Keywords that jump at you from the Age of the Absurd are “change,” “discontinuity,” “upside down thinking,” and “uncertainty.” The changes that have occurred in the past twenty years have been enormous and have challenged our comfortable perceptions of the world. Handy outlines how organizations and individuals must learn to deal with changing patterns of work. The book flows from argument to analysis and through theory to practical examples of how the future works, as Handy sees it. This book would have been written today and still has currency and importance as a road map to an uncertain future.
The Age of the Absurd may be open to criticism as an idealized vision of how members of a dynamic and adaptable society should deal with the discontinuous change that quantum leaps in technology have forced upon us. Those who have embraced lifelong learning and most certainly most MBAs will fall into this category, they are intelligent and can count on their own resources to succeed in turbulent times. It’s not clear how the less fortunate will thrive or even survive, though the author has issued good warnings about creating a divisive society.
When Handy was originally outlining his vision of flexible workers and entrepreneurs, the average person hadn’t heard of the internet, cell phones weighing about a kilogram, and the world of work still known to our ancestors. Now, with the ubiquitous web, rapid telecommunications links and rapid change in attitude toward business practices, his vision is the truth. Many of them now have what Handy calls portfolio jobs. I am writing this from my home as broadband connections have allowed me to manage my bank account, advertise my services as an advisor and view the sad remnants of my stock portfolio with little effort. His vision of a “shamrock organization,” consisting of a core of experts served by outside organizations and part-time contractors, was realized, and technology made it possible.
In Handy’s view, the few of us who now work will end our careers with a gold hour after forty years of continuous service with one employer. Three parts of the book are titled; Change, work and live. By combining these we reach a satisfactory balance where portfolio career is complemented by portfolio compensation, which is measured by self-actualization as well as financial reward. Handy’s innovative approach, or inverted thinking, as he calls it, extends to education. His views are radical. Schools will have individual contracts with students to provide an essential service. There will then be an area of assessment or specialization, where the student can choose a range of options.
Hindsight is remarkable, and thus a review of this work thirteen years after its publication allowed for distinctive insight. One thing that is impressive and must be emphasized. Handy’s Journey is one that he personally took. Once you’ve finished “The Age of Unreason,” think about the lessons learned, then read “The Elephant and the Flea,” (2001), where he describes how independent life worked for him. This is a more meditative and philosophical work than The Age of the Absurd but the two can be considered milestones in a rich and varied life. Handy succeeds in painting an attractive picture of a future where many can work from home using our talents to their full and diverse potential. Read The Age of Unreason and imagine how Handy’s vision can work for you. Haven’t any of us dreamed of getting up in the morning and traveling 10 yards down the driveway to our home office? Now, where do I wear the striped robe?