Charles Handy is moving on
I am bemused by all this fuss over exam results.
When I took my driving test, nobody was interested in my experience as a cyclist; they said it was a different experience, quite right too. So I had to take another series of tests to get a driving licence.
When I applied to study Classics at Oriel College, Oxford, they took no notice of my five distinctions at Higher Certificate level, what are now called A-levels. They said it wasn’t relevant. At Oxford they were going to teach me to think and they wanted to know how I would manage if I had to think on my own. How would I deal with a question like ‘Why do we work?’ for which any knowledge I acquired at A-levels would be totally irrelevant?
So I had to take their exam, which was very difficult. And then I got my first class degree of which I was very proud and went to apply to Shell, who took no notice of it. They asked me to do their own business studies tests. And I understood why. When I took my first job with them, running their operations in Borneo, in East Asia, my knowledge of Greek and Latin was of no use at all whereas my experience of doing their case studies was relevant.
So, test on admission, not on exit, is my philosophy.
But, there is a more important point here and that is: should the past be your guide to the future? I hope not, because if it is, nothing would ever change. Tomorrow would be like yesterday, next year like last year.
Of course there are people who would wish it was that way; that everything remained the same or that, as one person put it to me, “the status quo should be the way forward.” I think that’s horrible.
When I wake up in the morning, I think with relief that it’s a new day, a chance to reinvent myself, to be more imaginative, to be more adventurous, to be kinder, nicer, more interesting. Not the same old boring chap that I was yesterday. And the same with next year – next year will be better than last year because I shall be more interesting and I’ll be more adventurous.
So, how well I did in one experience is not a guide to how I do in the next experience. I hope I will do better. Because it will be different.
So please don’t rate people by how they did in the experience before last because it’s irrelevant. Riding a bicycle gives you no clue how to drive a car.
And please remember, tomorrow is another opportunity to be different from who you were yesterday.
Charles Handy’s books on management have sold over a million copies and have changed the way we view business and society. His latest book, 21 Letters, is now available in paperback and on audiobook. Read more here. Charles suffered a stroke in 2019 following the death of his wife in a car crash in 2018. This piece was dictated to his carer.