The Second Curve: Thoughts on Reinventing Society by Charles Handy

Second Curve
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Back in the days when I was a business librarian, Charles Handy’s books on management — Understanding Organisations, Gods of Management, The Future of Work, and The Empty Raincoat to name just a few — were among the most frequently requested titles on the shelves.

Born in Co Kildare, Ireland in 1932, Charles Handy is a philosopher, author and management ‘guru’ whose views have changed the way many people view business and society. He makes no apology for being provocative: “If my suggestions seem outrageous, ill-considered or dangerous then so much the better.”

In his latest book, The Second Curve, Handy sets out his vision of how society, governments, business and economies will change over the next 20 years. He believes that many things that work today will not continue to work into the future and argues that now is the time to embark on a ‘Second Curve’.

“The Western world seems to have gone into retirement mode, settling for a cautious life after the financial scares of the last decade, hoping that the comfortable life we had become used to will soon return if we only keep our nerve. The reality, however, is that we can neither bring back the past nor prolong the present indefinitely. When the world changes around us we have to change as well…”

Change comes about slowly often triggered by conversations. The Second Curve — a collection of 16 essays covering themes related to society, the workplace, the market, democracy, capitalism, the just society and education among others — aims to trigger conversations in its readers. In each essay, Handy assesses where we are now, forecasts what the future may hold and suggests how we — individually and collectively — might set out to map the way forward.

“The Second Curve is our chance to make up for any shortcomings on the first curve, to redeem ourselves and to show that we have learnt …”

Handy challenges many prevailing attitudes. For example, on economic growth he argues that we need a better measure than GDP. He is a fan of the economist Diana Coyle who, in her book GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History, suggests that policymakers should adopt a dashboard of measures. Growth, he suggests, is a simplistic goal. Instead, society should focus on measurements that take into account flaws as well as success and encourage the idea of “enough”.

“Better not bigger“, he says. Indeed, he goes so far as to suggest dismantling some large organisations into their component parts and makes the case for “a new emphasis in business and government on becoming better without becoming bigger, by working together without controlling.”

Improved life expectancy means working lives — and retirements — are longer than ever. The lucky, Handy himself among them, have the opportunity to enjoy more than one career. Sometimes illness or forced redundancy trigger the individual’s second curve, sometimes individuals themselves look at their future prospects in a particular institution and decide that there is nothing to wait around for, opting instead to reinvent their careers before it is too late. Handy sees a bright future for individuals carving out new careers in an economy powered by what he terms, “fleadom” or self-employment and where the more successful of these small ventures then create work for other individuals.

Just as Handy challenges traditional views of the society and the workplace, so he also challenges the market — “an unquestioning belief in the power of the market to organise our lives is dangerous”. He is no fan of the bonus culture — “To me it seems demeaning to have to be bribed to do your best in your job” — arguing that the priority given to shareholder value in the 1970s distorted the priorities of managers and created a harmful emphasis on the short term.

Capitalism and democracy are uneasy bedfellows, he suggests and “if the former is to survive it must be seen to benefit all not just a favoured few”.

Handy believes that we can do better, individually and collectively if we rethink our various roles — student, parent, worker, voter —recognising that to make change happen, the starting point is ourselves.

[Disclosure: An advance review copy (ARC) of The Second Curve: Thoughts on Reinventing Society by Charles Handy was made available by the publisher Random House UK/Cornerstone via Netgalley

Reputation Management in the Digital Economy

In the digital age, your reputation is a valuable asset. All kinds of people can access all kind of information about you with — or without — your permission. Reputation management is increasingly important and learning to manage our reputation is a skill we all need to learn. Get it right, and the world is your oyster, says Michael Fertik author of The Reputation Economy : How to optimise our digital footprint in a world where your reputation is your most valuable asset.

Get it wrong? Don’t panic. Reputation management can be learned. Fertik shares advice to help you know when to set the record straight and when to simply move on. Balance out the negative by crafting and managing positive messages that enhance your digital reputation across all the platforms you use — professional and personal.

Fertik points out that data stored about you has an indefinite lifespan and can show up anywhere, anytime. Not only that, but more and more, we’re all being scored on the data that’s held — scored for our customer value, our credibility, even our health and longevity. The scorer is a computer and our achievements that count are the ones that can be measured — that we increased sales by x%, decreased employee turnover by x%., and so on.

Reputation Economy Michael Fertik
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Friends matter too. Got the wrong kind? Watch out, that could affect you in ways you weren’t expecting. But the good news is that reputation, like the stock markets, goes through highs and lows so if your’s takes a hit, don’t give up.

The Reputation Economy is readable, relevant and full of practical insights and tips. We all have reputations and this a good guide to learning how to mind them.

The Reputation Economy by Michael Ferkik and David Thompson is published by Piatkus.