Philip Whiteley's Blog

January 13, 2012

The state of the great office

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:35 am

As a card-carrying geek, I do pub quizzes (a Spanish friend of mine who loves the arts cannot understand this British obsession with trivial knowledge). The same question has come up in two forums in the past couple of months: who is the only British politician to have held all four of the Great Offices of State? I enjoy this question, not only because I know the answer, but because it sets me thinking. What is a ‘Great Office of State’? Who decided, when, and on what basis? Why are the policy areas that I’m most interested in not covered? Does this matter?

I’m not so much of a geek, nor do I have so much time on my hands, that I can answer all the historical questions, but it seems fairly clear that the concept of the ‘Great Office’ is 19th Century and imperial: the Prime Minister, Home Office, Foreign Office and Chancellor make the big decisions of a colonial state that rules a quarter of the world’s land mass. They carry the most kudos.

But for a mid-ranking trading nation I think the concept of the ‘Great Office’ is as antiquated as a top hat. The UK has to earn its way in an inter-connected world where the most important asset is human capital, not ownership of colonies. So the notion that the offices of Business or Education are ‘lesser’ is an anachronism. The world will not be run by white westerners in the 21st Century, and that’s a liberating development. It means that countries like Britain have to adapt: learn more languages, develop more skills, become more outward looking; think globally, in the term Sue Bloch coined as we were working on The Global You book. The very concept of a ‘nation’ is blurred in the inter-connected trading world.

There is a similar problem in business, where many analysts think that the business consists of the ‘Great Offices’ of the structure and the owned assets, whereas in the real trading world the company is the people that customers and suppliers deal with.

I do not wish to belittle the achievement of James Callaghan, who was a rather under-rated and unlucky Prime Minister. But it would be wonderful if the departments responsible for developing a nation’s human capital were to get promotion.

  • Please see the new blog Radical Shift for more discussion on the new agenda for business in the inter-connected world.
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