficiently produce goods and services for a specific audience. Today’s challenges, from climate change to healthcare to inequality, are so complex and so vast that whole new configurations of specialists and interdisciplinary thinkers need to come together to find solutions and deliver outcomes. How can an in-house trainer specialized in teaching what your company already does also be an expert in cutting edge research in an adjacent field, let alone teach it?

With smart platforms, you can find the people with passion and expertise to contribute to a whole much greater than the sum of its parts. This is easier when you don’t require them to move countries or even into your office. They can be anywhere in the world and combine interesting work across multiple groups as long as they have an internet connection and a facility for virtual collaboration. In my board work, our corporate governance instructor spends each year reviewing assessments from some exotic locale – last year he was on our conference call after a morning of spear fishing on the island of Yap. He is exceptional in his field and doesn’t need to log forty hours in an office to prove it.

Of course, there are improvements to be made in terms of social, financial safety nets for gig workers. One of the editors for this book is a veteran from the screen writers guild who feels that gig work has hollowed out her industry.  But on a human level, some of the biggest project failures come more from a lack of experience in managing collaborations and relationships outside of a hierarchy and across geographies and functions. That skill is something that gives real leverage to people wanting to take advantage of a new way to work. It can open new doors for us to effect change and solve problems.

My favourite aspect of your book is that overall scaffolds from the past to the future of work. There is a growing demand for advice in this area. If you were to extract three key points from Future Proof what would they be?

I saw three commonalities in people who had set themselves up well for the future.

Focus on core values. This is something that showed up again and again. People worry about the future of work, old and young alike. How could you not with the dire headlines about robots taking away everyone’s jobs? However, the professionals I spoke to that took the time to consider their core values, what they wanted to learn and focussed on their own growth did amazing things. They moved beyond the status anxiety of losing a big title or company brand and the fear of what other people would think of them. Instead they started with reflection about what a well-lived life looked like and started to experiment and leverage new ways of work to make that happen. They used their values to filter out what they might try out in terms of new ideas, skills, projects that take advantage of what’s new.  Brian Tang, for instance, could have stayed at a global investment bank for decades and been handsomely rewarded until the winds shifted. Instead he is a go-to person for regtech and fintech across Asia, and founding executive director for Hong Kong University’s interdisciplinary Law, Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship (LITE) program because he pursued his passion to improve the capital markets industry.

Agility. Developing an adaptive muscle allowed the people I interviewed to pivot to adjacent opportunities or to translate past experience to new contributions. Taking small bets, relying on tight feedback loops to assess outcomes and doubling down was a skill that proved useful. When I went into a portfolio career, I had been angel investing and thought I would spend more time on it. After a year of it, I found that the experience of doing it required much more negotiation of terms and contracts and shifted to more advisory and board work, based on an assessment of what worked and what didn’t at the end of the year.

Learning Capacity. Martin Lau, CEO of Tencent, said at a recent educational conference that learning to learn is the new key to success. The investment in understanding your own learning process and how to improve it is something that yields long-term results. As new information comes in, you already understand the best way to understand,  process it and connect it to your existing knowledge.  You are ready to use it to create new value. This is ramping up even more with the advent of neurofeedback and even biohacking but at the moment there is more stress on understanding your unique learner profile, chunking information, focussing and breaking and connecting the dots. [

Now the Future Proof is out and climbing the bestseller lists what more can we expect from you? Will be providing other opportunities to deep dive into this material?

The nice thing about a book is that it starts a global conversation. Since Future Proof was released I have had so many people come to me with new stories and ideas of how to move from the past to the future of work. In April, I’ll start a course to gather together fellow adventurers on that journey. In the meantime, you can take a short Future Proof self-assessment to see how you are faring and where the gaps are at

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