From his childhood in an Irish vicarage, to Oxford University, to his first job as an oil executive with Royal Dutch/Shell in the Far East, to a professorship at the London Business School, to chairmanship of the Royal Society of Arts, and finally to his current status as an eminent social philosopher and international business guru, Charles Handy has viewed the business and economic workings of the twentieth century inside and out. Now, in the twenty-first century, Handy provides a firsthand account of how we got here and where we are headed. The Elephant and the Flea is a fitting capstone to Handy's brilliant career and colorful life.
In a tone that is at once learned, genial, witty, and wise, Handy takes us on his life's journey, looking back to such topics as his childhood and education and how they prepared (or, rather, did not prepare) him for a career in business; the changing nature of organizational life within the context of the old economy and the new; the great variety of capitalism around the world; and, through it all, his struggle to find meaning and fulfillment in work.
Handy uses the quirky, powerful metaphor of the elephant and the flea to describe and critique the great shift from the prevalence of behemoth, slow-moving, bureaucratic organizations that provided a lifetime of security and not much freedom or room for creativity, to a world in which we are much more independent and flea-like, flitting from job to job, latching onto elephants when we need to, but mostly flying solo and without safe havens.
This book is both a poignant personal memoir and a deep reflection on the past and future of world capitalism, with all its possibilities and pitfalls.
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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 RothmanFrom the Back Cover:
"Back in 1981...I had decided that it was not enough to prophecy. I ought to try to practice what I had been preaching, to find out for myself what it felt like to leave the shelter of organizations and fend for myself, to be what I have come to call a flea, outside the world of the elephants, the big organizations that had been the pillars of the employee society of the twentieth century... I had no savings to speak of, a mortgage, a wife, two teenage children and had not been long enough attached to any of my organizations to collect anything resembling a proper pension. Life was going to be a trifle uncertain, I could see, since all I could do was write and talk. Maybe I had been unduly rash ... to resign so impulsively..."
--From The Elephant and the Flea
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Book Description Hutchinson, 2001. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0091793637