Once upon a time I worked at a company that placed great faith in management consultants, business strategy theorising, psychometric testing and so on. Meetings with executives would see the likes of Tom Peters, Clayton Christensen and Peter Drucker being cited and you couldn't move for the long tails and empty raincoats. The noise from the non-stop business re-engineering was deafening.
One day, my boss came back to his desk with a look as if he had accidentally added salt to his coffee. "They've given me this to read!" he said, throwing down a thin volume with a cheesy cover. "I'm not reading this rubbish - it's an insult to my intelligence." The word he used was not really "rubbish", by the way.
I said I would take it off his hands as I had heard that it was required reading for the Australian cricket team, and to this day I'm still not sure whether he or opening bat Justin Langer was correct.
The book was Who Moved My Cheese?, published in 1998 and written by Spencer Johnson, or Spencer Johnson, M.D. as the jacket had it (this particular Dr Johnson graduated in psychology and "completed medical clerkships", according to the biography on the book's website). He is the same Spencer Johnson who co-wrote another gazillion-seller, The One-Minute Manager.
It is a work that divides people almost in the manner of a religious screed. There are those who see it as a life-changing book that is the fount of all wisdom, while others... well, others see it like that old boss of mine.
The book uses a narrative device of four characters - a couple of mice and a couple of little people - living in a maze and the challenges they face when they discover their cheese has gone missing. It is an allegory for managing change, naturally, with cheese representing our desires. The message is that we all have to live with change and the best approach is to accept this and stay positive.
Sounds awful, doesn't it, and it's not helped by the dreadful pun of the subtitle, but the book has sold scads and has spawned the inevitable consulting and training gigs, and even a luridly animated movie.
Change is always challenging and Johnson offers some archetypes for the way different characters deal with it, whether at home, in love, or in business life. With so many CIOs today becoming change agents, it's worth examining and, having read it, you might well start noting the various attitudes to change displayed by the characters. So read it and, if you like it, pass it on to colleagues as so many managers have already done. If they don't like it, tell them to start moving with the cheese.
Who Moved My Cheese? at Amazon