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Summary: The Next Rules of Work: The Mindset, Skillset, and Toolset to Lead Your Organization through Uncertainty by Gary A. Bolles

The Next Rules of Work (2021) is a kind of cookbook – or “landscape of ideas” – on what’s here now and what comes next in the world of work. It offers a new mindset, skillset, and toolset that’ll equip you to succeed today and in the future.

The modern economy can be unsettling. Educator and consultant Gary Bolles feels your pain and understands that the rules of work are changing almost as fast as people can learn them. In this guide to thriving in the modern economy, Bolles cites research suggesting that the shelf life of a four-year college degree is just five years – and even less in Silicon Valley. He advises individual workers and bosses that succeeding in today’s world requires an ability to adapt and learn continually.

[Book Summary] The Next Rules of Work: The Mindset, Skillset, and Toolset to Lead Your Organization through Uncertainty


Management, Leadership, Business Structural Adjustment, Organizational Change, Human Resources

Introduction: Help shape the future by developing the Next Rules of work.

Since the dawn of the Machine Age, we humans have worried about the future of our work. But it’s not technology, as such, that impacts work – it’s the pace and scale of change. These two forces combined really determine what the future of work holds.

In his book, The Next Rules of Work, Gary Bolles offers three possible scenarios for the future of work.

Future one is dominated by robots. In this scarcity scenario, the amount of available work is reduced as a result of technology – which basically means tons of unemployment.

Future two is an abundance scenario. There’s a lot of employment – assisted by robots. Here, technological advances have created so much work that there aren’t enough humans to do it all.

Future three was predicted by Shoshana Zuboff in her book In the Age of the Smart Machine. Disruptive technologies result in both scarcity and abundance: a jobs dystopia and utopia simultaneously. There’s lots of work – but also lots of under- and unemployment. The people who adapt to change thrive; those who can’t, or don’t, adapt quickly enough fail.

In this summary, we’ll explore how our actions can help shape which future we cocreate – preferably a future where “no human is left behind.” We’ll study what Bolles calls the “three legs of the stool for tomorrow” – your mindset, your skillset, and your toolset. But first, let’s take a quick look at the old rules of work and find out why we need not just a new set of rules, but the next rules of work.

Today’s work environment needs a new framework that’s both nimble and innovative.

Rules about work have existed for as long as we, as a species, have worked. They haven’t always stayed the same, but many of our current rules have existed for centuries. Much of our work is governed by traditional definitions of what terms like job, skill, career, team, manager, and workplace mean.

These old rules of work aren’t inherently wrong and have served us well up to now. But with increasing pressures from disruptive technology, greater competition, and global trends – and with customers demanding more rapid value – they’re simply not innovative enough, even for today’s work environment.

Now let’s think about how work might have changed 20 years from today. The first thing we might notice is that organizations have been replaced with a worknet that’s operating both locally and internationally. People come and go, problems are identified and solved, and then people move on to a new problem. There are no managers; each worker has the agency to solve problems. And there’s no recognizable workplace either. It’s been replaced with a flexible environment that adapts to the needs of onsite workers, while others work remotely.

But wait. Stop. This isn’t the future. This is already happening! Not every organization currently behaves this way, but many of these practices are undergoing a process of change, adaptation, and improvement. What we think of as the future is already here.

In order to react faster and adapt, we need a new set of rules that allow for nimbleness and innovation right now. We don’t just need new rules fit for the twenty-first century; what we actually need are the Next Rules.

Gary A. Bolles gives us four of these rules. Together, they offer a framework for both employees and leaders to develop the mindset, skillset, and toolset for work both today and in the future.

First, empower effectiveness. Workers need to be able to innovate, solve problems effectively, and create value for stakeholders. At the same time, they need to be compensated adequately for their contributions.

Second, enable growth. Workers need to develop growth mindsets, become lifelong learners, and maximize their potential. They need to thrive.

Third, ensure involvement. Organizations need to promote diversity and inclusivity; encourage growth, effectiveness, and alignment across the whole organization; and remain focused on stakeholder needs – especially those of the community and society at large.

And finally, encourage alignment. Team members need to coordinate effectively and remain aligned with each other’s work and the organization’s strategic goals. Workers and organizations need to have a sense of meaning and purpose that remain aligned.

In the following chapters, we’re going to explore how each of these four rules is reflected in what we need for future work.

As you and your organization move forward, your goal will be to follow the four Next Rules – but keep in mind that there’s no single best way to implement them. You’ll have your own priorities and will need to do what’s best for you. Just remember that you ideally want to create more human-centric work – so keep the mantra “no human left behind” front and center.

Consider which mindset flavors should be reflected in your organizational culture.

Let’s start with your organization’s mindset. This could also be considered its culture. It’s the aggregate of its beliefs, values, and behaviors.

And the organizational mindset matters a lot. A 2020 Gallup survey indicated that only one-third of US workers feel engaged with their work. The other two-thirds would leave their current jobs for an offer just a little better than their current one. So it’s safe to say that leaders of organizations should take their mindset seriously.

Let’s say your organization’s mindset is inconsistent, as many are, or has some room for improvement. You’re not at a dead end here. This is where the Next Rules thinking comes in.

Of course, every organization will have to develop its own mindset, cocreated by its stakeholders and deeply rooted in its vision and mission. But the four core Next Rules also offer us some popular mindset flavors to consider individually or in combination.

An effectiveness mindset focuses on results, worker accountability, adaptability, and agility. Organizations with this mindset are data-driven and encourage speedy decision-making and action based on information.

Organizations with a growth mindset reward personal growth and learning. Human potential is maximized. Often purpose-driven, these organizations also prize innovation and encourage new ideas and risk-taking.

Involvement mindsets value empathy, integrity, and inclusivity. Diversity is infused in all aspects of an organization with this mindset – from hiring and staff development to opportunities and promotion.

Finally, organizations with an alignment mindset are customer-obsessed and commit to strategies that will deliver their mission and vision. They are great at managing distributed project teams and maintaining connections between workers, the organization, and the mission.

Having looked at the options for an organizational mindset, we should also consider what makes for an effective problem-solving team. Google’s Project Aristotle – one of the most influential studies of team effectiveness – identified five key characteristics:

Dependability – team members commit to following through on what they say they’ll do.

Structure and clarity – team members have clear roles and well-defined plans and goals.

Meaning – the team believes in its value and the purpose of its work.

Impact – value for stakeholders will be delivered by the work carried out.

And psychological safety – team members feel they’re able to take risks and are in an environment where no idea will be considered crazy.

Bolles adds a sixth characteristic – psychological diversity – which was part of an earlier Google study. A broad range of perspectives, backgrounds, and socioeconomic statuses within a team creates a huge increase in its ability to solve new problems.

Adopting a holistic approach toward workers benefits both individuals and the company.

Now that we’ve covered mindset, we can start to look at which skills would help bring organizations into the Next Phase of work.

Within organizations, there are two types of power: positional and personal. Positional power is derived from where a person sits within the organization’s hierarchy. But when it comes to who actually leads in an organization, often it’s someone who has less positional but more personal power. Such leaders are sought out for their insights; they implicitly understand the culture of the organization and reinforce its values. If they need to, they make decisions too – but only when there’s no consensus or when something is urgent.

Gary A. Bolles highlights some of the Next Skills these “personal leaders” can sharpen to bring an even more positive impact to their organization.

For example, being able to communicate clearly and provide constructive feedback can empower effectiveness in others. The ability to recognize when people need help, or when they have potential that they haven’t yet tapped into, can enable growth – especially if they’re actively supported. To ensure involvement, these leaders can listen, work to understand, and empower those around them, even if they don’t necessarily share the same mindset. And finally, those who practice perceptiveness, diplomacy, and objectivity by analyzing their teams’ needs and building trust can encourage alignment and bring together disparate perceptions.

So if those are the Next Skills required of people who lead – what about unlocking the skills of everyone across the whole organization’s worknet?

In The Inside Gig, former chief human resources officer of HERE Technologies, Kelley Steven-Waiss, reveals that most organizations don’t have any way to understand and catalog the skills, experience, hobbies, and interests of the people who work for them. In other words, organizations don’t understand their employees’ potential. There’s a failure to look beyond the skills for which a person was hired.

Also, managers often treat employees as if they’re “personally owned assets” – they do their best to keep people in their team rather than looking at how each person’s skillset could be used to problem-solve elsewhere in the organization. This brings us back to mindset. To combat this narrow-mindedness, a shift in mindset is needed. Leaders need to recognize that talent exists to be shared within the organization; it’s not the property of a particular manager.

When it comes to new hires, Next Organizations should also think about mindsets rather than skillsets. If there’s too much focus on performance fit – the right skills and experience – the most important factor gets ignored: whether the candidate has a mindset that aligns with the team and the organization. Having the skillset without an aligned mindset is likely to lead to a culture clash. But with the right mindset and some missing skills, a person would drag themselves over hot coals to get the problem solved!

The most important Next Skills needed to succeed in the working world – both for the future and now – are captured in the acronym PACE: All workers need to become Problem-solvers who are Adaptive, Creative, and have Empathy. These are the four skills that need to be prioritized, identified, and trained.

Approaching any new problem with the mindset of a problem-solver is going to help you get it solved. And if you’re able to adapt quickly and have a growth mindset, you can learn new skills and methods to solve those new problems. Creativity will keep you one step ahead of the robots; AI and software are simply not able to recreate human creativity. And empathy – being able to understand and share the experience of others – is critical in understanding both customers’ and teammates’ ideas, problems, and perspectives.

An appropriate toolset provides the right techniques and technologies to ensure success.

Up to now, we’ve talked about Next Mindset and Next Skillset, but now it’s time for us to look at your Next Toolset – the third leg of your organizational stool. Here, we’ll focus on the technology and techniques that’ll help you, your team, and your organization leverage the Next Rules.

Ensuring that employees have the right toolset so they can both solve problems and create value for stakeholders is perhaps the most important priority for an organization. Although many problems can be solved by humans alone, most problems are solved more efficiently and effectively with the right toolset of techniques and technologies. Let’s look at the ones that support the four core Next Rules.

Objectives and Key Results – OKRs – are used to enable effectiveness. They make sure of three things – that team leaders and members communicate regularly; goals are aligned; and stakeholders agree on what it means to “accomplish” a goal or milestone. OKRs were originally developed as techniques and practices, but now software is available to structure OKR planning. OKRs are often linked to KPIs – Key Performance Indicators – which allow individuals to track their own results against agreed metrics linked to their jobs.

To facilitate growth, self-inventory software helps individuals measure their flex and self skills. At eParachute, the job-search and career-development platform cofounded by Bolles, a simple card-sorting exercise helps individuals quickly complete a skills inventory. A CliftonStrengths assessment, on the other hand, helps identify skills and an individual’s capabilities through its proprietary model.

Just-in-time and just-in-context learning tools also enable growth by helping learners gain the knowledge and skills they need to solve the problem in front of them. Examples include LinkedIn Learning, Edcast, and Pluralsight.

Inclusive design thinking was originally developed by the consulting firm IDEO. It enables a team to approach problem-solving by first empathizing with – and then defining – a stakeholder’s problem through ideas, prototypes, and testing solutions. But sometimes inclusivity is lacking from such practices. Tools that foster involvement include the ubiquitous whiteboard and sticky notes. But there are more sophisticated tools that offer the same inclusive experience, such as Miro and Lucidspark.

Achieving alignment of workers and teams around a solution is often challenging, but rapid real-time prototyping can encourage it both for products and processes. Everyone involved needs to be committed to quick decision-making. Supportive resources must be made available – such as designers who are capable of taking a product vision and swiftly turning it into a model or user interface. And having a time constraint will encourage rapid insights and quick implementation.

Of course, everyone has heard of agile project management practices. These are no longer the exclusive realm of software development; they can now be found in team and project alignment processes in many organizations. Agile is not just a toolset, but also a mindset. Carrefour, for instance, constantly asks its managers what they’re doing to become more agile – both as individuals and with regard to their team. It wants to make sure the company is able to react easily and quickly to whatever problems may arise.

Empowering individuals and teams to solve problems and provide value to stakeholders should be the most important objective for all companies. The Next Organization has a responsibility to ensure success by providing the best techniques and technologies available.

Final Summary: Ensure no human is left behind.

We started our journey by talking about three possible futures. Let’s conclude our summary to The Next Rules of Work by examining what we can do to ensure we get the future we all want – a future where no human is left behind.

The world of work is complex. Issues are so intertwined that data can be twisted to support almost any perspective. But maybe, if we see all the issues through a lens that distills them into just four domains, we just might get a handle on what the core problems actually are.

As individuals, our core concern is whether we can either find or create a meaningful job that’s well paid and stable. For organizations, it’s how to find talented workers who’ll solve problems and create value for their stakeholders. At a higher level, for communities, it’s whether they can function as a thriving, inclusive ecosystem. And at a higher level still, countries need an inclusive economy.

There should be a symbiotic relationship between workers and organizations – and their interdependence should be defined by their goals. Unfortunately, that’s currently not the case. Individuals who are continually learning have a good reason to ask for better pay and conditions. But shareholders want to reduce costs and increase profits. In our competitive world, that often means paying workers less – or worse, shifting them to gig work.

So how can this be balanced? Perhaps AI governance is the answer to making the working environment more transparent. Or maybe new forms of collaboration – like freelancer unions or reinvented worker cooperatives – could increase the power of individuals.

But there’s a simpler solution: leaders should actively encourage collective action and representation. Workers who receive group-negotiated salaries and benefits won’t just become more engaged with an organization’s mission; they’ll also be more effective problem-solvers. In turn, this creates value for the organization, its customers, and other stakeholders. It’s a win-win.

Organizational leaders also need to increase their commitment to an authentic purpose – specifically, one that’s related to social impact, environmental stewardship, or internal governance.

Organizations operate within one or a number of communities. They also have a responsibility to help those communities flourish. Providing employment isn’t enough. There needs to be a mutuality where organizations partner with community members to understand negative external factors they might be contributing to – for example, rapid gentrification of a neighborhood. Together, they can then create solutions enshrined in commitment.

Leveraging the Next Rules of work will help us solve problems both today and in the future. But remember, this is a journey. As new problems emerge, things will change – and so will our rules.

The Next Rules we’ve cocreated will evolve to meet future challenges. But we need to make sure they remain human-centric. In doing so, we can create a more inclusive work future where no human is left behind.

About the author

Gary A. Bolles is Chair for the Future of Work with Singularity University and is a partner in the strategy consulting firm Charette, LLC based in San Francisco, California. A globally recognized expert on the future of work, he consults with C-suite leaders of global companies, labor and education leaders from Brazil to Canada and non-profits and non-governmental organizations around the world. He is the co-founder of, inspired by his father’s bestselling book “What Color Is Your Parachute?”, the former COO of Evolve Software, the former VP Marketing for Network Products Corporation, and former editorial director for five enterprise technology magazines, including Inter@ctive Week and Network Computing.

Gary A. Bolles, chair of the future of work at Singularity University and a partner at Charette LLC, a San Francisco consulting firm, co-founded – inspired by his father’s best-selling classic, What Color Is Your Parachute?

Gary A. Bolles is based in San Francisco, California and is the Chair for the Future of Work with Singularity University and a partner in strategy consulting firm Charette, LLC. A globally recognized expert on the future of work, he consults with C-suite leaders of global companies, labor and education leaders from Brazil to Canada, and global non-profits. He is the co-founder of, inspired by his father’s bestselling book What Color Is Your Parachute?, and visiting lecturer to a variety of school systems, including Isha Vidhya in India, and a regular guest lecturer for Gartner.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Rules 21

01 The Old Rules of Work 23
You Climb into a Time Machine 23
How We Learned the Old Rules of Work 24
A Brief History of Human Work 28
Work, Meet Technology 30
Technology, Rising 31
The Century-Old Rules of Work 33
So Now… What’s Work? 35
What’s a Skill? 36
Where Do You Begin to Learn Skills? 39
What’s a Job? 40 What’s a Career? 42
What’s a Team? 43
What’s a Manager? 44
What’s a Workplace? 45
What’s an Organization? 46
How Have Organizations Managed Change? 47
What Is the Purpose of an Organization? 47
This Is Why We Need the Next Rules 49

02 The Next Rules of Work 51
Time Machine Time 52
The Four Core Next Rules 52
These Are the Transformed Rules of Work 55
Mini-Workbook: An Aristotle Canvas for Individuals and One for Organizations 71
Looking through the Lens of Mindset, Skillset, and Toolset 80
Effectiveness, Growth, Involvement, Alignment 84

Mindset 85

03 Your Organization’s Culture Is Its Mindset 87
What’s a Mindset? 88
What Mindset Does Your Organization Actually Have? 90
What Mindset Do You Need? 93
When You Need a Mindset Shift in Your Organization: The Great Reset 96
How Do You Catalyze Mindset Change? 98
Who Should Catalyze Mindset Change? 101
Insights on Successful Mindset Alignment 104
Correction: Maybe Anyone Can Help Catalyze Mindset Transformation 109

04 The Problem-Solving Mindset of Workers and Teams 112
Magic Wand Time 112
You Are a Complex and Adaptive Ecosystem 113
You, Problem-Solver 115
A Team Is a Band of Problem-Solvers 126
Why Young People Want to Solve Problems with Purpose 130

Skillset 135

05 The Skills of Next Organizations 137
Magic Wand Time 137
Redefining the Role of Those Who Lead in Organizations 138
A Skillset for Empowering Effectiveness 140
A Skillset for Enabling Growth 142
A Skillset for Ensuring Involvement 145
A Skillset for Encouraging Alignment 146
Maximizing the Skillset of the Organization: The Inside Gig 148
Hiring Is the Key to the Next Skillset 151
Beyond Skills: Human Thriving 155
We Must Co-Create Guide Management Together 158
From the Guide, to the Individual and the Team 159

06 The Skills of Tomorrow for Workers and Teams: PACE 160
It Is the Day You Were Born 160
The Four Flex Skills of Tomorrow: PACE 161
Problem-Solver (Part of the Skillset for Effectiveness) 163
Adaptive (Part of the Skillset for Alignment) 163
Creative (Part of the Skillset for Growth) 163
Empathy (Part of the Skillset for Involvement) 164
Building the User Manual of You: Four Key Insights 165
Skillset as a Team Sport 171
The Third Leg of the Stool: Toolset 178

Toolset 1-9

07 The Next Toolset for Organizations 181
Magic Wand Time, Again 182
Organizational Techniques and Technologies to Deliver Value to Stakeholders 184
Design Requirements for the Organizational Toolset for Work 187
What about Digital Transformation? 192
Next: What Tools Do Workers and Teams Need? 194

08 The Next Toolset for Workers and Teams 195
You and I Hop Back into the Time Machine 195
A Next Toolset for Individuals and Teams 198
Tools to Empower Effectiveness for Workers and Teams 199
Tools to Enable Growth for Workers and Teams 200
Tools to Ensure Involvement for Workers and Teams 202
Tools to Encourage Alignment for Workers and Teams 204
The Top Priority for Next Organizations: Empowering the Worker and the Team 209
Tying It All Together 210
This Is the Start of the Future We All Want 214

Conclusion 215
Appendix 239
Endnotes 246
Index 258


Stay tuned for book review…

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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