Charles Handy is always a delight to read, and The Elephant and the Flea
--his autobiography-laced analysis of business over the past two decades--is no exception. In his 13th book, the United Kingdom's preeminent sage on commercial and industrial matters looks within and at education, marriage, religion, and society in order to assess the changing nature of employment. His literate and knowledgeable tale begins in 1981, when Handy decided to exchange a safe but stifling life with a corporation (the "elephant" of his title) for the riskier but potentially more rewarding existence of an independent (or "flea"). Mixing diverse experiences with cogent observations on the evolving workplace, he sets the scene for plausible projections about where we might yet be headed. "Just as the signs were there 20 years ago for those who wished to see them, so I believe we can glimpse the shape of the new capitalist world even if it may take another 20 years to develop," he writes. "We may not like what is coming but we would be foolish to think that we can plan our lives, or our children's lives, without giving some thought to the shape of the stage on which we and they will be strutting." Intensely personal yet remarkably universal, the book is another provocative, illuminating, and enjoyable work from the oil executive turned bestselling author. --Howard Rothman
From Publishers Weekly
A former oil executive and economist, as well as an early proponent of the "free agent" lifestyle, Handy (The Age of Unreason) uses his career as a telling example of how the nature of work has changed over the past 20 years and tries to predict how people will earn a living in the years ahead. Handy opens the book three-quarters autobiography, one-quarter social commentary with warm recollections of his Irish countryside childhood before elaborating his metaphor for the workplace, that of the elephant and flea. "Elephants" represent established corporations and large organizations of every kind, while "fleas" symbolize people who work independently as small-scale entrepreneurs. Handy, who used to work for Shell and has made his living as a lecturer and author since 1981, finds problems and opportunities in both kinds of establishments. Elephants, he contends, need to figure out ways to grow bigger while maintaining personal client relationships and rewarding creativity. The fleas need a better way to forge connections among themselves. Handy offers some general advice, but his main purpose is to try to make sense of the first 70 years of his life and the last two decades of the Western workplace. Some of his labor market analysis will seem familiar to readers, as it has already seeped into the cultural lexicon, but Handy's fans will appreciate this unusually personal look at the labor revolution. This is not the start-off book for those new to his work, however.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.