I love that term, “portfolio working”, which is described as “a lifestyle in which the individual holds a number of jobs, clients and types of work”, all at the same time. For examples, look no further then the originator of the term, Charles Handy himself. The Irish economist and best-selling author began his career with Shell Petroleum (a background he shares with Vince Cable, though the latter spent rather more time there) and then the engineering group Charter Consolidated (now Charter International) before diversifying his activities and living the freelance life. He was subsequently co-founder and Professor of the London Business School but I feel sure those were for him part-time jobs.

He is quoted (www.scribd.com ) as saying, “I told my children when they were leaving education that they would be well advised to look for customers, not bosses.”

To gauge Handy’s style these days, as a portfolio person, read the first few lines of his autobiography: “Some years ago I was helping my wife arrange an exhibit of her photographs when I was approached by a man who had been looking at the pictures. ‘I hear that Charles Handy is here,’ he said. ‘Indeed he is,’ I replied, ‘and I am he.’ He looked at me rather dubiously for a moment, and then said, ‘Are you sure?’ It was, I told him, a good question because over time there had been many versions of Charles Handy.” He then adds, “… not all of which I was particularly proud”. That remark seems typical of the self-effacing nature of the man because, if there is such a thing as a philosopher of management and organisational behaviour, then it is he. Handy has been rated among ‘the Thinkers 50’, a list of the most influential living management thinkers in the world; in 2001 he was second on that list.

I myself discovered portfolio working relatively late. For most of my career I drew a salary working for organisations, ending up as MD of a chemical sales and marketing company which was a subsidiary of a large multinational group. Later I started a training business (but I’ll draw a veil over that for now, as its eventual failure led me into debt) and have since had a mix of mostly part-time jobs and freelance work. Nowadays, if people ask me what I do (the standard opening when meeting a stranger, at least in our British culture), I could reply, as Handy himself would recommend: “Well, that depends. I have a variety of activities. Would you like to hear about my writing? My acting and voiceover work? My radio presenting and after-dinner speaking?” Of course I don’t say that – it would be thought unforgivably “naff” here in Britain – but it would be a good conversation-stopper, if needed.

I wish I had discovered the portfolio way before. People have always been doing this – in fact many women who want or need to combine paid work and family have no choice but to do so at certain times in their lives – but the name, at least, is new.

More celebrated examples of portfolio people can be found, including Anthony Charles Lynton (aka Tony) Blair. Not so long ago he had what I think can accurately be described a “full-time job in an organisation”. To be precise, he was running a country with what was at the time the sixth-largest economy in the world. He decided a change would be good – it was about the time we were overtaken by Italy to become the seventh-largest economy but I am sure that was coincidental – and now he is doing so many different things I hesitate to list them for fear of being out of date. He looks as if he is enjoying the portfolio life too.

There’s another word for portfolio people nowadays: “scanners”. The man who is most associated with this term in the UK is John Williams, a classic example of someone who has gone from the corporate world to being a portfolio person. He used to be a senior consultant at the major accounting and consulting firm Deloittes but he now says that he focuses his time on “helping creative people figure out what they’d like to do with their life, how to make good money out of it and how to have some fun at the same time.”

Williams says of his life since making the switch that he has been “fortunate to achieve some remarkable things for someone so unfocussed and naturally lazy”. A nice mix of pride and self-deprecation.

He quit that job at Deloitte and has since “consulted independently for blue-chip organisations such as the BBC; turned a full-time job offer into a 3-day a week freelance gig that paid me the same income; cold-called The Guardian to win my first piece of paid writing, with no prior experience; and, over the past three years, have developed a meeting of a handful of people in a bar into the successful ‘Scanners Night’ event with up to 70 paid attendees. (www.scannercentral.co.uk )

A recent two-page spread in The Times (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/sitesearch.do?querystring=john+williams+scanner&sectionId=342&p=tto&pf=all ) enthuses about him: “John Williams … aims to revolutionise the way we think about work. He says: ‘The rules are changing. My mum’s belief was that work was to be endured, not enjoyed, and her generation didn’t really have a choice.

‘There’s never been a better time — all the tools are there on the internet for you to get paid for what you enjoy. Previously, setting up a business needed premises, funding — but today you could set up your own eBay shop in an afternoon. You need to find the sweet spot between the things you love to do and doing them in a way that solves people’s problems for them — and there is your means of earning a living.’”

Williams concluded, according to The Times: “Now I have a portfolio career consisting of mentoring, corporate creativity workshops, copywriting, blogging … I set my own hours, choose my own co-workers and alternate my place of work between my home, my garden and the local café.”

I got the impression that he prefers his new life to the corporate rat-race.