'We're moving to a gig economy, where most people will bid for jobs' - Charles Handy

YOU LIVE AND LEARN: The management guru on the Bible, dealing with change and having more time on our hands.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 01 Apr 2016

When I joined Shell, they said they hoped I'd have a very long and happy life with them. But after 10 years, they told me to run a company in Liberia, which wasn't me, so I moved on. It would have been disastrous. I'd have had my big company career, probably taken early retirement, got a good handicap and then died at the age of 70.

I spent the next 10 years teaching at London Business School. At the time, there was no language of management. There were no books on it in England until I wrote Understanding Organizations in 1976. I left because you can't learn management from a book. We should treat it like any other profession, a mix of tutored apprenticeships and classroom.

We spend too much time reacting instead of actually creating stuff and thinking about how to do things differently. Being overloaded with information is quite stimulating, but it's hard to focus in a multitasking world.

Management treats people like human resources, bits of engineering. People don't like that, and it's being automated out with technology. The age of organisations is coming to an end. They'll exist as weightless platforms, but not as major employers. Instead, we're moving to a gig economy, where most people will be self-employed and bid for jobs like an electrician does.

An awful lot of people won’t have much money and productivity will go down, so the consumer economy isn’t going to work very well. It’s why the living wage is terribly important. Unless you don’t pay people properly, they won’t have enough money to be consumers.

It was terrifying striking out on my own in the mid-70s. I had to go out hunting for clients, but I wasn't sure what I was selling them. I was calling myself a management trainer. Luckily my wife's a better businessperson than I am and started asking for outrageous sums of money. As I say in The Second Curve, it takes two years of struggle to change. You'd be well advised to start when the current job's going well.

The Bible has been incredibly influential in my life. Whether he existed or not, Jesus was a great storyteller. I try to come up with visual metaphors - shamrock, doughnut. People remember them. At one conference, people wore shamrock T-shirts. I said, 'Oh you're Irish.' They said, 'No, that's the name of our organisation, the Shamrock Organisation - we read your book.'

We can't avoid change, so we might as well be positive about it. In the future, we may have less money, but so much in life is free - walking in the woods, talking, increasingly music and reading. We may live more like old people do, where time is abundant. It won't be good for the Exchequer, but it could make life more interesting.

The Second Curve: Thoughts on Reinventing Society by Charles Handy is published by Random House Business at £14.99

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