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Echoes of Samuel Smiles

(1812 – 1904)

Introduction to the topic

Very few have ever heard of Samuel Smiles…

…and about (arguably) the best book – Self-Help – ever written (in 1859) about management, leadership, businesses and, crucially, people in businesses. What drove the Industrial Revolution, should now be driving our own Industrial Revolution today. The fact that you may think this distinctly quirky and the opposite of fashionable should not stop you finding out more!

Samuel Smiles’ work was directed at people at work…

…and the ways in which they were able to harness and manage their own personal qualities and energies to become commercially successful. Publishing the book in 1859, Samuel Smiles is likely to have played some role in the development of the Industrial Revolution in the UK or, indirectly, the creation of the Victorian British Empire. He must have inspired hundreds of Victorian men and women looking to see how they might advance their careers and/or businesses and, importantly, help other people. (You can buy the book from Amazon.)

(Biog info mainly from Wikipedia.)

As an author and government reformer who campaigned on a Chartist platform, Samuel Smiles concluded that more progress would come from new attitudes than from new laws. Self-Help promoted thrift and claimed that poverty was caused largely by irresponsible habits, while also attacking materialism and laissez-faire government. It has been called “the bible of mid-Victorian liberalism”, and it raised Smiles to celebrity status almost overnight.

The origins of Self-Help lay in a speech he gave in March 1845 in response to a request by a Mutual Improvement Society, published as, The Education of the Working Classes. In it, Smiles says,

“Every human being has a great mission to perform, noble faculties to cultivate, a vast destiny to accomplish. He should have the means of education, and of exerting freely all the powers of his godlike nature.” (He/his should, of course, also include she/hers – shame on Samuel Smiles!)

After being rejected by publishers, Smiles self-published the book in 1859 retaining the copyright, It sold 20,000 copies within one year of its publication. By the time of Smiles’ death in 1904 it had sold over a quarter of a million copies. Self-Help brought him celebrity status: almost overnight, he became a leading pundit and much-consulted guru. He suddenly became the fashion and he was deluged with requests that he should lay foundation stones, sit for his portrait, present prizes to orphan children, make speeches from platforms, etc. Typical of Samuel Smiles, he did not get involved with these invitations, saying he had work to do and his duty did not lie on any public platform. It lay in his office with his Work

On a more contemporary note, Samuel Smiles is the great-great-grandfather of Bear Grylls, described by Wikipedia as “a well-known adventurer”.

So why is Samuel Smiles and his book relevant to Working Free Ltd?

Because:-

  • All this happened in the Industrial Revolution. We’re now moving into another industrial revolution, one driven by technology, instantaneous communications and independent identities (both national and individual) – and a recognition that it is individuals that make the difference – not instead of corporations or governments – but as well as.
  • The book inspired and informed hundreds (maybe more) of ambitious people – at all levels – to greater achievement. Now – since there is nothing quite like the book “Self-Help”, it needs to be introduced to new generations of ambitious people – keen for more knowledge, connections, and debate.
  • We are looking for new definitions of “Leadership”. The current dogma of institutionalised elitism with its stereotyped mantras has served us well for a while – but must be now due for handing over its baton to self-driven, less-noticeable, free-thinking enthusiasts, natural persuaders and comfortable at all levels. Being work-obsessed (better described as work hard/ play hard), although unfashionable, is very effective.

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