The Handy Challenge

The Handy Challenge

Charles Handy, former Royal Dutch Shell executive and London Business School professor, once again challenges leaders to reinvent society, including businesses and governments.

Take a walk. Preferably somewhere you can let your mind wander as your body wanders. Perhaps in park or other urban greenspace. Perhaps in some farmland. Or on a quiet canopied forest trail. Or on a beach, quiet save for the sounds of waves and the breeze and the paws of your yellow Lab.

Talk a walk. And after you do, outdoors or inside, settle in to read some Charles Handy. Not just any Charles Handy, although there are more than a dozen provocative books from which to choose.

The Second Curve, by Charles HandyTurn to his latest book, a collection of essays entitled The Second Curve (London: Random House Books, 2015). Let this former Royal Dutch Shell executive and London Business School professor and now self-described social philosopher share his thoughts with you. His thoughts on reinventing society, including businesses and governments.

Handy will challenge you. He has this notion that there’s a natural rising and falling to all individual and collective activity. He has this notion of pursuing new direction, a second curve, before the first curve peaks. “The Second Curve is our chance to make up for any shortcomings on the first curve, to redeem ourselves and to show we have learnt from the past in order to create a better future,” he claims. Indeed, for companies and all who work in them, growing “different rather than bigger” can be “more satisfying, and often more profitable,” Handy contends.

Lest his notions seem inadvisable messing with actual or potential success, Handy insists that individuals, groups, governments, communities, and companies all “need to challenge orthodoxy, think unreasonably and dare the impossible if we are going to have any chance of making the future work for all of us, not just those favoured few.”

...Handy will challenge you with his several searching questions."

Charles Handy will challenge you with his several searching questions: Is more always better? Should businesses and other organizations be more democratic? Do we need a new capitalism? What is the nature of work? What is learning and how does it differ from thinking?

Charles Handy asks, “Is it not time to return to the idea of a business as a responsible community that pays due heed to all its constituents, one whose core purpose must be to seek immortality through continuous self-improvement and investment?”

The answer is not a simple “yes” or “no,” for Handy’s question is far more complex. He is challenging all who would engage him in dialogue—and those who would not—to examine principles as seemingly abstract as justice and fairness and as everyday as profits and losses.

He challenges all those who would lead, for those who would talk, for those who would walk the talk, to do more than think about the second curve. He challenges us to explore the paths yet untraveled. To confront the different and to make a difference.


This is another in a series of occasional essays by John S. McClenahen, an award-winning writer and photographer who for four decades covered international economics, public policy, and management principles for IndustryWeek.

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