Charles Handy – The Second Curve, thoughts on reinventing society
I have been a big fan of Charles Handy and his writing for a long time, from the late ‘90s when Understanding Organisations, his first book, was a course book on a post-graduate business certificate. Forward in time to the present day and 20 books later I had the pleasure of hearing Handy talk about his latest book The Second Curve.
Let me be clear, Handy is not particularly into technology, but he does unerringly spot trends in IT and their impact on our workplace, schools, government and our social lives. This is in some respects a typical Handy book – insightful, learned, rich in life experience and metaphor. However, it also provides something different, a broader perspective on where we are and where we are going, essentially the state of the nation (UK) and the world in 2016. He also provides tantalizing hints to his earlier books and writings on greek gods, doughnuts, shamrocks, elephants and fleas! See his bibliography here.
A paper eBook
Handy is also trying to appeal to a different younger audience with short chapters as standalone essays, useful to be read (consumed) on different media, maybe on a train, whilst watching TV, or sitting in an Uber car or even a driverless car?! Handy is preparing for the inevitable future where real books are marginalized, notwithstanding the recent rise in sales figures, so the death knell hasn’t tolled yet.
Each of the 16 essays picks on a specific topic and uses the powerful lens of the Second Curve to suggest problems and possible near-future solutions.
Let me explain.
The first (left-hand) curve follows a typical cycle of product development from inception to maturity to eventual market saturation, stagnation or redundancy. The second curve starts before the current approach, career, product or technology has peaked.
Starting a second curve is the challenge that Handy lays down for individuals, organizations and nations, to think differently and take positive action. There is a danger that the familiar and successful status quo becomes a trap and prevents more radical forward thinking. It is brave to make a decision and take positive steps to change before the current curve peaks and starts to drop-off.
One of the examples quoted by Hardy was Apple, which, during the golden Jobs years progressively broke the mould, creating new innovative consumer electronics products, almost as a deliberate disruption to their successful core business (at the time)…iPod, iPhone, iPad were ground-breaking and gambled on getting new Customers and converting existing Customers to new technologies and incompatible platforms. What future the new Apple, have they missed the next second curve? The bigger the company (or state or civilization) the harder the fall, according to Handy there is no escape from the sigmoid S-shaped curve.
What’s the worst that can happen?
Again, Handy gives us an allegory, the rueful drinkers at Davy’s bar regretting mistakes and not taking a side road before it was too late. They missed the turning, didn’t see the signposts, or were too wary/scared/lazy/blinkered to their possible alternative future…I’m sure we all recognize some of these behaviours? Making big changes is never easy, but it’s much better from a position of strength, on the front foot, allowing time to develop something new, maybe making mistakes and missteps, but allowing the investment to bear fruit before the old 1st curve peaks and becomes a financial and psychological millstone, making the new 2nd curve harder to achieve.
Following a few snippets and observations from the book.
The DIY Society and the New Disruption
This isn’t new, there have been previous massively disruptive technologies such as printing – Handy’s example – but also the revolutions that begat the agricultural, industrial & computer/information ages, although sometimes these patterns can only be seen retrospectively. Each revolution, broadly-speaking, can bring new freedoms but also consequences; old orders collapse, people are displaced, some skills and jobs are made redundant.
100 years ago none of us would have called ourselves Information workers, but now a lot of us in our work and social life do nothing but create or process information in its many forms.
The Internet and mobile paradigm shifts in the last 25 years are doing the same, but from inside the eye of the storm it’s a bit unsettling. More people are – and will continue to – work for themselves, at home, in smaller organizations or shared workspaces or everywhere! Markets are more globalized and fast-moving. The DIY society is about being self-sufficient, having more control (although it may not feel like it), being more connected and community-focused, going from dependence on an employer and big centralized government and services to being more independent and self-reliant in work, finances and education.
Golden Seeds and the Schools of the Future
This is theme that Handy has used a lot in his books, the challenge between narrow, formal education in an academic sense, and the recognition of different intelligence types and innate abilities, the Golden Seeds of personal success and fulfillment, such as Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences:
- Linguistic [intelligence]
(Ed. and this list doesn’t even include creativity!)
The first two form the core of traditional education and most measures of IQ, the last two jointly Emotional Intelligence or EQ. In fact all 7/8 are valuable in different combinations, none are mutually exclusive and all can be found in the world of IT and new digital careers. Yes really!
Moreover the individuals, serial entrepreneurs, the self-starters, the homeworkers, the micro-companies and information workers of the future will define their own personal success with or without a Bachelors Degree.
I will return to some of these ideas as I explore eLearning and learning styles in future articles.
Other than a being fascinating read – in my humble opinion – what does all this matter, this navel- and crystal-ball gazing? Because, in Handy’s words:
We all have a contract with ourselves
With or without a religious interpretation we all have opportunities in life (if not a duty) to be the best that we can be, to be selfish and selfless where necessary, to have a virtuous and good life (or as Aristotle put it, to seek eudaimonia). I am happy to seek the advice of wise, successful and contented philosophers and seers like Charles Handy.
And what’s more reading makes you cleverer and live longer; and we all need to be cleverer in all sorts of ways to face future challenges and find and embrace our own second curves, and we will live longer to enjoy the benefits of our newfound free individualistic lives!
© 2016 IT elementary school