AGE-OF-UNREASONChange is not what it used to be.

One of the more enduring management books is The Age of Unreason, by Charles Handy. It discusses the organization of the future and the importance of “upside – down thinking”. There are many issues in this book that would be excellent topics for discussion; we have chosen to focus on Handy’s observations on two key themes – the rise freelancing (the portfolio worker) and business consequent culture (the shamrock organization).

The New Minority

Handy had observed that people holding full time jobs will fast become a minority. However this does not necessarily mean that the rest of the workforce will be unemployed. He predicted that the number of self employed people would significantly increase giving rise to what in 2007 is known as freelancing in today’s terminology. Freelancers are almost always temporary workers or part timers either by choice or because of circumstances. A large of these freelancing community are homemakers — “whose talents and energies are not completely exhausted or absorbed by their families.” Most of these freelancers have virtual offices and they operate from the comforts of their homes.

Shamrock Organization

Charles Handy defines a shamrock organization as a form of organization that is based around a core of essential executives and workers supported by outside contractors and part time help. Such organization is very much in vogue now for the obvious economic reason: it is cost effective as it lowers the headcount. Consequently, many large corporations are outsourcing their work to specialist contractors and buying their services on a project basis.

Telecommuting has become increasingly popular over the years as it has been witnessed that their productivity is often higher than their counterparts working in offices. Telecommuters take advantage of the fact that it is possible to get work done from home once the necessary communications are in place. Their focus is almost always on specific projects and assignments.

In his inimitable way Handy observes that today organizations will have to be more willing to appreciate that “they are buying the talents of some but not necessarily all their time.” Full time attendance in office will no longer be mandatory as long as work gets done on time and no compromise is made on quality.


Business risk manifests in many shapes and sizes. Altered workforce dynamics is a critical factor that leaders and managers cannot overlook. We believe the larger point that Handy makes though, is about the culture of learning. His reference to upside- down thinking is nothing short of an invitation to embrace humility. ‘Learning becomes the voyage of exploration, of questing and experimenting, that scientists and tiny children know it to be but which we are soon reminded, by parents, teachers and supervisors, can be time-wasting when others already know what we need to learn.’


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