Not So Handily Recycled

By Lear, Robert W. | Chief Executive (U.S.), June 1996 | Go to article overview

Not So Handily Recycled


Lear, Robert W., Chief Executive (U.S.)


GODS OF MANAGEMENT: The Changing Work of Organizations By Charles Handy. Oxford University Press, 254 pp., $22.

BEYOND CERTAINTY: The Changing Worlds of Organizations By Charles Handy. Harvard Business School Press, 240 pp., $19.95.

Charles Handy has authored two bestselling books about the passing business scene: "The Age of Unreason" and "The Age of Paradox." Now he and his publishers apparently have decided it is worth taking a retrospective look at some of the other writings of the erudite management guru.

One, "Gods of Management," is the reissue of a book that originally was written for the British market and never caught on in the U.S. Handy contends this is his favorite book, because it presents the basic thinking for most of his later writing and conclusions.

The other, "Beyond Certainty," is a compilation of 35 essays and columns written by the author over a five-year stretch that foreshadowed his books and formed the framework for many of his forecasts and observations.

Usually, I am not much of a fan of anthologies and reprintings. Like summer television re-runs, they give me the vague feeling that I am being fed recycled material. It was easier to dish it up this way than to go to the trouble of writing another book. These reappraisals of Handy's works did nothing to change my mind.

"Gods of Management" takes the somewhat worn simile of four Greek gods-Zeus, Apollo, Athena, and Dionysus-and applies their characteristics to modern business organizations to illustrate for managers the basic approaches they can take and the corporate cultures that result. To wit:

Zeus was the patriarch who was feared, respected, and loved. So, too, is the entrepreneur. He is involved in all decisions and depends upon trust throughout his organization. His culture is cheap to run, and it revolves around fast decisions.

Apollo was the god of order and rules. Everyone has procedures and job descriptions. Stability and predictability are assumed and encouraged. Apollo today would be the CEO of a life insurance company, monopoly utility, or civil service organization. The culture resists-even hateschange.

Athena was the goddess of a task culture. This culture recognizes only expertise as the base of power or influence and gives no credence to age, seniority, or owner kinship. Youth flourishes, and creativity is at a premium. Think of an advertising agency, an aerospace start-up, or a software firm. …

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