The Age of Unreason
by Charles Handy
Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press, 1989
George Bernard Shaw observed that the reasonable man adapts himself to the world while the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. In this eloquent and highly readable book, Charles Handy argues that today’s organizations need more unreasonable men and women. In an era when change is constant, random, and –as Handy calls it — discontinuous, it is essential that we break out of traditional ways of thinking in order to use change to our advantage. We have entered the Age of Unreason — a time of great risk, but of even greater opportunity.
Handy shows how dramatic changes are transforming businesses, education, and the nature of work. We can see them in astounding new developments in technology, in the shift in demand from manual to cerebral skills, and in the virtual disappearance of lifelong, full-time jobs. Handy maintains that discontinuous, upside-down thinking. We need new kinds of organizations, new approaches to work, new types of schools, and new ideas about the nature of our society.
Handy provides an incisive look at the kinds of organizations that will thrive in the future: the shamrock organization,” based around a core of essential executives and workers, supported by outside contractors and part-time help; the “federal organization,” with a central function that is concerned primarily with long-term strategy and leaves day-to-day decision making to independent units; and the “Triple I organization” which focuses on intelligence, information, and ideas as primary sources of competitive advantage, Handy graphically illustrates how these changing organizations will affect every aspect of our lives, from how we think about our careers to how we educate our children. He demonstrates that what has worked in the past won’t work in the future; it is time for bold imaginings, for thinking the unlikely and doing the unreasonable.
The Age of Unreason offers profound insights into the world we live in at the end of the twentieth century. It should be read by anyone wondering how to prepare for life in the twenty-first.
Charles Handy is visiting professor at the London Business School and a consultant to a wide variety of organizations in business, government, education, and health. In 1977 he was appointed Warden of St. George’s House in Windsor Castle, and currently he is Chairman of the Royal Society of Arts. His published books include Understanding Organizations, Gods of Management, The Future of Work, and The Making of Managers.“