cover
ISBN: 1591391288

Charles Handy’s books, classified as Business 330, ought to be classified as Society and Philosophy.

The ‘Elephants’ here are the organisations while the ‘Fleas’ are those who choose to be independent from organisations.

That when you receive a salary, you are being paid for your time and that the organisation owns your time. When you work as a ‘Flea’, you are being paid for your services regardless of your time.

Clearly, his wife was his partner and advisor. I thought “for every husband who is a dreamer, you need a wife who can bring him down to earth”.

This book reads like an essay, or several essays, touching on capitalism, to the nature and future development of work, about society at large, self-fulfilment and personal development.

He starts by explaining about the beginning of his life, somewhat apologetically for fear that readers might think he was being self-indulgent. Far from it, I felt that chapter was interesting. And more important, knowing Handy’s background gave me insights to what he was trying to say in the following chapters (it’s like a trainer establishing his credentials, and he does it in such a personal manner. Of cos it’s bec I already know him as a great author).

The final chapters share about his brand of a “Portfolio Life”, how he chunks his work and his life, as well as problems with the life of a ‘flea’. I think all who are considering a life of being an independent consultant or self-employed should read this book. At least, if one decides to lead the Portfolio Life, one is prepared for some of the associated challenges.

One stark example Handy shared was how he suddenly stopped receiving invitations (conferences etc.) when he left his company. It was as if his self-worth was associated with the organisation that employed him. I can see how that could be true.

P37. Schools for an old world – talks about british school system, categorising young.

P42 – “my schooling had finished, my education had begun”.

P78. Mentioned that in 1998 he was invited back by the Singapore government to “cast an eye over their draft manpower plan”.

P91. About making mistakes then and now, i.e. back in the 1950s, one could make a mistake and quickly rectify it before anyone in the headquarters found out about it.

P94. He mentions the impact of technology; that the impact of the Internet is no different from when the telegraph was invented, where there were complaints of information overload, where new crimes developed with the technology, and “romance blossomed between operators in distant cities” (see also, Tom Standage – The Victorian Internet).

P102. He writes about how his niece’s four-week old daughter already has an email address. This made me wonder if hospitals will offer suite of services, including personal domain name registration.

P109. He talks about information dis-intermediation and what will persist and what won’t. Basically, “information without interpretation is only data”. That which is without interpretation will be made redundant (this applies to any industry, whether it is information or services or goods).

P111. mentions Hypothecation (taxes are tied to certain uses; income tax are broken down to various components like Health tax, Defence, Education, Police). [As I read this, I wondered if there may come a time where citizens get to have a say/ vote on how much to pay for defence, roads etc.]

116 francis fukuyama. 112 – disintermediation of nation states. Only if security is outsourced. Franchised?

P. 119-125. Talks about singapore’s brand of capitalism (he was invited by the Singapore government in 1991 to consult on developing the entrepreneurial sector). He observed that Singapore was like “an extended shopping mall” with much of what was bought being unnecessary items, i.e. seemingly pure consumerism of “getting and spending”. On the view about Singapore’s “control-freakery” government and the “docile conformity of its people”, he writes: “… there is much to commend it for the foreigner who is not concerned with the politics of the place. Things work in Singapore. Drugs and violence are rare. It is well-regulated and well-policed. There is no detectable underclass. They do many sensible things, such as paying their civil servants and ministers good salaries, too good in some ways because they suck the talent out of the private sector…”

“To appreciate Singapore one has to discard the individualist assumptions of Anglo-American capitalism which is driven by the ambitions and needs of each individual. Lee Kuan Yew has proved that a different kind of capitalism can work in certain situations and cultures. He calls it a guided capitalism. I think of it more as corporate capitalism…. Singapore is not going to suit the independent-minded flea or alchemist”. Adds that Singapore also recognises that there needs some relaxation of the extent of ‘guiding’ to allow more individualist expressions (p. 125).

p. 125-137. Says American always rejuvenates him; that it was an accepting and open society. Observed that money seems to be the measure for many things, including success. Says while America energises and excites him, he also knows he doesn’t want to live there. That “their form of capitalism is too exhausting”.

P129 on equities – “The shareholders aren’t financing the business, just betting on it”.

p 137-147. On Kerala, he concludes that the wealth was in the form of remitted money. And there is a possibility that they are “attached to the wrong model of capitalism for their stage of development” (i.e. individualistic concerns whereas Kerala society is still socialist at heart).

He explains his observations after visiting North America, Kerala (India) and Singapore. Points out the potential and problem with Capitalism (one problem being that it may create a widening impoverished class, the type that may unite in the “sort of populism that bought Hitler into power”. That it has to give the majority of people “the chance to earn money, real money” rather than the chance to “spend remittance money”.

P150. Says capitalism is the only game in town. How to make the best of capitalism, according to Handy: “At the end of my journeys I reflected that if we combine the energy and self-confidence of the Americans, the charm and friendliness of the Keralites and the disciplined determination of the Singaporeans to build a better future for their society, we would be making the best of capitalism”.

P 162. “… I decided that to be different rather than better I would need to step outside my area of expertise if I was going to glean new insights and new ideas… … the real innovations usually come from outside the industry or the firm; those that come from inside are typically developments of the familiar , not truly new.” This to me says alot about the importance of looking/ reading/ thinking beyond one’s immediate job scope. The easier way was to read wider.

P 167. On why we need to be more that just getting by: “you can’t duck the obligations to yourself to live up to the untested possibilities within you.”

p170. “Organizations, I began to see, may be prisons of a sort but they do have on huge advantage in that they channel work your way, sending a stream of duties, tasks, opportunities and challenges down the phone, through fax or email, our of meeting rooms and even from chance encounters in the corridors…”

P201. Quotes Nobel Prize winning economist Amyarta Sen, who says wealth is not measured by what we have but by what we can do.

209. He predicts that governments will increasingly rely on Civil Societies (volunteers) for advice and support. Says he used to think societies would quieten down when they got richer, but the reverse came true where things got more frantic.

P. 213-214, His views on religion. That it was powerful and still relevant but require “reinterpretation for our day and age”.

P. 214. I think he’s trying to say something about mere philosophising Vs taking action.

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