On not retiring

Kind of a personal landmark, I guess: today I reach so-called ‘retirement-age’, where I’m supposedly meant to kick back, relax and walk away from all of the stresses of a lifetime of work.

Hmm… no chance of that happening, is there?

Not because I can’t afford it (though unfortunately that’s probably also true…), but much more because people like me just don’t know how to ‘stop working’ and suchlike. Our work isn’t something we do – it’s who we are. Big difference.

It’s at this point I cast my memories back more than forty years, to my first ‘real job’, working for an amazing woman named Mary Sheridan – without doubt, one of Britain’s greatest experts ever on child-development. I worked as her illustrator on several books, such as this one (still in print, though no longer with my graphics) on development from birth to five years – in this example a visual summary of some typical abilities for a three-year old:

And another on tests for development of handicapped children:

But in this context, she’s become a key role-model for me. She’d worked for many years in the schools medical service, quietly researching, studying, observing; and when she nominally retired from there – at the same age as I am now – she set out to do her real work, to reconstruct almost the whole of child-development studies and development-models in Britain, almost right back to scratch, and almost single-handedly at the start. Before she started, the field was riddled with unverified assumptions – such as that ‘average development’ was the same as ‘normal development’, for example. By the time she’d finished, the field had rock-solid foundations, drawn from hard-evidence precise observation rather than the previous arbitrary assumptions. Hugely important, for many people’s lives: and all of her work is still very much in use to this day.

And right now, I have the opportunity – and responsibility – to do much the same as she did.

Yet on what theme, what topic? Mary Sheridan had clear ideas about what she was intending to do, right from the start; but in my case, I’ve not so much had a career, as careered, across a myriad of different disciplines, industries, countries and more. Aircraft, astronomy, skills-development, illustration, writing, teaching, graphics and pre-press, software-development, photography, music, business analysis, futures-studies, enterprise-architecture (of course), and many more – it’s quite a long list… So where do I start? Which do I choose?

Right now, there are three themes that stand out for me:

  • skills, and skills-education – how people learn awareness, judgment and responsibility/response-ability
  • sensemaking and decision-making – all of those tools and visual-checklists that I’ve built up over the previous years
  • big-picture change – in particular, what’s needed to face up to the changes needed for genuine sustainability

Which, in effect, merge together into one unified theme:

  • helping people to develop the skills in sensemaking and decision-making for big-picture change

In a sense, there’s nothing ‘new’ I have to do on this. Perhaps more to the point, I need to cut back on endlessly chasing after the new, after new refinements and more. After all, John Zachman only ever had one model, one framework; Alex Osterwalder only added a second model to his Business Model Canvas after nigh on a decade; whereas I already have at least seven complete, interweaving framework-suites, totalling something like thirty distinct model-types. More than eighty variants and overlays so far for the SCAN frame, to give another example. I don’t think I need any more… – not just yet, anyway…

What I do have to do is make what I already have much more accessible, understandable, usable, ready to embed within some of the existing or upcoming toolsets. That’s more than enough work to keep me busy for a fair old while! – and crucially important to get it done while I still can, for that matter.

I do still have some catch-up to do on enterprise-architecture themes – three conferences to report on, for example, plus some other new items that came up during my recent travels. There’ll be a fair few blog-posts still to come on that.

(I’m also very much available for consultancyworkshopskeynotes and more – though I’ll need to be much more insistent than in the past that yes, that does all need to be at at regular commercial rates.)

Yet over the next few months you’ll start to see a shift in emphasis – moving away somewhat from the current focus on enterprise-architecture and the like, and more towards those themes of skills-development, sensemaking and the really-big-picture scope and scale.

And no, I doubt I’ll be very retiring, either. In any sense.

Watch this space, perhaps?

22 Comments on “On not retiring

    • Thanks, Phil! – and beware, ‘cos you’re one of the people I’ll depend on to make this next stage happen – particularly that bit about ‘better toolsets’ in the previous post… 🙂

  1. well said, Tom!!! You are truly “making a dent in the universe” — which is more rewarding (and fun) than the commonly accepted idea of “retirement.” Keep on keeping on!

  2. Happiest of Birthdays, my virtual friend!

    I wish I could say colleague but your contributions are so much more that I can not put myself in the same category or space.

    As with your original mentor, I do see your contributions and hope they continue to come for decades more.

    • Many thanks, Pat – and c’mon, don’t down on yourself like that? – of course we’re colleagues, we have been for years, and you do plenty enough innovation in your own right, your own way! It’s often (usually?) a hard slog, for most of us, for most of the time – we need friends and colleagues to remind us that, so we don’t hide away and suffer on our own. And you’ve helped me a lot in that too, remember? 🙂

      • always there for you, my colleague … my friend!

        Now, if I could only figure out how to update my avatar for my responses I’ll feel I made progress today! LOL.

    • I’m not quite sure of the context for this, Roland? I referred to Mary Sheridan more as a role-model – I’d say she was also a mentor to a small extent, in the sense of general guidance and the (deep) wisdom or her 70+ years, but not a mentor in the near-full-time sense that I suspect you mean.

      The same has been true for me: over the decades I’ve provided guidance for a lot of people, in a lot of different disciplines and contexts, and certainly intend to continue to do so whenever I’m asked to do so. But I haven’t provided what you might call mentorship in that long-term sense – not least because I haven’t ever stayed around in one place or company long enough to do so.! 🙂

      If you need someone to act as a longer-term mentor for you, let me know, and I’ll look around for someone who can perhaps help to do so.

  3. Happy birthday Tom. Despite all that you’ve already done, I feel the best is yet to come for you, and I look forward to seeing how you change the world. 🙂

  4. Happy Birthday Tom

    As you say you’ve only started!

    Looking forward to whatever the future brings for you. It won’t be boring

    • Many thanks, Paddy! – we still have to arrange that follow-up trip to Dublin, don’t we? – after all, I promised to work on Enterprise Canvas with you, at the least, and that ought to be on the list here… 🙂

  5. Belated happy birthday Tom!
    Retired! Knowing you my friend changes the retirement understanding for many people, and I am one among these people… I cant see you not empowering the knowledge network around you and creating and adding more value to it ..
    Enjoy your non-retirement Tom … I will be always looking for what you are going to innovate and change ..

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