The second curve

I happened to be fortunate enough to attend at a public speech held by Charles Handy and listen to a short summary of his book: The second curve. I think the blogpost this week couldn’t be more actual than this. He used short stories and metaphores in helping us to get a deeper understanding of his philosophy.

First of all: what is the second curve? Now imagine that you are driving in the countryside of Ireland and when you ask for directions to a little village (Avoca), you get the following explanation: first you have to go downhill into a little dip, then drive straight up onto the top of the hill from where you will see Davy’s bar. Did you get that? Now, half a mile before that, turn right, up on the hill and that’s the road taking you to Avoca. And then you realize that you actually supposed to turn right before you arrive to the top of the hill just when you are already in the valley sipping on a coffee at Davy’s bar.



We all have these curves in our lives: we study, gain experiences at a job/position – that’s when we are getting uphill on the curve. Then on the top we get comfortable, sometimes way too comfortable and we don’t see the signs of collaps and downfall. Not only companies should start planning their next product, service, new market while the first curve is still moving upwards but we, individuals as well. If we leave or don’t reshape our current position/relationship until we hate it, then we could end up like Kodak: looking at other companies making great digital cameras though we had the technology first.

Once Charles Handy was asked by a company’s leadership how they could keep the talented young employees. He was told that they would get back to him after he told his ideas, which was the American version of: Get lost. The reason he was told this is because he suggested applying the “doughnut theory” for positions. The good old British one with jam in the middle. What it means in practice: the dough is the frame, the rules, values, priorities, what a leader wants their subordinates to do. The jam is the person who fulfills the job the way he/she finds it best, who makes initiatives to change the world or at least their companies for the best. This could work at an organization where everyone knows everyone, so there shouldn’t be more than 100 people. An organization should give its workers a good life, freedom and happiness. That was the moment when Prof. Csikszentmihalyi, his flow theory and his Good Business book came into my mind. Actually this is what we are doing here with FLIGBY – we are helping leaders to – beside getting to know themselves better – understand how they can build a flow promoting environment that enhances the flourishing of individual skills. How managers should behave? They should know the core jobs and how much discreation they can allow around them and then leave the rest for the employee.

We are all looking for happiness in our lives, but not for the one in Thomas Jefferson’s declaration of independence that actually grants happiness for all white male, but the one that was identified by Aristotle: self fulfillment with a purpose. In other words we should do our best what we are best at for the good of others (including nature).

As in life we are only facing open questions/problems we are actually not prepared for, the school system should be reshaped to meet these challenges. Schools should be designed as Socrates has imagined them hundreds of years ago: asking “why” and about the reasons. Let children find their own answers and solutions while working on projects instead of telling them the answers for already solved problems. Charles Handy doesn’t think that the current school system would disapper but rather new kinds of education will develop around the one that already exist. The new schools will be like: where teachers will give problems to students and let them to solve it while they just go around and check and help if needed.

Even though changes have already started on the bypass and DIY societies emerge, banks still don’t believe in a world without them. People somehow feel that there won’t be enough institutions around them that would protect them so they want to have full control over their own lives and do things on their own.

How one can find where the second curve should lead to and when he/she should step on it? Becoming too comfortable and boring at a position can be a warning sign. Asking your friends, executives what you are really good at and yourself about your real interest/dream is might be already late at this point (top of the hill on the road to Davy’s bar…). Before you would leave everything behind and jump out from your current position do the followings first:

  • Measure how much money is enough for you for a reasonable good life – it can give you freedom.
  • Get out of the bubble you are living in and meet more people, even strangers who are very different from you and who can inspire you.
  • Write down, draw your dreams and see if those still make sense.
  • Ask your friends, executives, coworkers: they might know something about you that you don’t know about yourself. They might see your golden seed, your special talent that you should nourish.
  • Become a butterfly: be self employed, build up a tiny business or do a part time job.
  • Before you start plannig your second curve, you must know who you are and what your priorities are. Composing a still life from 5 objects that are important, tell a story to you and 1 element/object from nature can help you in finding yourself, your real interest. You also should write down your three most important roles in your life. Other roles are more important at different times of life. These roles can be related to money, duties and passion.
  • Don’t be impatient: the gap between the end of the 1st curve and the rise of the 2nd curve is 2 years. The first curve can give money and stability till the 2nd curve starts kicking in.