August 04, 2003

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

cheese.jpgI have a hard time even putting a review of this book in here, but I did read the thing, so I may as well.

Who Moved My Cheese? is a tiny little book containing four things: 18 pages of shameless self-promotion, 21 pages of framing story, 37 pages of parable about maze-dwelling cheese-seekers, and 15 pages of single aphorisms inscribed in a picture of a wedge of cheese.

"Pages" is kind of a mis-nomer since even the most packed page has only about 270 words, and most of the "pages" have half that. Add in some nice thick paper and you get a hard-cover "book" that's barely a half-inch thick. And they're selling this tome for $19.95. And even more crazy is that even at that absurd price it's selling like hotcakes.


If it were well-written and deeply insightful, I'd be less disgusted. But the parable could easily be told in 5 or 10 pages. The framing story is full of people who say things that no human being would ever say without an author holding a sharp pen to their back, and the rest of it is a waste of wood pulp.

Okay, there's the snobby elitist stuff out of the way. What about the message?

Here's the parable in 147 words:

Sniff and Scurry are mice and Hem and Haw are little people. They all live in a maze. Their job is to search for cheese. They find a seemingly endless supply. They chow down. Eventually the supply dries up. The mice shrug their shoulders and head out into the maze to find the next bonanza. The little people go through the grieving process, but mostly get stuck in denial. Haw finally realizes the old cheese isn't coming back, and heads back out into the maze. After searching for a while (and writing a bunch of aphorisms on the maze walls) he finds a new cache of cheese and resolves to not take so long to start looking next time one dries up. As far as we can tell, Hem never gets off his duff and goes looking for new cheese but just starves to death. The End.

The point of this is supposed to be that change happens and rather than trying to resist it, one should shrug one's shoulders and start making lemonade out of all those lemons.

There are many situations where this is fine advice. Much of the change we have to deal with is beyond our sphere of influence. We can't stop it so we have to go with the flow.

The biggest problem I have with the book is that it doesn't make the distinction between change that should be accepted and change that is a sign of a larger problem that should be fought with all the power and skill at one's disposal.

Granted this second path holds the danger of turning one into a quixotic figure, but I worry that blind acceptance of authoritarian imposed change will lead us to be the plug-and-play work-units that corporate managers have so longed for.

The fact that one of my bosses bought copies of this book to lay around the department following a recent layoff and off-shore outsourcing makes me wonder whether he's trying to tell us to buck up and get with the program, or read the writing on the wall and start looking for another job.

There was one aphorism that echoed some of what I've been learning in therapy:

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Be more quixotic, maybe?

Posted by jeffy at August 4, 2003 02:50 PM

It was good to find a critical review amongst all the shameless hype.
I haven't read the tome, but the hoaky theme of change and acceptance I pick up from the 'reviews' (promotions, more like) says, here is something for the neo-con-accepting, corporatised, individualised, narcissistic, self-regarding generation.
My boss and various working people in my public-sector department - ripe for this hoaky, sentimental soft-fascism - and who are responsible for supporting Learning Disabled adults in the community, should know better.

Posted by: Kelvin Yearwood at May 17, 2005 02:17 PM
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