Diana Wu David is an Asia-based future of work strategist and founder of The Future Proof Lab, who works with global leaders, companies and boards to enhance their ability to adapt, contribute, collaborate and grow - creating inspiring futures that matter. She has worked with and consulted clients including the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, the World Bank, Expedia, Randstad and Credit Suisse. In a discussion, she delves into her thoughts on the challenges that we face and how we can reinvent, reimagine, and reshape the future of work.
Most people aren’t happy at work due to the entire structure of education, organisational design, and expectations that don't really work for what the future demands of us.
"In my generation, most people were given a promise that if we just study hard and went to the best school we could get into and got the best job that we could possibly get, then everything would be fine. We would be ‘taken care of’ and we would have a career arc that was fulfilling," Wu David explains.
"But I have just found that to be less and less the case. Many people and older generations are finding themselves at a juncture where they may live to be well into their 90s, but retirement age is 55 or 60, and they don't really have a place to contribute or a means to financially support themselves sustainably."
We need to recognise that the promise of what work can provide has changed, and therefore the promise of what an employee can provide and the value they can contribute is also changing. We need to focus on being able to reinvent ourselves and understand that it will be expected of us. Company lifespans are shortening, our lifespans are increasing. Therefore we can't rely on organisations to “save us” or to craft a career pathway.
“The best ones [companies] are giving you a bit of a runway to learn and maybe then go elsewhere to level up. But they're looking to us saying, ‘please ensure our survival’ because the average age of an S&P 500 company has gone from 60 years to 12 years. This really does put the focus back on individualised agency over careers and the ability to reinvent and understand that that will be expected, that you understand the value you contribute, what adjacencies there are and what value you can contribute in different contexts or industries.”
"It's really important to think about how you build the mosaic of your career," she says.
To reinvent work, Wu David suggests that a focus on four key skills: future-proofing ourselves, experimenting and leaving our comfort zones, collaboration, and focus. the way we organise work isn't working, and Wu David suggests looking at team-based work where we revisit what value we create, who does the work, where we do the work, and who leads the work.
“The usual departments and hierarchy, the org chart, the relationships that we formed because you're in a box and I'm in a box, and the authority I have over you is… All those things are hundreds of years old? Or at least many decades old. And. It's very difficult to expand with organisational design that allows for more fluidity," she says.
In addition, Wu David notes that people are scared of what having to craft their own careers might mean and whether or not they're up for the task. How can people create a sense of stability, financial security, and even a sense of belonging and contribution?
"We're stumbling along from one disaster to another, trying to maintain our enthusiasm,"
"But it's important to recognise that the promise of work has changed, and we need to change with it."
We need to reinvent, reimagine, and reshape work to meet the demands of the future. As Wu David puts it, "We need to ensure our own survival, and the survival of the organisations and the people within them. We need to be future-proofed."