on 20 October 1999
Charles Handy recognises that all of his alchemists needed finance, encouragement, and a dream to grow into a reality. The book does not just show the successes in the lives of the Alchemists but also the failures and how these experiences were put to positive use. The difficulties in finding 'seed' capital, and the methods used by the different entrepreneurs to obtain their funding was enlightening.
on 2 January 2000
Pictures of Success The new Alchemists, by Charles Handy
In medieval times, alchemists set out to transmute base metal into gold, discover a universal cure for sickness, and find the means of infinitely prolonging life. And if the tales we read are true, then the medieval alchemists worked long and hard. They were driven, not by money, but by their passion and by their all consuming quest.
Charles Handy sees modern day entrepreneurs as the new alchemists. In his words they "create something out of nothing and turn the equivalent of base metal into a kind of gold". Similar to the alchemist of old, the entrepreneur is driven by a vision, and is looked upon by society with awe.
Indeed, to many, the entrepreneur is the hero of the free enterprise society. Certainly, those who began with nothing, and create something quite new, often become our role models. Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Sabeer Bhatia, and Richard Branson, to name a few, capture the public imagination in a way that career managers never do.
In 'The new Alchemists', Handy interviews twenty-nine entrepreneurs in and around London. They range from well-known success stories such as Richard Branson of Virgin, and Robert Ayling of British Airways to figures less known, but with whom many of us are better able to identify. They come from different areas, - business, social, and the arts - and have different ages and different backgrounds.
Handy does have a framework of what it takes to be a good entrepreneur, namely dedication, doggedness, and difference. It is, he notes, similar to Galton's framework, namely ability, zeal, and capacity for hard work. However, this book is not a profound analysis of what it takes to be an entrepreneur. That is found in more discursive works such as 'Innovation and Entrepreneurship', by Peter Drucker, or more recently 'Goldfinger', by Robert Heller. Rather he focuses on the entrepreneurs themselves.
Each entrepreneur is the subject of a short piece, based on Handy's interviews. Through these pieces, they offer their insights into the events that shaped their lives, a glimpse into what they find important as people, and in cases heartfelt advice.
With each piece comes a photo-portrait by the author's wife.
Elisabeth Handy is a self-published photographer, and her style, 'photo-joiners', provide intriguing images which combine different aspects of the subjects life. Indeed, in some cases, as Charles Handy points out, the pictures reveal more about the subjects than their words. The pictures complement the text and help define the nature of the book.
This book is the perfect coffee table book. The essays are self-contained and intended for browsing. The pieces are uncritical, but that is indeed their charm. The resultant book is upbeat and if you use a reception room it will make an inspirational and optimistic statement there.