CIPD Harrogate – The future belongs to fleas

The future belongs to "fleas" – individuals doing their own thing – rather than large corporate "elephants", according to business academic and social philosopher Charles Handy.

In a speech that ranged widely across Handy’s familiar themes of the collapse of the corporate career, the pace of change and the decline of large organisations, he said the new business environment "allowed the individual to emerge again."

He urged delegates at the CIPD annual conference in Harrogate today, "Do not think about competing, do something different."

Handy’s book, The New Alchemists, uses the stories of 29 individuals – Julian Richer of Richer Sounds and Tim Waterstone among them– who have turned their ideas or themselves into major new businesses.

"The individual organisation is on the rise. Ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. We will all have to live like fleas," he said.

The new world was "very exciting and very dangerous", with profound implications for pensions, job security and the education system.

People would increasingly need new skills to survive and a sense of "passion" for whatever they chose to do. They would need to be self-reliant, good relationship builders, courageous and, most important of all, "have a strong negative capability" – the ability to withstand setbacks


But it did not follow that fleas could do without the elephants. While large organisations tended to stifle creativity, invariably it was elephants who eventually delivered on the ideas of the fleas, he argued.

Handy also returned to his favourite theme of the spiritual dimension of work. "It is imperative that you find your soul," he told delegates. "If you die and you have not found your soul, in effect you have wasted your life."

By Stephen Overell

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