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Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason (1989)Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason (1989)


Irish oil executive who became a London Business School professor and renowned business philosopher (pictured right).


See also...

Charles Handy in the Management Gurus section. 


Book summary

 Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason (1989)

What is discontinuous change?

Where the future bears no relation to the past because of radical change 

This is happening now in the Age of Unreason.


How to make change happen


a) overcome resistance to change

Welcome change so that you can use it to your advantage.

 Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason (1989)

b) challenge yourself and get out of the comfort zone

Avoid the boiled frog syndrome (pictured right) where the frog dies when slowly heating it in cold water.


c) upside-down thinking

(see below)

 Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason (1989)

What is upside-down thinking?

1. Challenging the status quo.

2. Thinking the unlikely and doing the unreasonable.

3. Turning conventional wisdom upside-down.


The results of upside-down thinking

1. New ideas.

2. New rules for living (e.g. valuing time, not money, work-life balance)  

3. New language (e.g. house-husband, single parent families) 


Future organizations

 Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason (1989)

1. Shamrock organization

This has three parts (or leaves, pictured right):

  • full-time or core workforce (small and highly skilled). 

  • part-time and temporary employees.

  • outside contractors. 

The emphasis is on flexibility -

a) working at home

(so that the office becomes a social meeting place)

b) quickly responding to customer requirements.


2. Federal organization

This is a mixture of: Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason (1989)

  • central control of common activities (like strategy and finance). 

  • autonomous units.

(similar to Peters and Waterman's loose-tight organization)

People are given the power to make their own decisions (the principle of subsidiarity), so authority over others must be earned.

 Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason (1989)

3. Triple I organization

This has:

  • customer value created by intelligence, information and ideas.

  • knowledge workers (requiring empowerment, education and training) 


4. Caring organization

This is an organization which cares for individual employees and their learning and development.


Future careers - portfolio living

In response to shorter careers in full-time employment, people must embrace portfolio living where people have five different types of work in their lives:

 Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason (1989)

1. Wage (or salary) work

(paid for time given).


2. Fee work

(paid for results).

 Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason (1989)

3. Homework

(all the jobs for home and family).


4. Gift work

(work done for free like charity work).


5. Study work

(education and training).

 Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason (1989)


Your future is what you make it, so live the dream.


Key quotes on change

The times are changing and we must change with them.

In an age of unreason there can be no certainty.


Key quote on the past, present and future

We are all prisoners of our past.


Key quote on management and leadership

Trust has to be earned, but in order to be earned, it must first be given. 


Key quote on learning and creativity

Thinking the unthinkable is a way of getting the wheel of learning moving.

Learning...is solving our own problems for our own purposes.  


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