The roots of the ‘second curve’ are found by challenging ‘sacred givens’

I’m writing this on a train. I’ve just bought my ticket and these days, that means using my senior railcard to secure a discount. These concessions are great, but they remind me I have at best just 20 useful years ahead of me before decrepitude and eventually death take me out of the game.

Inevitably, age can introduce a degree of cynicism, not least because many of the ‘latest big things’ have been big things years before. Technology inevitably gives them a fresh slant, but the underlying human behaviours that shape our society remain as cyclic as ever.

Of course even Christmas is new when experienced for the first time. I’m looking forward to seeing the wonder in my young godson’s eyes when he enjoys his first proper festive season. The challenge as we grow older, is not to allow our past to influence the future of others. Each generation has to learn from their own experience, not rely on the alleged wisdom of those more senior.

As a social entrepreneur I’m constantly pushing boundaries. That perfect storm of growing demand for public services, diminishing funding and a nation of people ever willing to abdicate responsibility for the ills around them, is I think new. We have never been here before and applying trusted solutions no longer fixes familiar problems.

Which brings me to my current good read. I’ve known Charles Handy and his wife Elizabeth for more than ten years. They live fairly near to me and I’ve long charted my journey as an author against his. Unlike me, Charles has introduced some new phrases to the English language. He fest coined the phrase ‘portfolio career’, which describes how I, and many others work today.

So how does Handy, now past 80, see the future? His latest book, ‘The Second Curve’ was published this year and is, as one would expect, reflective in style and at times very personal. Indeed recognising that attentions spans are shorter today, Handy has written the book as a sequence of self contained, 3,000 word chapters or essays. In his introduction he encourages his reader to graze the book in an ‘a la carte’ style, rather than conventionally, from front to back.

Reassuringly, Handy reflects my own view that we all need to begin our future from a different starting point than the recent past. He talks about the need for paradigm shifts, many of which we are seeing around us right now.

We cannot succeed singlehandedly, he points out, describing how vital is is to have someone recognise your talents and introduce you to what you don’t yet know, but that they know deep down will help you discover your sense of purpose in life. He’s written about these ‘golden seeds’ before.

It is perhaps a benefit of being older that people will accept golden seeds from you more readily. Many regard peer encouragement as in some way competitive. When you pass 60, you no longer need to prove anything. Instead you can focus on making the world a better place.

Encouragingly, Handy also suggests that material economic growth cannot continue to be a realistic measure of success. For me, the roots of the ‘second curve’ he forecasts are to be found by challenging some of those sacred givens that have long shaped our aspirations.

The simple fact of life we all come to discover in time, is that it’s our impact on others, not the accumulation of ‘stuff’ that delivers true contentment.


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Richard Hull
Richard Hull
8 years ago

Great post Robert.
Sounds like you and Charles Handy are coming round to the De-Growth arguments – see here for instance and here

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