I recently finished reading The Age of Unreason by Charles Handy.
As best described by the author: “The purpose of this book is to promote a better understanding of the changes which are already about us, in order that we may, as individuals or as a society, suffer less and profit more.Changes, after all, is only another word for growth, another synonym for learning. We can all do it, and enjoy it, if we want to. The story or argument of this book rests on three assumptions:
1) That the changes are different this time: they are discontinuous and not part of a pattern; such discontinuity happens from time to time in history, although it is confusing and disturbing, particularly to those in power.
2) that is is the little changes which can in fact make the biggest differences to our lives, even if these go unnoticed at the time, and that is is the changes in the way our work is organized which will make the biggest differences to the way we all will live; and
3) that discontinuous change requires discontinuous upside-down thinking to deal with it, even if both thinkers and thoughts appear absurd at first sight.”
The book covers the various aspects that these changes affect including professional (organizations where we work), personal, and government. The author’s main objective is: “If people start to think unreasonably and try to shape their world the way they think it ought to be, then I shall be content.”
A very deep and insightful analysis of the world we are living in, and the necessary shift in the way we think and act within it. The breadth of areas covered in this book and its completeness are to be commended.
Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:
1- “It is best, I realized, to think of learning as a wheel divided into four parts: questions, theories, testing, and reflections. I describe it as a wheel to emphasize that it is meant to go round and round. One set of questions, duly answered and tested and reflected upon, leads on to another.”
2- “Learning is not just knowing the answers…It does not help you to change, or to grow, it does not move the wheel…Learning is not the same as study, nor the same as training…It is a cast of mind, a habit of life, a way of thinking about things, a way of growing…Learning is not automatic, it requires energy, thought, courage and support…Learning is not for the intellectuals, who often shine at the theorizing stage, but are incurious and unadventurous and therefore add little to their experience as they go through life. Learning is not finding out what other people already know, but is solving our own problems for our own purposes, by questioning, thinking and testing until the solution is part of our lives.”
3- “I am suggesting, on the basis of good evidence, that those who learn best and most, and change most comfortably, are those who a) take responsibility for themselves and for their future; b) have a clear view of what they want that future to be; c) want to make sure they get it; and d) believe they can.”
4- “…the organization of today is made up of three very different expectations, managed differently, paid differently, organized differently…The first leaf of the shamrock represents the core workers…these are the people who are essential to the organization. These are the people who are essential to the organization. Between them they own the organizational knowledge which distinguishes that organization from its counterparts…If the core is smaller, who then does the work? Increasingly, it is contracted out to organizations I call the second leaf of the shamrock…The third leaf of the shamrock is the flexible labor force, all those part-time workers and temporary workers who are the fastest growing part of the employment scene.”
5- “Alongside the emerging shamrock organization we can discern the gradual development of the federal organization…Federalism seeks to make it big by keeping it small, or at least independent, combining autonomy with cooperation. It is the method which businesses are slowly, and painfully, evolving for getting the best of both worlds – the size which gives them clout in the marketplace and in the financial centers, as well as some economies of scale, and the small unti size which gives them the flexibility which they need, as well as the sense of community for which individuals increasingly hanker.”
6- “The Japanese have a nice way of developing their high-potential young people. They actually have a fast-track route for them, but instead of it being a vertical fast-track up though the organization, it is a horizontal fast-track, a succession of different jobs, real jobs with tough standards to be met, but all at the same level. The advantages are that not only does the yound person get a wider view of the organization, he or she gets a chance to test our their talents and skills in a wide variety of roles.”
7- “The new formula for success, and for effectiveness is I3=AV, where I stands for Intelligence, Information, and Ideas, and AV means added value in cash or in kind.”
8- “The research made it clear that there is no optimal pattern for a marriage. All patterns are possible. It seems essential to have a joint understanding of what the pattern is, how and when it might change, what the consequences are for living in a certain patterns and what are the costs and benefits. People clearly can change their pattern and what are the costs and benefits. People clearly can change their pattern if both parties want to. Separation and divorce often seem to occur because one partner wants to change the pattern and the other does not.”
9- “The upside-down school would make study more like work, based on real problems to be solved or real tasks to be done, in groups of mixed ages and different types of ability, all of them useful.”
10- “Inevitably, now, government will have increasingly to deal direct with individuals rather than with organizations, will have to rethink the categories it puts people into, and find some new ways to organize the collection and distribution of wealth if the organization cannot do it for them.”
11- “The Age of Unreason is inevitably going to be something of an exploration, but exploring is at the heart of learning, and of changing and of growing. This is what I believe, and this is what gives me hope.”