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Time to Rethink the Way You Work and Become a Life-long Learner

I have known Gary Bolles for decades. Back when I was putting together the first editorial staff for Network Computing magazine, Gary was one of my early hires. He had a curious resume, made even more so by the fact that his father was infamous for the “Parachute” career counseling books. He was a quick learner — so quick that when I left the magazine to start my own consulting business, he was my pick to succeed me, and then went on to found other publications and eventually his own consultancy.

Bolles has been talking about rewiring the way we work for some time – you can sign up and watch a couple of his classes on LinkedIn Learning ($30/mo) to get a feel for his pedagogy and speaking style. He has taken these lessons and put them together for his first book, called The Next Rules of Work. It complements the family business by showing how we have evolved in how we approach work. His thesis is that we are in a new era, where the old rules of pre-learning aren’t sufficient. We need to become lifelong learners with a deep portfolio of experiences, interests and job-like skills.

Part of these new rules are directed toward senior leaders, who have to transition from being the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side.” There are also rules for individuals who want to refashion the way they work.

The heart of Bolles’ “next rules” is this model canvas, diagrammed below and which can be found on Gary’s website here.

On the left-hand side of the model are three frames of reference for both individuals and the new companies that they work for: Mindset, toolset and skillset. You will need to adjust your mindset to handle what the world needs, what you love and are good at, and what you can actually be paid hard cash money for. The Japanese call this Ikigai. You will need to adopt what Bolles calls “flash problem solving” skills with an ad hoc group he calls the coalition of the willing. This may mean “unbossing” yourself, which sounds scary, but millions of gig workers have already succeeded with this approach.

Maybe the pandemic is as good a reason as any to take a different look at the way we all work, and to contemplate your next phase of your life as a long-term learner. In April of this year, four million people quit their jobs. This used to be called retirement, but now we need a better word to indicate more of a transition rather than a choice. Some are calling this trend “The Great Resignation.” I now think of this differently. No longer is this the time to relax, to travel, to see the grandkids, to take up new hobbies or volunteer work.

This isn’t exactly a new idea. Pablo Casals once famously said that he was motivated to continue to practice the cello in his 90s because he was making progress.

One friend of mine is hyper-organized: he has five volunteer jobs — one for each week day to keep himself busy. Others have a part-time job that gives them some flexibility. As to travel — well, we have the virus to change those plans.

When friends ask me if I am planning on retirement, I say no. And this is because I am completely aligned with Bolles’ Next Rules. I consider myself a lifelong learner and designed my freelance business to ensure that I would always be learning something new about the tech fields that I write about. It wasn’t too hard: I imagine if I was writing about the sporting goods or home appliances businesses, I would have a lot less learning to do year-on-year. (Maybe not, but you get my point.)

No matter where you are in your life, you have to figure out how to continue to learn new stuff. When we are working every weekday, we tend to have someone else force us into this learning-as-part-of-the-normal work process. But as more of us become gig workers, we must create these situations on our own, and that is the manual that Bolles has constructed.

You could build it in, as “if it is Tuesday I volunteer at X,” as my friend does. Or, you could have other mechanisms that force the learning, such as a book club (where the group actually does read the assigned books), or a travel schedule (if we can ever get back to that again), or something else that forces you out of the house so you aren’t locked into day-drinking/Netflix binging cycles. Of course, for some of us that just may be an intermediate goal, which is fine.

So if you aren’t happy in your current job, take a look at what Bolles has put together and think about making a transition to becoming a life-long learner. It is a great time to rethink the way you work.

David Strom

David Strom is one of the leading experts on network and Internet technologies and has written and spoken extensively on topics such as IT security, VOIP, convergence, email, cloud computing, network management, Internet applications, wireless and Web services for more than 30 years. He has held several editorial management positions, including Editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, Digital, and Tom's He currently writes for IBM's, HPE's Enterprise.Nxt, blogs for RSA and Kaspersky and and has contributed opinion columns, reviews, feature stories and analyses to,,, Network World, Infoworld, Computerworld, Small Business Computing, c|net and, eWeek, Baseline Magazine, PC Week, PC World, PC Magazine and more. David has created numerous print and web publications, built several hands-on IT test labs, curated various email newsletters, blogged extensively about a wide variety of IT business topics, spoken at IT business conferences, written thousands of magazine articles and published two books on computer networking. He is the author of two books: Internet Messaging, which he co-authored with Marshall T. Rose and Home Networking Survival Guide. David also publishes Web Informant and is the creator of an innovative series of video screencast product reviews of enterprise IT products that can be found on and syndicated to various other Web sites. He has also appeared on the Fox TV News Network, NPR's Science Friday radio program, ABC-TV's World News Tonight and CBS-TV's Up to the Minute news broadcasts.

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  1. Nina Paul

    Thanks for sharing this amazing tip, it sure will help me a lot. I’ll try my best to follow it.

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