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The waves

As the Wind Blows

Location: Chennai, Tamilnadu, India

03 December 2003

The Elephant and The Flea - in Business World, 8th Dec. 2003. - I think the net edition is not yet available. I'll give the link once I find it there. Meanwhile try a print version.

That was an interesting piece on ‘fleas’.

Fleas ?

Oh well, fleas, according to ‘ Charles Handy, author of Flea Manifesto a book which, 22 years ago, forecast the ‘arrival’ of entrepreneurship on modern corporate world, are the ones who have the courage to take a big risk to quit the safe cocoons of corporate ‘service’ and start a venture on their own. Today his other book, The Elephant and The Flea ‘ is equally creating waves. Elephants, according to Handy are big corporates and fleas are the ones who made that big jump out of them.

Latha Jishnu of business world has interviewed him. While I liked the ‘tongue-in-cheek’ way she has presented his wife Elizabeth, the main story is worth reflecting about.

“ A flea’s life is tough. You need a saleable skill, you also need to market it, or get someone else to handle that part. You would also need to reinvent yourself several times over. It’s also a future of uncertainty and fear. ”

And Latha goes on quoting from the book, “ It’s risky being a flea. You can’t always be sure of new contracts, new assignments. You have to accept that there will be less money. ” cautions Handy.’

Well said Handy. ( sort of flea myself ( ?!? ! ), don’t I know that all that he observed is truth and nothing but truth ? :-) )

However, there is a flip side. While it is fine to celebrate flea concept, Handy also warns about the perils of a selfish society. ( Hats off to that optimism which suggests that only the future, not the modern society is selfish :-) )

Latha sums up Handy’s views, “ Handy is acutely aware that the independent life is prone to selfishness and is a “ recipe for a very privatized society.” Because fleas do not belong to any formal community and lead a life without belonging properly to anything, a world overrun by independent fleas and small enterprises can become an amoral world.

We cannot forget that fleas ultimately are parasites.”

Latha’s last observation needs to be analysed. I don’t think the analogy suits to the kind of entrepreneurship that created business empires from our own TATA - Birlas and Wipros – Reliances to global giants like Fords and GEs.

P.S. btw, please restrain yourself from referring to a paragraph above where I refer myself as a 'sort of flea'. I honestly didn't dream of classifying myself with the names I've mentioned in the last paragraph - the dream is fantastic though :-)


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