too many words by laura lemay

The cheese stands alone

Explanation: I have a friend who works for a startup in the valley. One day a mandatory all hands meeting was called at this company so that HR could give every single employee copies of the book “Who Moved My Cheese.” You will read this book, it was explained to my friend and his co-workers, and discuss it in your workgroups. You will do little reports on it. Apparently all work at said company ground to a halt while everyone was very busy doing their little cheese reports. And you wonder why we are in a recession.

My friend was kind enough to give the book to me so that I could properly savage it.

* * * *

OK, I finally got around to reading Who Moved my Cheese. It took me about 45 minutes this morning, and that included a lot of time being disgusted and stopping to read the net instead.

Laura’s capsule review: what a massive pile of steaming horseshit this is.

Understand: I have read business books. I have read self-help books. I understand that the point is to take an idea that would be blatantly obvious to anyone with the intelligence of a radish, and spell it out in really small words and breezy language so that the whole book can be read in less than an hour. Business people and people who need help are busy people, after all. They don’t want to have to spend a lot of time puzzling over the point, because if that was what they wanted, they could spend $19.95 on Faulkner instead.

But jeez. As I posted earlier, the book is 94 pages, in extremely large type, and a number of those pages are taken up with large pictures of cheese with various important points on them. This is presumably so that you as a busy business person or self-help-type does not have to waste a valuable post-it-note marking the important parts.

Breezy tone? Oh yeah. It was any breezier it would blow over the lawn furniture. Throughout this book the tone of the writing kept giving me chilling flashbacks to Romper Room, to that horrible woman who spoke in a sort of bubbly friendly soothing voice to all us pre-schoolers, trying to lure us into staring into the magic mirror….. this always terrified me. I always wanted to scream DON’T LOOK INTO THE MIRROR!!!! WHO KNOWS WHAT HORRORS ARE IN THE MIRROR!!! IT’LL SUCK YOU IN AND YOU’LL NEVER GET OUT AGAIN!!!

Who Moved My Cheese is like that. It seems simple enough. They even spell out the point in the beginning, just in case the metaphor is too tough to grasp: cheese is whatever you want in life, comfort, wealth, a good job, a best-selling business book. You may expect the cheese to be in one point in the maze, but one day the cheese will get moved. And you can sit and complain and fail or you can go off looking for new cheese. And those who do go looking for new cheese will be the ones who succeed and be happy. So go! Succeed and be happy! Go! Go!

Yes, boys and girls, this is a 94 page, $19.95 version of the bumper sticker that says “Shit Happens.”

But that’s just the middle part of the book, the core cheese story. There’s a surrounding story at the beginning and end, and this is the part that has the subtle propaganda in it. In the meta-story, we have a group of ex-classmates, getting together at a class reunion to talk about how their lives have progressed since they graduated school, and of course the subject turns to change, and how they all manage change in their lives (funny, when I get together with old friends we all talk about that stupid thing so-and-so did back in ’85 after drinking nineteen shots of tequila, but I guess this is why I don’t write business books). And one of them says they have this great story about cheese, and how in their company when they told they cheese story, it CHANGED EVERYONE’S LIVES.

Everyone? the group asks in awe.

Well, not everyone, the classmate says sadly. There was one guy at our company who heard the cheese story, and he thought it was stupid and a complete waste of time. But then, he was one of those types who refuses to look for new cheese. And we eventually had to let him go.

Ahhh. You will read the cheese book, and you will like the cheese book. It will change your life. Or we will fire your ass.

No wonder HR departments love this book. No wonder they give it to all their employees and make them read it and do little reports in their groups. Its a weeding tool.

I will counsel my friend, should he run across any HR while at work, to memorize the following phrases, culled from the book, which should satisfy Them that he has been indoctrinated into the cult.

  • If You Do Not Change, You Can Become Extinct.
  • Smell the Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old
  • When Your Move Beyond Your Fear, You Feel Free
  • Move With The Cheese, And Enjoy It!

With these phrases and a quick duck into the coffee room, I imagine that even the most terrifying of HR demons can be quickly vanquished. These days, worker peons need all the help they can get.