Living On Thin Air: The New Economy Paperback – 24 Feb 2000
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A nation of shopkeepers? Well ... maybe. That's the way things are in the knowledge economy. Individually and collectively we are all trading on ideas, creativity and judgement to make a living. Put it another way, this is the thin air business and these are the thin air commodities. The difference is that we're now promoting a new type of brand: ourselves. "Knowledge," states Charles Leadbeater in Living on Thin Air "is our most precious resource: we should organise society to maximise its creation and use. Our aim should be to harness the power of markets and community to the more fundamental goal of creating and spreading knowledge." Big ideas, but for the truly knowledge-driven society, the prize, he says, is "radical and emancipatory."
Living on Thin Air attempts to understand and come to terms with the "swirling forces that are shaping our economic lives," forces which Leadbeater describes as "partly malign, but potentially beneficial." It is also a call to action, a proposal to begin reconstituting our social, political and economic institutions so that they are better equipped for the new knowledge era. Leadbeater is passionate in his beliefs and engagingly articulate. His sincerity has a warmth that makes compulsive reading. Ultimately, Living on Thin Air is concerned with the task of channelling the tensions and energy between the major forces in society towards a new era of harmonious collaboration: "a society devoted to financial capitalism will be unbalanced and soulless. A society devoted to social solidarity will stagnate, lacking the dynamism of radical new ideas and the discipline of the competitive market. A society devoted totally to knowledge creation would be intelligent but poor. When these three forces of the new economy work together, they can be hugely dynamic," he concludes. It makes a provocative manifesto.
The opening chapters are constructed around reassuringly familiar subjects (Delia, fancy seeing you here! Diana, what a wonderful surprise!) imparting a self-conscious nostalgia to proceedings and if the choices are a little arbitrary, stylistically, his prose has the confidence of a man who knows his subject and believes in his ideas.
Living on Thin Air is an impressive take on the future in the global information age. Better get stocking those intellectual shelves--these goods are at a premium. --Iain Campbell
An accessible book for anyone who is concerned about the future of their job or their profession. The underlying message of the book is optimistic. It is about opportunities that will emerge from wider markets and new technologies, and its conclusion should help people prepare themselves better for the future. Although the book is informed by management theory, economic and social psychology, it is not heavy or theoretical. It includes case studies and examples drawn from England, Continental Europe, the USA and Asia to examine companies which exemplify the trends described here.See all Product description
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The author proudly warns you that the book is not an academic one. Therefore the bibliography is a pool of references at the end, which allows him to use chapter and paragraph subtitles copied form those books leaving the unfamiliar reader with the impression that there are his. Once you have gone through this highly sophisticated piece of intellectual tourism you will feel richer in trivia and poorer in thinking. You will have attended a massive week end party in the grounds of "knowledge management - a slogan for all seasons", and met "everybody", from Tony Blair to Peter Drucker. You will have had a good time and then, suddenly, you will realize: "oh God, the week end is over, Monday again, let's get serious with real life".
The author's Chinese menu approach to knowledge allows him to write 200 pages of light pseudo-connections and thousands of quotations and references that you eat without making you feel full. Like in a set Chinese menu, you are not 100% sure what those little dishes are but they look nice on the table and certainly give you a feeling of volume.
All the above is far from unsettling about Leadbeater's book or anybody's book. But, the big problem is that, in his pseudo-intellectual promenade he feels arrogant enough to dismiss the socio-political approaches of "stakeholder society" ( personified by him in Will Hutton) or the "communitarism" (personified by him in Etzioni) in a couple of short references. He even describes his thinking as a "blueprint" for the future. Leadbeater is certainly a nice guy but not a modest man. Unfortunately, his "new economy" ( as the book is sub-titled) has a much air as the title of the book. Scarier and somehow amazing is the endorsement in the book's jacket by a Prime Minister in office, Mr. Blair himself, who says that the author is " an extraordinary thinker" and the book "raises questions for Britain's future". I wonder whether those questions are about the quality of the air. There are other endorsements such as the one by Peter Mandelson ( spin doctor- UK government minister and a man of destiny who aspires to make full use of his initials, and show the world that they really stand for Prime Minister). PM says that "the book sets the agenda for the next Blair revolution". Still waiting for this one, I have plenty of time to vaccinate myself.
Revolutions can't be based on the intellectual solidity of a cream cake. Which is what this book has. My best friend suggested that the real missing reference at the end of the book was Sokal's "Intellectual impostures". Too unkind perhaps. Certainly, you need more than mastery in word processing and a Ph.D. in Word Permutation to start a revolution. Intellectual nudity will be eventually uncovered by somebody from the crowd shouting that the emperor has no clothes. If this book represents a blueprint for something, it must be a cut-and-paste society. Given the choice, I prefer the originals to Leadbeter's collage. Peter Drucker said it all a long time ago and Charles Handy dressed it up beautifully as only an Irishman can do. Charles Leadbeater is not Charles Handy and I don't think he has read Drucker either. This guru has no clothes.