BOOKCASE Ideas with Clout

Charles Handy: Myself and other more important matters
By: Charles Handy
Publisher: Random House
Price: $37.99

Of all the personal accomplishments credited to Charles Handy, it is his impeccable sense of timing that most impresses me. He knows when the time is right to deliver another profound thought on the evolution of management or, as in the case of his latest book, the evolution of himself.
Now 73, he has published his autobiography providing valuable personal insights into man who saw himself as “social philosopher” rather than “any kind of management expert”. But however you label him, and understand he hates the term management guru, Handy has consistently delivered provocative, enlightened, intelligent and eloquently argued management and social commentary, both philosophical and practical.
Myself and other more important matters is new literary territory for Handy, but it is just as elegantly scripted as any of his management texts. The recounting of his life’s journey is unquestionably personal, but it is also generally relevant.
His journey from Irish vicarage to successful author and thinker is dotted with delightful anecdotes, revealing reminiscences and thoughtful observations on the state of our working world.
Take his jibe at business schools, for example. Despite confession that he “enjoyed his time at business school” they need, he suggests, to be fundamentally restructured. In his opinion, classroom learning leaves students with distorted and narrow view of their responsibilities.
Unlike many management scribes, term chosen in deference to his objection to the label ‘guru’, Handy is refreshingly self effacing. Reflecting on his writings and lectures he says: “If I am strictly honest, few of my ideas are that original. It is the words I use that make the difference.” Perhaps. His choice of words undoubtedly carries his ideas deeper into the mind, but his vision of how things will be has oftentimes been unerringly accurate.
The best management lessons are drawn from life, not case studies according to Handy. In his opinion, most people have fundamental understanding of what makes an organisation work. “They just need to be reminded of it and encouraged to apply their understanding to their own work.”
Handy has written this book because, he says, “I now write to explain things to myself, hoping that might interest some readers as well”. It certainly interested me. RB

Big Pharma: How the world’s biggest drug companies control illness
By: Jacky Law
Publisher: Constable
Price: $39.95

The multinational pharmaceutical companies are the ‘baddies’ of today’s corporate world, as the cigarette manufacturers were generation ago. While their business tactics and manipulation of markets are little different from the ‘all-in-a-day’s work’ approach of many transnationals, they have attracted an added degree of fear and loathing because their decisions are life and death ones, not just concerned with prodding or propping up share prices.
Big Pharma is one of the latest additions to library of books that have explored the sale of ‘past their use by date’ drugs to third world countries; the risky experiments on poor, easily exploited human guinea pigs; the concentration of resources on developing the most lucrative and fashionable drugs; and the ‘buying’ of doctors and medical journals with plethora of enticements.
In Big Pharma, Jacky Law, long-time UK writer on medical matters, has produced very readable, comprehensively researched, dispassionate account of how the world’s major drug companies control the ‘illness’ agenda.
The sheer size of pharmaceutical spending gives these companies immense power. Global spending on pharmaceuticals has increased 25 times in the past quarter century, from $20 billion in 1972 to more than $500 billion in 2004. Even more significantly, just 10 drugs earned the industry $48 billion in 2003.
To maintain their dollar dominance, the major drug companies have invested heavily in changing the diagnostic criteria of illness to create larger markets; concentrated on drugs for wealthier nations where there is more disposable income; poured research dollars into drugs for ‘lifestyle issues’ like sexual dysfunction, stress and depression; and given undue emphasis to drugs that address convenience rather than clinical need.
Around the world, regulators are under intense pressure from corporate lobbies. The drug companies spend more on marketing than they do on research and development. And, as the global drugs bill rises exponentially, the number of original new products declines.
Jacky Law’s Big Pharma is as compelling an indictment of ‘unfettered capitalism’ as one is likely to read anywhere. Yet the better future Law suggests, with the public and medical profession reforming healthcare, will very probably be delayed or derailed by the pharmaceutical industry’s massive war chest and marketing clout. IFG

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