Charles Handy: The Curve of Life

Charles Handy, one of the great living management thinkers today, is a visiting fellow here in Claremont at the Drucker School (named after its most famous professor – Peter Drucker). Rick Wartzman, head of attached think tank called The Drucker Institute, wrote in his recent newsletter about Charles Handy’s "Curve of Life." I found this a simple but powerful explanation for why people and organizations need to continually reinvent themselves.


Curve3 “This is the curve of life,” declared Charles Handy. “This is the curve of everything.” Indeed, this little wave can describe the life cycle of a product, the ups and downs of a political candidate, the ebb and flow of a business—even the story of one’s own life.

But all life need not be measured by a single rise and fall. “You can maybe have a second curve, and a third curve,” Handy explained. The trick, he said, is that “you have to choose the next curve before the first curve peaks so that you have enough resources coming in to experiment…because it always takes about two years from the beginning of a new curve until the point where it transcends the peak of the old."
Curve2
Trouble is, too many people and organizations fail to seek new curves until it’s too late. As Handy put it: "They wait until they see death staring them in the face before they start trying to find their next curve."

The central dilemma of the curve of life is, in other words, is knowing when to get off in time to prepare for the second curve.

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