Plans for chameleons

Roger Trapp reviews two books on staying flexible in your career
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The Independent Online
In This buccaneering business age, entrepreneurs are everywhere. Thanks to the management gurus' attempts to encourage some of this freewheeling thinking in big businesses, there are even a few "intrapreneurs" to be found. Now comes the "multipreneur".

Taking this route is, according to author Tom Gorman, "the hottest career strategy for success in the 1990s and beyond". In his book Multipreneuring (just published by Simon & Schuster in the United States at $11), he sets out how the concept provides the techniques for managing a more flexible "chameleon" career that ensures prosperity and fulfilment outside the ups and downs of the economy.

The book is, of course, rooted in all the current talk about the end of the job for life and the arrival of portfolio careers. And convincing as this sounds, it has left all those except for the fortunate few - people like Charles Handy who have already lined up a number of lucrative strings to their bows - worried about where they go from here.

Where Mr Gorman helps is in setting out some guidelines that individuals can follow in their search for prosperity away from the safety net of the traditional company. These are grouped under such headings as "develop multiple sources of income and pursue multiple careers", "manage risk aggressively", "act like a producer", "market hard, sell soft", and "handle your own benefits".

The word "multipreneuring", he explains, has been coined from the Latin word for "many" (multi) and the English word "entrepreneur", which stems from the French word for "to undertake". Accordingly, it literally means "more than one undertaking", though the play on entrepreneur is deliberate in that success today largely depends on being something of an entrepreneur.

But, he adds: "Multipreneuring entails more than just acting entrepreneurially."

It actually means having multiple skills, so that individuals "can develop multiple sources of income and multiple careers, either simultaneously or serially".

Perhaps most importantly, Mr Gorman, who has based the book on his own experiences as well as those of others, suggests that becoming a multipreneur involves realising that, "your economic value depends upon your ability to make or save money for others and your ability to add value to processes. Your economic value will not depend upon your position, seniority or connections."

Mr Gorman appears to be a little fanciful in suggesting that this approach to life will enable the participant instantly to have a more honest relationship with the people for whom he or she is working; the freedom to tell somebody where to go must come with time and experience in this field as much as in the conventional environment. But by setting out some clear paths through what many will see as a confusing landscape full of dead-ends and traps he is potentially doing a great service to those seeking to grapple with the modern world of work.

Which is probably more than can be said for Iain Maitland's rather lightweight effort Your Mid-Career Shift (published last week by Thorson at pounds 6.99). Subtitled How to Change Your Job at 35+, it does reasonably well in addressing the particular question of dealing with employers who seem increasingly obsessed with youth.

But the idea that perfecting your technique of telephoning for application forms (see page 99), or having stock answers to queries about your ability to deal with being given orders by someone younger, will enhance your employability rather misses the point.

No matter how bleak it appears, the future is likely to look a lot more like the picture painted by Mr Gorman than the sepia-tinted print produced by Mr Maitland.