Defining Our Identity For the Future of Work with Diana Wu David

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In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with researcher, author and futurist Diana Wu David on figuring out our identity as an organization in preparation for the future of work.

A few reasons why she is awesome  —  she is an advisor, educator, and speaker through Future Proof Labs, working with C-suite executives and boards to create future-focused and resilient organizations. She’s a partner with Future Work Forum, a think tank exploring the working world of tomorrow. Head of Faculty at Financial Times, Senior Industry Fellow at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s RMIT Forward, their centre for future skills and workforce transformation. And she’s the author of Future Proof: Reinventing Work in the Age of Acceleration. 

Connect with, and learn more about Diana on her…



  • The need to emphasize embracing change and technology
  • The importance of a human-centric approach.
  • Personalization of the employee experience
  • The crucial role of an Adaptability Quotient (AQ)
  • Understanding and embracing diversity

“It’s more about keeping up with the constant change than any very specific thing in the future. And that’s where companies are struggling. They’re all on a journey to try to keep up with the future that’s always on the move.”

Diana Wu David


Russel Lolacher: And on the show today we have Diana Wu David and here is why she is awesome. She’s an advisor, educator, and speaker through Future Proof Labs, working with C suite executives and boards to create future focused and resilient organizations. She’s a partner with Future Work Forum, which is a think tank exploring the working world of tomorrow.

She’s a head of faculty at Financial Times, senior industry fellow at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s RMIT Ford, their Centre for Future Skills and Workforce Transformation. You’ll notice I said the word future a lot in this bio, and I’ve got one more for you. She’s also the author of Future Proof, Reinventing Work in the Age of Acceleration.

I feel like we may know where this conversation’s going. Hello, Diana.

Diana Wu David: Hello, and I’m based in Hong Kong. So I am actually in the future, based on our locations. There you go.

Russel Lolacher: And how are the flying cars? I’m always curious about that. I just feel as you live in the future, you’ve got all these extra things to look forward to.

Diana Wu David: Well, we don’t have flying cars here yet, but we do have pretty close to a cashless society. So that’s been it is interesting. If you travel a lot, that’s one way to see the future, although it’s unequally distributed.

Russel Lolacher: See, and I am old enough to remember having to go to Europe and having nine different currencies to drive 15 minutes because you needed a drachma, then you needed a lira, then you needed a pound. So yeah, this cashless thing doesn’t sound horrible.

Diana Wu David: Yep. I agree.

Russel Lolacher: So Diana, I start off every show with the first question, which of course is, what’s your best or worst, one or the other, employee experience?

Diana Wu David: That is such a great question. And I thought a lot about it. It took me down memory lane. And the worst ones always come out the fastest, right? That was one of the things I noticed. I would say that the worst is really when I started right after school at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and they did a nice induction the first day and the second day you rocked up and you just didn’t know what to do. And you had no desk.

We were already doing the sort of hot desking and you didn’t know what to do and you didn’t know who to talk to. And you literally had to like, hit somebody up in the hallway. Maybe this is designed as I think about it to see to separate the wheat from the chaff and be like how do I get a desk around here?

And you know that was a real surprise and it’s happened multiple times since then so… And then on the flip side, I think the best experiences were when my company gave me enough autonomy to do right by my employees or my clients. So when the tsunami happened in Japan, I was allowed to wait a certain amount of time before it was safe and then I was one of the first people to fly in and meet with our hotel clients. I ran a team that focused on hospitality in addition to other things. And I met with all these hotels in Tokyo that they had nobody staying there. Nobody wanted to go to Japan. Everybody was convinced they’d be radiated and nobody was going to go there on purpose.

And they said, you’re the first foreigner that we have seen, you know, that is one of our vendors and we are so grateful and I was allowed to give them concessions, as long as I made the whole PNL up. I was allowed to say, this is an extraordinary time and we don’t care what is in the contract. We just want to make sure you guys are okay and that you have a sustainable business. It’s not good for anybody if you can’t survive. And that is one of the it’s a sort of a client experience and my staff in Tokyo joined them to go up to Fukushima and, and help clean up and that kind of thing.

And I think that being able for a global company to say, you know what, do right by your community and the community you live in, especially now in remote work where everybody’s everywhere I think that’s extraordinary.

Russel Lolacher: I want to just tap on that just a little further. What did it mean to have autonomy in that situation? Cause that’s autonomy is something everybody always looks for, but to have that empowerment and basically say, go do the right thing. We’re not going to be micromanaging you through this, even though there’s an unbelievably public lens to this. Even though there is… A lot of, if it goes wrong, there could be huge ramifications. What does it mean to you to empower yourself in that situation to be able to go, no, I got this. If it screws up or it’s, a success, it’s on me.

Diana Wu David: Well, I think you have to be that person, that you correctly identified what, might give you there is a, just a proximity aspect. Which I think is important in the future of work as we all figure out how much decentralization can I at the mothership stomach basically but being able to be that person outside have built up the trust.

I don’t know that they would do it for just anyone, but there’s there’s a clarity of kPIs, like if it was a huge, if I was giving away our whole business and my revenue went to zero, then, and I had told nobody and I did it, then everybody would have said, what the heck is she doing over there?

And I’d been there enough and I could tell, I knew when to tell my boss and when not to, and say hey, this is really important. But honestly, I, in that moment, I don’t remember. Having to get agreement or whatever. I just knew that was important and I also was willing to get fired for it, I think. And I think that is something that I was within the values of the organization that I worked at the Financial Times at the time, and I think that, there was enough. That happened in that, for example in a crisis, which everybody experienced with the pandemic, how your organization reacted, told you a lot about… about them. And Pearson was our parent company. And so during that crisis we bent over backwards for our employees. We had immediately rented huge hotels to ensure that anybody could leave. But we also allowed them to stay if they wanted to. So. I think that how do you allow that autonomy? You build an entire culture by your actions in times of choice.

Russel Lolacher: Today, as we hinted through the conversation at the beginning is we’re going to focus a bit on the future of work. You live, you breathe, you research the future of work in a lot of your background as well. So I’m super curious to understand from your experience… how we show up, how we identify ourselves when our identity might be a little shaky as we have to prepare and be more resilient in this new future of work, because not every organization is prepared or sees themselves as ready for this future of work?

Diana Wu David: Well, they seem to be, in a bit of a binary mode. So some of them have decided, usually at some senior level, that The way that they’re going to compete and win is by embracing big trends, surfing the waves of, the different big aspects that will hit their business. So not every business needs to focus on every trend, but they know that they want to be ready and they’ve put in a culture and values and their, strategy that’s part of their D. N. A. And often those people have done that for a time because it’s not like we have a sudden pivot. Generative A. I. Is something that everybody wants to know about. And it’s seems pretty all encompassing, but I’m doing research now on how companies deal with advanced technology. Today is generative AI. I started out my career at Time Warner Electronic Publishing, doing CD ROM, so that was the hot new thing, like this is not the first rodeo we’ve been to. It happens every year. So, some companies are very embracing. And other companies are resistant.

And, it often depends on the leadership. The companies that are resistant have usually been successful in one way, and they find it really different, difficult because it feels like you have to dismantle, like you were saying, I’m gonna dismantle one identity in order to go to something new or let something new blossom and this could be the classic example is Kodak missing the digital wagon because they were so focused on all of their craft and mastery and expertise and film.

But my experience in media companies has been that it’s entirely possible. Financial times did one of the most extraordinary. Digital transformations going from in 2006 when I joined we had majority revenue from print advertising and print circulation to something that has blossomed as, mainly digital with some legacy business around the edges.

And because of that, all these new business propositions that have come off the back of that.

Russel Lolacher: I’m kind of curious how you even define the future of work because it’s mentioned like in every other sentence when it comes to a lot of people going, Oh, we need to talk about the future of work. But for me, I see 80 percent of the people, not you, but 80 percent of the people that are talking about future of work are talking about things that people have been wanting for the last 20 years.

It’s not about the future of work. It’s no, people have wanted remote work for a long time. No, people wanted good leaders for a long, no, people hate meetings that have been needed for a long time. So suddenly this future of work is just things that we’ve been neglecting for so long. So looking at you as a sort of this futurist sort of approach to it, how would you define this nebulous phrase of future of work?

Diana Wu David: Yeah, I think that’s a good question when you say people have wanted this, all these aspects and people have wanted great leadership for a long time. Now they’re demanding it. I think that the problem is often one of definitions because there’s a lot of leaders out there going, I am a great leader.

Other people saying, well, we follow you and we have some other, advice, maybe perceptions. So sometimes it’s about closing that gap. And, what I think in my book that was about, reinventing work in an age of acceleration, it was the environment has changed, so we need to change. In what way is the environment changed?

Well, big trends of technology change, which is what everybody focuses on, but then demographics, globalization and, now, climate change as well those things are creating change in the workplace, and it’s more about keeping up with the constant change than any very specific thing in the future.

And that’s where companies are struggling. They’re all on a journey to try to keep up with the future that’s always on the move. And in the past, we could set policies or we could decide what the, even the strategic planning that I’ve been involved in, we could do that and we can let it run.

Even selling, we used to sell giant ERP systems and it would take two years to implement. And then then, we had 10 years before we had to do another one. And now it’s. Oh, generative AI will do it. Who’s going to get to be allowed? So the, speed of change is the thing that companies are trying to catch up with, and they’re trying to figure out more broadly.

What their organizations look like. I mean, I really think that the, I wrote my book before the pandemic and it was like, it’s going to be all about virtual collaboration in the future. And, nobody’s believed that. They all felt like it had to be in person. And then we had the pandemic and now it seems quite clear that work has been completely disrupted and we’re building it almost from the ground up.

But, we’re still human. So, what are the things that are important? Some really timeless things that allow us to process change quickly, interdependence and relationships at work and feeling like we belong and we’re part of a community. Those are things that are timeless and actually allow us to weather change better. And I think that a lot of organizations lost sight of that because the previous, the past of work became so transactional and efficient that, it wasn’t really resilient.

Russel Lolacher: I think a lot of people who read your book will be kind of surprised that it’s talking about acceleration and people are probably going to immediately, like you said, talk about technology, but the book is so human centric. It is so about human centricity and about really digging into those, we hate calling them soft skills, human skills, so if you have an organization that is transactional, that is used to process and bureaucracy. So their identity is embedded in this. How do you pivot? How do you shift into an identity that is much more getting into that because they’re not human or have never looked at themselves as a human focused organization?

Diana Wu David: That is a really wonderful question. And it reminds me of IBM. So IBM was really well known for their Navy blue suits and their process and they were all engineering nerds. And I remember that they tried to soften their image once. And so they came in the nineties to Columbia Business School where I went to school and they were like, we are part of the future.

And they all had on identical outfits and they’re all men, khaki pants, and red cardigans and white bandana. It was like, we’ve changed. So, it was really, really funny. But one of the things that I like to do is think about how to compete in the future when things are moving so quickly. You need to move quickly, too, based on core tenets.

And so being able to get your people to talk about what is the predictable result? What is the thing that if we all come together and we operate business as usual with our great processes that we love, what’s going to happen? Like every budget season, you maybe you’ll be like, okay, I’ll give you 5 percent or you’ll Everything’s crap in the world.

So you’re trying to sandbag and get like only 1 percent growth. What if you got all of your people in a room and said, okay, instead of a linear progress, since the world and technology and all these things are exponential, demographics is exponential. What happens if we get in a room and say, okay, we’re here. What if we kind of go up and think about what is possible in the future? And if everybody can get in a room and say, this is predictable and then say, okay, how does everybody feel about that? Are we happy with the status quo? Cause most people feel like the future will be better. And then if you talk a little bit about what 5 percent means for your business.

Relative to the fact that competitors may be growing faster, and then you go up the exponential route and really imagine what is possible and maybe what two or three things you could think about, then agree on reverse engineering that allows everybody to get out of their little silos and turf wars.

And to think about what a new organization might be, that’s rooted in the key values and the things that we love about what we do, but is, has imagined another future, has imagined another possibility. And then has agreed on what or three things will be part of that. And then, you can see the value of changing because you have some extraordinary new idea that you can rally around. Does that make sense?

Russel Lolacher: It does, but my worry is that people aren’t strategic enough in a lot of organizations because when does anybody stop and take a minute to do strategy, Diana? When does anybody take a minute to think because we’re in meetings all the time. So this is my worry about this is the velocity of change. You talk about acceleration.

I’m worried about burnout. I’m worried about organizations trying to keep up with the Joneses, trying to keep up with their competitors, trying to meet this level of change, because we’ve seen it more than ever in the last little while. How you avoid that mentality of operationalism? Of… when, stopping would be great, but that’s just not how a lot of organizations work.

Diana Wu David: Yes, absolutely. Most of them take that linear progression and have everybody going full speed ahead, as one of my clients said, everybody is evaluated on how hard they’re running at the business. And I thought, wow, that’s exhausting. That’s gotta be exhausting. Because not only are we doing that old business, but there is an expectation in most leaders minds, I would say that we’re running that hard and whatever it is, that kind of potential to take off and do something bigger.

We expect people to be doing on the side basically, or maybe we’ve designated six people in the organization to be thinking about that. I know, I mean, like the cynical me is well, that’s what keeps me in business because people are like, Hey, let’s, set some time aside over a six month period and meet with Diana and have those thoughts but it is, difficult. And I disagree. I think that. I’ve always been part of senior management teams that do at least every six months take at least a day and say like we’re running up the hill. Is that the right hill? And I think any leader who’s not doing that is really missing a trick but then you have huge organizations.

So there are people that in organizations that are not meeting like that, that that, and my feeling is that, at a very minimum, you have to be connecting people’s sense of identity and purpose to the larger goals that that maybe people at the top have, said, this is the DNA of the company. And this is this is what we’re trying to achieve. And this is why we wake up in the morning. There’s an attraction piece. People go, okay, I want to work for Financial Times or Future Proof Lab, because I really believe in their values and I believe in what they’re doing. And I see the top leadership and I appreciate what they… how they behave and how they lead and then back to that autonomy to say, okay, this is your purpose and this is what we need to get done.

And around that, we want you to think about how we can do better and how we can flourish and how you can invest in this as a community. I do think in a way of the future of the organization is community. And so the time that we spend, working on that purpose and developing the social interactions and bonds between people is invaluable.

Russel Lolacher: You mentioned every six months, at least a day. I just want to hop on that, because now I’m curious, how often should you be checking in with and assessing your organization going? Are we doing the right things? Are we showing up in the right way so we can tweak instead of trying to move the Titanic where it’s, you know what this ship has sailed.

We’re not going to be able to pivot, to be as adaptable, to be as resilient as we need to be. How often would you like to see leadership do that assessment?

Diana Wu David: So most of the people that I work with are moving the Titanic in at a given point in time, they’ve decided I’m going to take this year to sort of assess where we are. And decide either because their business is declining or oftentimes because there’s a new CEO who’s come in and they have idea of what’s bigger.

So it’s not there’s not that many organizations that are saying, I’m going to do breakthrough transformation every six months. Like everybody would be like, it’s the same way that we have our, in our own lives, the, the kind of inkling that we’ve hit a plateau and we want to rethink things.

So oftentimes that’s when I am involved when, it is something where people really… It’s not possible to do with the same people in the same room and the same thoughts. You need some kind of catalyst somebody external to really push you to think about it and and do that facilitation.

That is probably, once every couple of years, but then in terms of having the, conversation or the check in or making the space to say, are we okay? Are the assumptions underpinning what we thought was the ultimate vision still true? What are the challenges we did not perceive? I don’t think it has to be a day away even like we… Every company is different and now with remote work it’s even more different. So clients I’ve worked with in the Philippines used to have meetings every week around the table, Monday morning. And the one that was in charge of the arena had a kind of update and they were a big conglomerate.

Now they do, every so often they’ll check in for, for a day in person because now they’re all remote and other times it’s much more frequent and informal and solving things as they come up. And that’s just been a transition I’ve seen in many different organizations because of how decentralized everything is.

I fundamentally believe that, the way things have been organized has really changed. Things have become more, decentralized and the boundaries between work and home, all the things we know have blurred. The way that we’re managing things the amount of collaborative technology we have, all those things have completely changed last couple of years.

And so how people organize all of the pieces has changed quite a bit as well as you are a deep expert in terms of employee experience.

Russel Lolacher: As somebody who’s a lot more global than I am, how do you see… globalization, changing cultures, different diversities, being able to embrace this future of work because a lot of the future of work traditionally helped the old white man at the top of the organization.

That’s not seeming to be the case anymore. So if we’re looking at it from an identity standpoint, an organization says it’s diverse. But to truly be diverse, it needs to be using things like remote, things like… so I guess the question I’m trying to dance around here a bit is diversity in relation to identity. How does it prepare you for the future of work?

Diana Wu David: Well, we could take, a page out of the marketing playbook, right? Just because Coca Cola was born in the United States doesn’t mean that people across the world don’t enjoy it and they’ve managed to personalize that experience for the little bodega down the road and also to have it served at the Hyatt or the nice restaurants and hotels are many bars. So I think that employee experience should ultimately follow. We have a hard time doing that because I think that in the mind of many people in large organizations, employee experience is a cost and marketing to people is a revenue driver. And the reality is that one of the big trends that has come out is because of demographics is talent scarcity.

We’re just going to have less human beings on the planet. And how are we going to deal with that? For a long time, we’ve talked about talent as the last competitive advantage, which is difficult and messy. When I think about diversity I think about constantly questioning my assumptions about what is right and true for all of the different people. And getting enough feedback within the organization to understand how things are working.

So when we talk about remote work, the US is a heavy hitter, right? The media around remote work is that everybody wants that kind of flexibility. And I remember Nick Bloom at Stanford, who does a lot on remote work, saying okay, well, one of the big things about remote work is that women started having more babies. The fertility rate went up when people were allowed to have remote work. And I was like, that is so not my experience in Hong Kong. Not like really personal experience. I’m, too old to have babies any more than my three… and I started looking through the data and the research and I was like, Oh, yep.

Actually, fertility went down in Hong Kong because it’s a different place where people are in tiny little apartments. They don’t have a home office and they are living with multiple relatives and there’s no way that they’re thinking, okay, it’s so leisurely. All of them, many of them want to come back to the office.

Commutes are really like maybe half an hour for most people, and perfectly nice and there’s not tremendous amounts of traffic. So, remembering that every place that you have staff is going to be completely different and, having to think about what that means. In the Philippines, I had people in my team who were on took three tuk tuks like these outdoor vans to work and it took them an hour and a half one way to get to work. And so the conversations for instance, around the team where one person was flying off to Hawaii and the other person was taking a tuk an hour and a half to work.

Facilitating that as a leader and being aware of it and empathetic is something, that’s the future of work to me. It’s not, guess what, everybody gets to be at home because not everybody wants to be at home. And we’re like so far away from that. So when we say, sometimes it feels like the future of work is already present.

Like we’ve had this disruption. We have remote work. But the possibilities have expanded. It’s like we all looked up and we said, Oh, all this is possible now. But now I think the hard work of saying, what will we do? How will we do it? How will we personalize the employee experience? That to me is like a five or 10 year journey for most companies and it’s iterative and and we’re still learning and we’re at the very beginning of learning.

Russel Lolacher: I like that you highlight, sorry, go ahead.

Diana Wu David: Yeah, partly because it’s not global. It’s very localized.

Russel Lolacher: I was just going to say that I love the fact that you highlighted change doesn’t happen in a quarter. Change doesn’t happen immediately. Change is a long process that you have to look at as a long game. Something you highlight in your book that I think is a huge identifier that a lot of organizations and individuals might need to really embrace to be prepared is… you call it AQ, adaptability quotient. What exactly, could you break what that down, what that actually means?

Diana Wu David: It’s interesting because I think it means different things even now, this year than it did in 2019, which is in the beginning it was about you have knowledge and you can have the IQ and the EQ, which is sort of the knowledge, domain knowledge, let’s call it. It’s not exactly what IQ is, but people expect you to be intelligent.

We hire people because they got good grades and went to a good university, et cetera. And then there’s the EQ, which is the ability to empathize and have relationships and… You know you see often people with EQ rise to the top of organizations because they are able to, and then the AQ is really the adaptability, the ability for you to come in doing one part of, doing one domain and then pivot to others.

So you are able to grow with the organization, to grow with your, in terms of your skills to constantly be learning. And that is one aspect. And the other aspect is really I would say psychological, the ability for you to deal with change and to be building your capacity for change. And that’s things like being able to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

And that’s why people have outdoor team building. I go to outward bound because you do hard things and in small ways, you realize that you can change. You can go to the gym and lift weights and suddenly become stronger. And that primes your mind to realize that if your company wants to send you to Asia for the next assignment, you can do that.

And that adaptability quotient is ever more important. And why I say it’s more important now with generative AI is that the domain knowledge since Google has become less and less important. We all have access to the same, to largely the same information. And now with generative AI, it’s even less that way, even the skills and the things that you’ve been able to do at the low end, not as important. So your ability to say, okay it’s not what I knew. It’s my ability to constantly adapt and take what I know and reinvent it and rebuild it. So that to me, my metaphor for that is a kaleidoscope, right?

We all have the same kind of pieces in our background. I did business school and I’ve done strategy and I’ve lived in Asia and all these things, but when I turn the wheel and it, changes a little bit, how does that create new value? And that to me is the perfect metaphor for adaptability.

Like, how can I apply that when I’m a board member,which I’ve done, or how can I apply that when I’m mentoring somebody who’s in high school? Depending on the context, you can adapt and add value wherever you are. And I think that is the ultimate future of work trait.

Russel Lolacher: You, you’ve sort of hinted at it a few times is around like generative AI, digital… I’m just kind of curious as someone who is researching the future of work continually, are you more afraid or excited about technology as we’re moving forward in the workplace?

Diana Wu David: I’m always excited. And I don’t know that’s because I’m, so smart about it, but I just think that, it’s in my character to be excited and to be curious and to want to learn. All those, if you do psychometric tests, they’re like, Oh yeah, there’s Diana going, I’m a pioneer by choice.

And I have created my work to match my strengths. And I recognize that not everybody feels that way. So, I also believe fundamentally that the growth mindset, the approaching mindset just gives me more room to maneuver. And if you think about the future of work and if people are afraid and you think, okay, I can believe that it’s coming from my job, or I can believe that it’s going to amplify myself. Which one of those choices about how I view this is going to give me more room to maneuver? And I choose the one that gives you more room to maneuver. It’s a conscious choice.

Russel Lolacher: So if you’re so excited, what is the most exciting thing about technology and are, I guess, running towards it

Diana Wu David: It is what it allows people to do in their lives that excites me the most. One is, that it allows people to have more flexibility around a longer work span. So, even the other day, somebody… Hong Kong is like America, right? We like, two weeks vacation is perfectly fine and you don’t have to take all of it.

It’s like one of those, very hard work ethic kind of places. And somebody said, I’m going for three week holiday. This middle manager. And she said, I’m going to go to Mexico City. And I was like, that’s amazing. You’ve never taken that long holiday. She said, yeah, well I can check in and I can be on some calls that I need to so I can be like gone that long and I can explore new places and that to me, just blew my mind. I was like that, that more of that. That’s what we’re trying to do is to have bigger, more beautiful lives and also get amazing work done. And I think that technology increasingly, it does have negative effects of being always on, and we’re trying to manage that, but if we can harness it for those opportunities.

Then I think it can be great. It can allow us to collaborate. It can allow many more people across the world to have access and input and contribution, which I think allows us to solve the problems that we face. In a richer way that I believe has better outcomes.

Russel Lolacher: And what do you think some of those problems are when it comes to preparing ourselves for this future, that we’re working… that is barreling at us quicker than we certainly are prepared to be

Diana Wu David: I think that the world is suffering from massive forgetting the wars that have recently taken place for a moment, but just the, broader problem of how are we going to deal with climate change? How are we going to feed more people? How are we going to bring more people out of poverty? How do we, Transition to a kind of healthier planet.

We have the SDG goals have put them into a nice table of contents for us to work on. And I really believe that companies and business also have an opportunity to be addressing those. As business opportunities, in addition to opportunities for us to, upgrade the operating system of our planet.

So if we can have that in in mind, then those are the biggest problems. I don’t think that we have a lot it’s nice to have TikTok videos. And I think that those can be used maybe harness for the larger problems. But to me. The role of business in society is to be a pillar of society.

Russel Lolacher: What’s changed for you personally, in your views of the future of work, since you wrote the book, because you wrote a book about acceleration right before the most acceleration that has happened in forever dropped on our laps from the pandemic. So I’m just kind of curious that and, I’ve looking at, reading your book, still very relevant because it focuses on such resiliency and that human factor, but you’ve sort of mentioned that it was right before this happened. So how has your views changed?

Diana Wu David: So it was particularly the virtual collaboration piece. I spent so much time pushing on like a closed door saying, this is going to happen, we’ve got to do virtual because I’m thinking about, I’m thinking about my teammate in the Philippines traveling on three tuk tuks to get to work for an hour and a half.

I’m thinking about the other person who’s needs to fly to Australia or even myself flying to Arizona from Hong Kong every other month to take care of my parents. I can get my work done in those moments, if I have the flexibility to do so, or I can quit my job and decide to do… go there full time.

So I just think that there’s very human moments that people resisted so much and then during the pandemic, it was like the door that I was pushing just fell in and all of a sudden I was like, Oh, you, everybody’s doing it. So now it’s the how do we do it? And that’s the biggest change.

And I really like the fact that suddenly many different leaders have changed their perspective to another, almost extreme. And now we’re in that okay, where do we want to sit? Each one of us as a company may be different. But during the pandemic, I had people who I interviewed for CEO coaching clients, and they would say my boss, like he completely changed or she completely changed.

The way that they relate to us. For the better. And I feel like, a tectonic plate. They said it could never have lasted the way that we were working before. Eventually something had to give and during the pandemic that changed. So now everybody may be a little bit more on the same page in terms of throughout the organization.

And now we’re just trying to recalibrate and figure out, okay, what does that look like and how can we spend the next five years making that work? And then from there, how can we go even further to what’s possible, what could ultimately be for the benefit of the big problems we solve, but also for us as individuals trying to live satisfying lives, with kind of work in the context of a satisfying life, as opposed to fitting life around the edges of work that maybe we don’t even like that much.

Russel Lolacher: As we get near the end of our conversation, I have a question. I kind of want to ask, which is around people that are identified as Paralyzed by change. We’re talking about a lot of change. We’re talking about a speed of change. This is unfamiliar. This is uncommon. There’s a steep learning curve. So what do you say to organizations that are identifying themselves as maybe they’re done with change?

Could I just take that break? Could I just take a breath? And they’re just not feeling they’re getting it. So they’re kind of, kind of resistant to change because it’s overwhelm.

Diana Wu David: That makes a lot of sense and people do need a break from the sense of relentless change. There is a way in which people shift towards understanding that change will happen. Investing in what doesn’t change for organizations is equally important and being able to communicate that. So at an individual level, like I work, I have built a community of people who are, changing my future proof community.

And what I found is that, the way that they’re able to change, it’s almost in martial arts, like you have a strong, solid core and that allows you to fight, from all of your, to kick into punch, et cetera. You can tell I’m not a martial arts expert, but I have done a little bit of it.

But that value, that sense of who am I, what is my value? How do I matter? That is what allows us to be to, sort of be grounded in this. Moment where we’re buffeted by the winds of change, and that can be for an individual. I know that my value is as a person who builds communities and a connector.

And, as I was talking to in a workshop I did, it’s not just what I did in strategy. It is being identified as the person. Oh, Diana’s in Asia. She knows anybody in the organization. If you need something done, go talk to Diana. I mean, that’s value beyond your job title. And so having an understanding of that is quite important.

And at an organizational level, you can do the same. I know when I worked at Financial Times that we helped people make better business decisions. And if everybody in the organization knows that digital, print, education, new product, chinese version, et cetera, anchors on that deeper value and purpose, then it can allow everybody to feel like they have a filter, which allows them to understand change and even make decisions about what they want to embrace or what they want to frankly ignore.

Russel Lolacher: I, I love this, Diana. Thank you so much for having this conversation with me today. Just, I really feel that you have to understand yourself to move forward in that identity and how you show up in the world. So this is, it’s unbelievably valuable, so I appreciate that. So you’re not getting off the hook though.

I have to ask the last question, which is what’s one simple action people can do right now to improve their relationships at work?

Diana Wu David: So Russel, you actually inspired this because you asked me these questions. One is what was your best experience, employee experience at work, or worst? And what one thing could you do and one of the people that I recently met up with who was an old colleague said and he was we were in a group and he said, you know I remember Diana because my very first day she said we’re gonna go for coffee and She said here, let me give you the lay of the land. This is what it is. And so my worst employee experience of showing up at a consulting firm and having absolutely nobody say hello to me and having to find my own desk has inspired decades of reaching out to whoever was new and saying, do you want to have a coffee? What can I do to help? Especially on people’s first day and just being that person that builds a bridge to doesn’t have to be in your, even in your team.

It’s just a, Hey, if you invited somebody to your house, you wouldn’t just open the door and go to the bathroom. You would say, hey, can I get you a glass of water or whatever it is? So I think you should do the same at work. And that would be my one piece of advice.

Russel Lolacher: That is Diana Wu David. She’s an advisor, educator and international speaker and author of Future Proof Reinventing Work in the Age of Acceleration. Thanks so much, Diana.

Diana Wu David: Thank you, Russel.


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