Worth revisiting: Charles Handy’s The Age of Unreason
- Posted by Intersect International
- On October 8, 2015
- CEOs, change, chief executives, Economy, learning
We’re scanning what’s out there so you invest your time in the really great pieces. This week Associate Partner Dr Janice Simpson blogs about a book she believes is definitely worth revisiting. Read on to find out why.
“It was with some trepidation that I revisited this 1989 book: Charles Handy’s The Age of Unreason. When I first read it, I was a young consultant working in loose affiliation with a networked organization. I was just starting a shift into a role in a global corporation that came with a title and salary band that placed me precisely in the hierarchy, dictating my office size and career path and to whom I was allowed to talk. The work was exciting and my colleagues great, but I found the work environment very weird. This book helped me understand it, while also giving me the courage to question everything that didn’t make sense to me. Decades later, would it feel insightful or dated?
To some extent, both. There are chapters that feel like quaint relics of interest only to historians. But it’s laced with ideas that still resonate and questions that are still important to ask.
Handy’s book is aimed at the executives who thrive in these large corporations. His view then was that changes in the nature of work (the knowledge economy) and emerging technology were triggering a period of discontinuous change that would radically alter how we think about everything from organizations to careers to education to marriages to how a country distributes wealth. Progress in this world would depend on the “unreasonable” men and women who habitually engage in the kind of “upside-down thinking” that brings about necessary change. They would not be boiled frogs.
Just a taste of the gems:
- The wheel of learning: What if we thought of “changing” as another word for “learning”? If you want to be in control of your change, take learning more seriously. True learning starts with a question that fascinates the learner. But like a child asking “why?” some find it hard to turn the wheel beyond the question, to find a possible answer, test it, reflect on the learning. Some spend their lives providing answers to questions nobody has asked. Others jump to action – attacking a problem with whatever tools are at hand – without questioning and thinking. Too few chief executives allow time for the reflection that turns their list of achievements into a personal philosophy of leadership.
- Shamrock organizations: More and more organizations will look like a shamrock. The first leaf is the professional core, the essential full-time workers with the knowledge that gives the company its advantage. The second leaf is what today we’d call outsourcing partners. The third is the flexible workforce: part-time and temporary workers. It’s a model that makes good economic sense, but it’s hard to lead because now you have three workforces rather than one. Each has a different kind of commitment, a different contractual relationship, a different set of expectations. Executives will need to learn how to manage all three.
- Portfolio lives: In the changing economy, fewer people will devote the vast majority of their waking hours to fighting their way up the corporate ladder only to topple off it the day they retire. What if we thought of our lives as a portfolio that might contain paid work (wage work and fee work) and free work (homework, gift work and study work)? What if we consciously shifted the balance at various points in our lives just as we do with our investment portfolios? What if we offered our up-and-comers more flexibility to do so? What if we lost that R-word altogether?
Handy was born in 1932. His 20th book, The Second Curve came out this year. Next on my list is to discover what he’s thinking today.”