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on July 25, 2000
I read this book as part of an MBA programme, but it's far, far more than a business book. In a series of self-examination exercises, Handy teaches how we can all reassess our lives and change the way we live and work. All this is achieved in a slim, matter-of-fact volume that puts many other business and management books (as well as the slew of self-help literature) to shame, with its erudition and the well-read eclecticism of its author. Maybe half a dozen books in a lifetime make you change the way you think. If this isn't one of them, there's no hope for you.
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on April 22, 1997
Handy's reasonable tome unveils an argument for becoming questioning, seeking, unreasonable individuals. Written several years ago, Handy's ability to forecast the direction in which businesses are moving (adopting 'cores' and contracting out much of the work) is fascinating. I wonder what I would have thought of this book 8 years ago when it was first published. 'Is he for real?' Charles Handy is very real and so is the future about which he writes
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VINE VOICEon November 28, 2001
I had to both laugh at and give a helpful vote to the review below which accused the author of citing half-baked fragments of myths and anecdotes as evidence. To a certain degree, it's a fair cop, particularly if you're looking for a book which is going to really stunningly predict the future.

_The Age of Unreason_ isn't about predicting the future, it's about training yourself to look at the future in ways that you might otherwise not have done. As such, I found it a valuable and interesting book which is clearly based in a lot of meditation on learning and learning theories.

Some of the things Handy mentioned turned out to have become true since the book was written. Other things didn't-- but it doesn't matter ultimately. What the book asks is this: Can you recognize the real causes for pain that you identify? Can you think differently to force discontinuous change? Is your vision of the future based on an accurate perception of the past, or are you looking past major factors because you don't recognize the role of gradual change?

People who like this book may like some of the books on developing strategies using scenario exercises. This book also contains a decent (if dated) bibliography.
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on December 30, 1996
When considering the jump to independent consulting, this book inspired me to leave the comfort (and confinement) of corporate life.
Handy makes it clear how the business and social trends of today are affecting each of us personally and professionally.
Anytime someone asks me for career advice, I recommend this book!
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on June 30, 2012
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."
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on June 16, 2004
Very though provoking read. Even though written in '89 it has some very topical and relevant ideas. This is by no means a how to book, although there are suggestions and concepts to consider. Rather Handy gives arguments and suggestions on why adaptation to worn out approaches to organizations need to be considered. His writing style is informative without being overbearing, pretty quick read. If someone wants to understand more on why organizations need to adapt their designs and what some of the implications are then this is a good read, although some ideas are unique.
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on December 27, 2007
Age of Unreason appeared more than a decade after Mintzberg's "the Structuring of Organizations." In it Mintzberg described the strategic and technical core and the contingent outer-layers of an organization. This laid the theoretical basis for the dissolution of the fully integrated organization. Even so, while Handy's book is not wholly original it is a significant contribution to the literature, as he explored the implication of Mintzberg's concepts to a greater degree than did Mintzberg and then described the implication for the individual. He then prescribed constant self-investment. Nearly two decades later, his advice is still true. I'd say it's full of prescient insights such as that, even if it is heavily derivative of Mintzberg.
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on May 25, 2015
I bought this book in early 1992, and often think about what Charles Handy said would be the future of work. He was right about most of his predictions, although it took longer for the changes to take place. We are now experiencing major shifts and discontinuity in the labor market again as he predicted would happen, particularly with respect to the fact that many people will find themselves either self-employed, or cobbling together numerous jobs or short term work arrangements in order to fashion sufficient income to meet their living standards. One of his most important predictions was the need for people to educate themselves on a continuous basis in order to keep up with the changing needs of employers. Many people who were still engaged in factory work did not heed this thinking. They have been left without the ability to meet the requirements necessary to obtain and hold full-time positions with companies offering decent wages and benefits to their employees. He begins Chapter 2 by writing, "Less than half of the work force in the industrial world will be in "proper" full-time jobs in organizations by the beginning of the twenty-first century (Year 2001). Those full timers or insiders will be the new minority, just when we had begun to think that proper jobs were the norm for everyone." Although he missed on the date, he was right about what would happen to the organization structure, and more importantly to the workers who receive income from the organization...a small group of core employees surrounded by concentric circle of 'workers' including long-term contract workers, then short term contract workers, and then basically day laborers.
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on February 3, 2013
This book is one of my all time favourites. Handy is a management guru of the yesteryears but what he says is applicable for life itself. It makes us sit up and appreciate change and gear up to embrace it. The book is very simply written and very worth reading.
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on January 22, 2003
This book was a major inspiration behind CEO John Browne's revamping of oil giant BP during the 1990s -- paring the compay to its "core business," massively down-sizing and out-sourcing the "lower links of the value chain." Multitudes of engineers were laid off, those functions then performed more cheaply by contractors.

So, how is BP doing, these days? Any industrial accidents to speak of?
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