“DID YOU CHECK?”
I went to an all boys primary school. Every morning before classes began, gangs of small boys in enormous shorts would mill around on the playground, catching up on what had happened since they had last seen each other. Most of the time, not much had happened. But once or twice a week, there was something different in the air. An undercurrent of excitement. The playground hummed like a busy newsroom as a big story breaks.
“DID YOU CHECK, HEY?”
I would hunch my shoulders and prepare for an onslaught. I had not, you see, checked. And everyone else had.
It was the A-Team. I grew up in the golden age of small boy TV shows. It was the A-Team, or Knight Rider, or Macguyver, or Airwolf. And it was big news. There were only two TV channels, and gems like this only came around once a week, which in small boy terms is the equivalent of once a decade. It was an event. It was something that needed to be talked through and relived.
But not by me. My parents had decided not to have a TV in the house. I learned fairly early on that the correct response to the “DID YOU CHECK?” question was never “No, but I heard a fantastic episode of “Squad Cars” on the radio last night!”
The best response was probably affable silence, fleshed out by a bit of vigorous head nodding, but when I was feeling my oats I could shout “JAA! HANNIBAL DRUGGED BA TO GET HIM ON A PLANE, AND WHEN HE CAME ROUND HE PITIED SOME POOR FOOLS AND THEN BUILT A TANK OUT OF OLD GIRDERS AND A PHOTOSTAT MACHINE HE FOUND IN A SHED!!”
“JAA!” a gang of small boys in enormous shorts would chorus in agreement. Because Hannibal always drugged BA to get him on a plane, and when he came round he would always pity some poor fools and then build a tank out of old girders and a photostat machine he found in a shed.
Fear not! This is not some sort of cathartic outpouring of my childhood trauma recommended to me by my therapist to heal the scars left by my ostracism. I saw enough of these shows to get a working idea of what was going on, and made the rest up as I went along. I needed to.
Those four shows permeated the lives of small boys in huge shorts. They formed the basis of playground games. People fought over who was going to be Michael Knight, and whose imaginary car was KITT. Helicopters replaced fighter planes as the coolest airborne death-machines ever. The way people acted changed. Fools were pitied on a regular basis, and almost everybody adopted at least some small part of Murdoch’s personality as their own. The shows crept into our language; to “macguyver” something was to turn it into something else (usually a deadly weapon) using rubber bands and paper clips, everybody became a “sucka”, and we all loved it when a plan came together.
In the end, though, we were just small boys in huge shorts, and the whole phenomenon was just a bit of fun. It didn’t really matter.
Sometimes, though, it can matter a great deal.
Who Moved my Cheese is a rather curious little book. It is, you will be taken aback to hear, about cheese. And two mice, called Sniff and Scurry. And two little people (called Littlepeople) called Hem and Haw. It is about 90 pages long. And what pages they are; most are only half filled with writing, in a font big enough to be used to teach primary-school children to read. The rest are filled with pictures of a piece of cheese. The same piece of cheese. Although it does have different little labels on it each time. Labels like “MOVE WITH THE CHEESE”, and “SMELL THE CHEESE OFTEN”.
If you haven’t read the book, you might be wondering why I’m waffling on about children’s books when I am supposed to be talking about business books. I’m not. Who Moved My Cheese, the story of Scurry the mouse and his Littlepeople friends (and cheese) is not a children’s book. It is one of the most successful business books of all time.
Who Moved my Cheese is a business fable; a book which teaches valuable business lessons by talking about cheese. It’s about change. And it can all be summed up in just a few sentences: Change is going to happen, so get ready for it and be aware of when it’s happening. When it does happen, you need to change along with it. Quickly. And try to enjoy it. Because once it has happened, it’s going to happen again.
And that’s it. No canny advice on investing in the burgeoning dairy product market or logistical information about the transportation of perishables. Just a simple little story about cheese that has sold over 26 million copies and been bought in bulk by some of the world’s most successful companies and read with rapt attention by some of the world’s smartest business people. I don’t get it.
Or at least I didn’t. Luckily, I have people in my life who are smarter than me and can talk me through these things.
I have a relative who is one of the masters of the universe; the people who decide what happens to our economy and our money. He’s a private banker. He moves billions of Rands around for some of the country’s most successful business people. He is, in other words, quite good at this whole business thing.
I once found him lying around a pool reading a copy of Who Moved My Cheese, and asked him, rather smugly, why he was reading a children’s book. He fixed me with the sort of look one can only muster when one’s bicycle is worth more than the annual salary of the person who is trying to be smug to you, and he told me. It’s all rather simple, really. Like Who Moved My Cheese.
It goes like this. No-one is reading business books for their literary merit, for a start. They are reading them for the information they contain. Thing is, change does happen, and those who are the best at dealing with it are the ones who will still be standing once it has happened. If you tell people that in a few simple sentences, though, they will nod sagely and forget it in a matter of minutes. If you wrap it up in a story about cheese, it sticks a little better. But that’s not why he was reading it.
To understand that, you have to go back to those small boys in huge shorts. Business, you see, is one of those times that being privy to the same information and experiences as the rest of the group matters a great deal. You need to play the same games and speak the same language as your peers. My business connection put it like this; his job is to sit on one side of a table and get someone on the other to slide an envelope filled with tens of millions of Rands across to him and ask him to play with it for a while.
This means that he needs to inspire a certain degree of confidence.
And when the whole of the business world is raving about the A-Team and calling each other “sucka”, telling them that it is silly, and that they should rather listen to Squad Cars on the radio is not going to inspire much confidence. My relative was reading Who Moved my Cheese because everybody else was. And if you think that makes business people sheep, you haven’t spent enough time in the company of wolves.
Who Moved My Cheese is not alone. There’s a pile of these books out there. There are books out there explaining how to wage war in ancient China. There are books about black swans and purple cows and fish. Books about the Six Sigma way and NLP and ISO 9000.
They can be about wildly different subjects, but they have one thing in common. They have reached some sort of critical mass. A tipping point (Yup. There’s a book about that). They have become so widely read by the business community that their value no longer lies in the information they contain, but in the fact they they have become part of the language and culture of business itself.
So what makes one of these books? I have no idea. I suspect that to truly understand, you would have to go back to those small boys in huge shorts and ask them how, in the space of a few short days, they all decide that marbles are the things that everyone is doing now. Or yoyos. Or trading cards. It just sort of happens.
And if you want to get ahead in the world of business, you need to keep up. Luckily, we here at Exclusive Books in Clearwater are here to help. We’ve put together a little list for you. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a start. Read all of these, and you will be privy to the same information and experiences as your peers. You’ll be able to play the same games and speak the same language. You’ll get invited to all the coolest business parties. And maybe, just maybe, people will start giving you envelopes filled with tens of millions of rands to play with.
The Fox series, by Clem Sunter
Anything by Malcolm Gladwell
How to win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
Screw it Let’s do it by Richard Branson
Anything by Steven Levitt
Capitalist Nigger by Chika Onyeani
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Anything by Nassim Taleb
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Fish! By Stephen Lundin
Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
Anything by Marcus Buckingham
And of course Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson.
P.S. We’re going to change things slightly. Check out our “News” page for details.