Friday, 6 July 2007

Who Moved My Cheese?

This is an old rant I found tucked away in a corner. You might debate the relevance of dargging it out now, but, as remarked further down, no excuse should be missed toheap scorn on this 'book':

Possibly the worst book ever written is the toe-curlingly awful Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, MD. It really is one of the most remarkably awful things I've encountered in book form, and no opportunity to scorn it should be missed. Frighteningly, it sells by the ton and has received four hundred and thirtynine 5 star reviews on Amazon (so far ...) (1), though, hearteningly, it has also received 398 1 star reviews. Websites have been set up to spread the message further(2). Many people I know who are sensible and successful - far more sensible and succesful than I - swear by it, and cite it as a inspirational book, second to none. But it is awful.

I read it when my wife was loaned a copy through her work, when that company was going through one of its regular restructures (as it is again, now). The book tells you how to regard these changes as opportunites and challenges, not as obstacles. So, basically, when your employer tries to piss all over you, instead of protesting or - Heaven forbid - involving the union - you have to thank them for giving you a chance to explore your potential elsewhere. I kid you not. It doesn't advocate biting the hand that feeds you, so much as kissing the hand that slaps you.

The means of putting this wondrous message across is ... um ... cheesey (I suspect I may not be the first person to make that joke. But what the Hell.) A group of old friends meet up and discuss their lives. One of them starts to tell a story that is mean to illustrate the correct way (in the opinion of the good doctor) to face up to change. He mentions that , when his company was gonig through changes, some people clung onto their old fashioned ideas and sufferred losses as a result. How foolish of them to think they 'might have had any rights what-so-ever.

The story is short, which is the best thing that can be said for it. It describes the experiences of two 'Little People' (That is proles, like you and me), and two busy little mice. For reasons that are never made clear, they live in a maze, and every day they eat cheese which is delivered to the same spot by POWERS UNKNOWN. Then, one day, the cheese isn't there. The little people sulk and protest, unable to accept that SOMETHING HAS CHANGED. The mice immediately scurry off through the maze, and find more cheese.

Eventually, the little people realise that they should follow the example of the mice and go in search of new cheese, instead of sitting about bewailling the change that has befallen them. As they go, they daub the walls of the maze with maxims, just incase the readers of the book are too dim to work out the lesson for themselves. It one of the most patronising books I've ever read. And it is wrong. No consideration is given to the idea that a change may not be appropriate, or that the 'little people' should protest when their jobs are out-sourced to China, that workers - for the book is really telling workers that they need to accept just that sort of thing, hence the reason it appeared in Mrs Lurgee's workplace when the 'little people' were ahving their cheese moved - might have a say or a stake in the company they work for. Change is always good, especially if it involves you losing your job. Be grateful, grasshopper, for the chance to experience poverty, insecurity and hardship.

The tedious narrative is written in a curdled style that made me want to puke. It made Woman's Realm read like Raymond Chandler. And this book sells by the million, to successful, presumably intelligent, business people. What is so wrong with the world that this is allowed to happen? Is there no God?


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