WHO’S READING WHAT . reader’s recommendations
Boston, Mass. : Harvard Business School Press, c2002.
Call No.: 330.122 HAN -[BIZ]
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What is the difference if you are an entrepreneur versus working for a MNC? Ostensibly, the former entails that of being a boss and managing one’s own resources, whilst the latter involves working up the corporate ladder. If you are really keen to know everything on running one’s own business to being a professional employee enjoying perks provided by big organizations, Charles Handy’s The Elephant and the Flea is a must-read.
Through retrospection and introspection of his various careers, Handy, a Fellow at the London Business School, an erstwhile high-ranking executive at a prestigious oil company as well as a professor and Chairman of the Royal Society of Arts, delineated the difference of being a flea and working for the elephants. By being a flea, Handy meant striking out on one’s own to make a living, and the elephants meant big governmental or private organizations whose income could easily match the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of a third world country. Although a flea has innate freedom and the liking of being in charge of one’s own destiny, its accompanying risk of insolvency and income instability impair its attraction. Compare that to being an employee of an elephant: secure wages and somewhat lesser responsibility on oneself.
Throughout the book, readers can actually feel Handy’s emotional struggle and progressive switch from observing the elephant’s rule to becoming a flea which cogitates. As such, this book is apt in describing Singapore’s current business milieu where plenty of employees fear the road of becoming a flea. Worries like a depreciating cash flow in sustaining a company notwithstanding, potential entrepreneurs must also face the volatility of the market, the fears of leaving a cushioned job, the competitive vendors from China and India and the inevitable experiences of helpless unemployment. However, a flea does not only mean exposing to itself to a barrage of risks. It also means being ‘street smart’ and knowing the norms and trends of the market.
It has long been recognized that some of today’s small enterprises will grow to become tomorrow’s major corporate institutions according to Davis et al. written in an article back in 1985 in the International Small Business Journal, and Handy talks about this in a paradoxical and thought provoking way. Elephants may have vast amount of resources in engaging their businesses, but the market has evolved to a situation where elephants rely on fleas for cost cutting measures or the competitive edge (in other words, ‘outsourcing’). This would necessitate the formation of fleas, which may eventually become elephants in not so distant future.
As with his many works, Handy writes in a unique way. His writings exhibit a deep reflection of reality with a philosophical gesture of well-being for humanity. He also advocates a new form of individualist capitalism at the end of his book, which might interest some readers for it offers a glimpse of the future of what Singapore might be like as entrepreneurs spawn.
Davis, C.D., Hills, G.E. and Laforge, R.W. (1985). The Marketing / Small Enterprise Paradox: a Research agenda, International Small Business Journal 3(3), 31-41.
Contributed by Wilfred Loh, Librarian, Adult and Young People’s Services
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