Sep 04, 2016

Some Reflections on Handy’s ‘Second Curve’

Harsh Mohan

Corporate executive, consultant, academician, trainer, sociologist, philosopher, forecaster, author, management guru, thought leader…. The adjectives are endless, the background eclectic and the output of books prolific. That’s Charles Handy for you.

At 84 years, he is razor sharp and his latest book The Second Curve bears testimony to this. In the book, he anticipates major changes in society, schools, universities, families, work places, organisations, corporates, friendships, marriages, work lives and retirements (including pensions) in the near future. These charges will bring about major disruptions but also a host of opportunities.

The Second Curve is not one book but a collection of 16 seminal essays equivalent to 16 books. The profound insights into life, work, human behavior and organisations are penned in 16 chapters covering:

The Second Curve 1 Chapter
Society 9 Chapters
Management 5 Chapters
Education 1 Chapter

The crux of the book is ‘change’. Major changes will require a transformation in behaviour and lifestyles, and will need human beings to adapt and react to the new environment. Changes will also bring in new opportunities.

Of special interest to managers and management students is the essay on The Workplace. Handy has compared the present and future workplace as below:

Ch. 4 The Workplace

Present Future
Routine jobs Algorithms & computer controlled
Expensive offices (fixed) Laptops / Smartphones (Mobile)
Fixed ways & timings Range of ways & flexible
Employment Contract (fleas)
Fixed compensation Bargaining power of talent
Male dominated Opportunities for women (Flexi)
Retirement (Age) Engagement (leverage talent)
Structured / physical Networked / virtual

There are some serious implications for organisations, individual workers, the Government and academicians as a result of the changes in the workplace.

  • For Organisations :
    • Flatter organisations
    • Automation of routine tasks
    • Contractual employees
    • Diversity in the workforce
    • Virtual networked teams
    • Flexible systems, procedures & policies
  • For Workers
    • Higher skills (quicker obsolescence)
    • Bargaining power of talent
    • Lifelong learning
    • Technical skills along with business development capabilities
    • Better opportunities for women
  • For Government
    • Longer life & work spans will require more social benefits (pensions / social security)
    • Better information systems  (IT)
    • More efficient infrastructure and utilities
    • Changes in taxation for individuals and corporates
    • Role of facilitator and enabler vs. watchdog & controller.
  • For Management Educators
    • Changes in programme architecture
    • Focus on blended learning
    • Industry relations
    • More focus on skills & attitudes vs. knowledge
    • Developing lifelong learning skills

As Handy says, change is inevitable. Practitioners, academicians and the government will need to find ways to respond to change. The process may be incremental, by objective or radical.

If you are a manager or leader, I would suggest an important first step on this journey of change. Share Chapter 4 with your leadership team and HR team. Use this to brainstorm.

What changes in the workplace would they like to see in one year? What is the workplace they would like to see in five years? How can this workplace solve some of the problems they are facing today?

The best way to prepare for the future is to understand its possibilities, and then work towards proactively shaping your own future.

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