Frances has a clear model and plan for her career. It involves actively disrupting herself every decade. She is currently halfway through a decade and is already thinking about her potential career in five years’ time.
At present, she is driven to change the education system so that it better reflects the needs of students with respect to their futures. Her awareness of this need arose from observations she made about New Zealand’s skill deficits while overseas.
“I was spending time off shore and talking to people about types of jobs, and where the gaps in the market were. People were moving into these areas. I would come back to New Zealand and realise that we had no one in education even preparing for these emerging markets. I was looking at anything from machine learning and computer vision to AI and automation, cybersecurity and data scientists.”
In thinking about what she wanted to work on and achieve, Frances realised she would need to retrain to be relevant.
“I realised I really had to think about how I could change education, so that it would reflect the future, but also take me, myself, on that same journey. I needed to reinvent myself, because at that point I was still very much a product of my time — a child of the seventies who had grown up and assumed that whatever I landed in, that would be for life. The realisation came that I had a massive use-by date on my career coming up, because even though I was comfortable with technology, my working knowledge was more at a business level.”
While working full-time with children, she undertook a Master’s degree.
“At the age of 40, I went back to do a Master’s part-time while I was CEO of a company in Melbourne. It was at a time when I was spending almost two weeks a month off shore. I just thought, okay, I’m just going to have to challenge myself, because if I don’t start learning again and commit to this, I may never do it. That was really the catalyst for me getting back into study.”
Her study led her to start The Mind Lab, which exposes teachers and students to new technology.
“It was the scariest stage of my life, because it was throwing everything I knew into the wind and really putting another gear into the gearbox. On one level, I was financially risking everything, starting a business on my own. That in itself creates huge anxiety, because suddenly you’ve got no income, your salary’s gone, your savings are going into something that you just believe in. You’re believing in it for a reason that is personal, and you’re hoping like hell that actually others will see the same thing. You can talk to a lot of people, but at the end of the day, until you actually do it, you really don’t know how people will react.”
Her work is varied, but informed by her personal mission.
“You can talk to a lot of people, but at the end of the day, until you actually do it, you really don’t know how people will react.”
“I spend a lot of time speaking with schools and working with the not-for-profit sector, and that’s the bit I give back. Sitting on boards as well, particularly not-for-profit boards. I want to do good things in this country with people who perhaps don’t have the financial means. It is important for me to run some of our programmes at The Mind Lab as a social enterprise. We’ve got all these school programmes which just break even. We have to have it so that it’s a well-oiled machine, but actually it’s not about profit. Then I have commercial ventures in terms of working with postgraduate students, companies and boards in digital transformation. I have a business card that’s schizophrenic. It’s a two-sided one, but it probably could be four-sided. I think that’s again part of
this new economy. You wear all these di erent hats and it’s not just about the one that pays the money, but the one that makes the whole person.’
Frances is already thinking about the next phase in her career and how she will actively disrupt herself to achieve it, and then the next phase after that.
“By 2020, for example, in India, over half the population’s going to be under the age of 25. What happens when you get 650 million people who are young and rewriting the rules of the world? We’re an aging population—we’re so not representative of the world. I think what I want to do is go in there and throw myself into it. Maybe it means learning in Shanghai or going into Mumbai and spending some time. I just think that will be a new catalyst for saying, what will I look like into my 50s? I imagine at 60, I’ll do the same again. I really love this idea that you constantly reinvent yourself. Because the worst thing for me would be to put yourself to pasture and say to yourself, well, I’ve kind of done my bit.”
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