Earlier this fall term a writing student handed me a xeroxed copy of Spencer Johnsons Who Moved My Cheese?, saying only that the book might interest me. I gave the sheets a cursory glance, set them aside, and didnt recall them until a month or so later when, at a meeting, someone mentioned that the organization was using Cheese to foster imagineering among its employees and volunteers. Curiosity aroused, I went websurfing to learn what I could about Who Moved My Cheese? and discovered the book occupying first position-as of 11-8-2000 on USA Todays bestseller list of business books and second place among its general trade book bestsellers, bested only by the latest Harry Potter. In second position on the business list appeared Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Clearly I was missing a popular phenomenon that demanded closer attention.
In the tradition of the first shall be last, Ill commence with Kiyosakis Rich Dad, Poor Dad, a manual designed to teach financial literacy. Money, Kiyosaki tells us, is not taught in schools. Schools focus on scholastic and professional skills, but not on financial skills. . . . Our [Americas] staggering national debt is due in large part to highly educated politicians making financial decisions with little or no training on the subject of money. Rich Dad, Poor Dad promises to correct this intellectual deficit, though not the logical one, by teaching how we can make our money work for us instead of our working always for money.
Kiyosakis Poor Dad, and presumably author of his being, held a Ph. D. and became Hawaiis superintendent of education. He, according to his son, taught the conventional value of a thorough education as preparation for a good job and a useful role in society. He wouldnt permit discussions of money at the dinner table. Rich Dad, father of a boyhood friend, owner of restaurants and a construction company, taught that life pushes people around in an attempt to make them learn something. A few, according to Rich Dad, welcome life pushing them around. To these few people, it means they need and want to learn something. They learn and move on. Learning to move on requires mastering fear of not having enough money and greed for wanting more money to enjoy ever greater material benefits. Most people, Rich Dad claims, use these emotions against themselves and, because they never question where fear and greed are leading them, trap themselves in what he calls the rat race.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad is a manual for wannabe plutocrats. It teaches that money is an illusion-Id say an abstraction-that the knowledgeable can manipulate. Many people, obsessed with chasing a weekly paycheck, dont comprehend this lesson and remain benighted. Kiyosaki learned early, he tells us, when while working with Rich Dads son Mike in Rich Dads convenience store, they discovered that the store manager was returning to the distributor for credit the covers from outdated comic books and throwing the comic books away. The boys made a deal with the distributor not to resell the comics, then opened a library in Mikes cellar where for ten cents admission the neighborhood children could spend afternoons reading up on Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat. This Horatio Alger pluck and ingenuity has its charm when practiced by boys, but, as Rich Dad, Poor Dad develops, Kiyosaki assumes something of a con-man, opportunist tinge. He observes that, contrary to popular belief, viewing home ownership as an investment rather than as an expense blinds those in the rat race to the opportunities provided by real estate investment, especially if one can frequent the bankruptcy court. Kiyosaki, when he relocated to Phoenix, picked up foreclosed houses at bargain basement prices only to resell them at triple profits. He concluded his first such deal quickly and profitably. The friend who had loaned him the $2000 down payment was happy, the home buyer was happy, the attorney was happy, and I was happy. Were never told the bankrupts emotions. Kiyosaki blurs the line between investing and speculating. Its not gambling if you know what youre doing. It is gambling if youre just throwing money into a deal and praying. He possesses a very western U. S. mistrust of government interference in the market, though he urges incorporation as a means of insulating business transactions from taxation and litigation, and, in fact, understands the fine points of the Internal Revenue code.
He makes frequent disclaimers that his examples are meant only as advice and are not for emulation Kiyosaki is insightful, inquisitive, and intrepid. The reader cant help but applaud his willingness to take risks. He depicts himself as the American entrepreneur in the tradition of an ingenious Tom Sawyer convincing the neighborhood gang how whitewashing the fence can be fun, a gambit Rich Dad would approve. He bills himself as a teacher the millionaire school teacher the end cover calls him who can ignite the entrepreneurial fire in anyone, in which endeavor, he resembles an Elmer Gantry, calling his flock to the marketplace of their dreams, a seduction that likely made Poor Dad squirm.
Poor Dad perhaps consoled himself with George Eliots remark that a maggot must be born i the rotten cheese to like it. If Rich Dad, Poor Dad offers practical how-to advice for those who want to be millionaires, Who Moved My Cheese? provides the philosophical underpinning, the fontina of wisdom, so to speak. Spencer Johnson, M. D., in the words of Kenneth Blanchards introduction, tells us how it would be to our advantage to do the simple things that work when things change.
For those unfamiliar with Who Moved My Cheese? (a Velveeta slice sized book with a Camembert price) the allegory concerns (quoting again from Blanchards introduction) change that takes place in a Maze where four amusing characters look for Cheese-cheese being a metaphor for what we want to have in life, whether it is a job, a relationship, money, a big house, freedom, health, recognition, spiritual peace, or even an activity like jogging or golf-almost the whole dairy counter. We meet the principals, two intuitive mice named Sniff and Scurry, and two lilliputian humans named Hem and Haw. They reside in the Maze and search for cheese, the mice employing their instincts and the humans their complex brains. They find cheese and locate their cheese cottages near this Bel Paese, thinking the fromage will last forever. Having Cheese makes you happy were told in big, bold letters superimposed on a wedge of Swiss. Inevitably, one day the parmesan goes missing. The mice did not overanalyze things or yield to the bleus but, quicker than Monterey Jack, scurry off to sniff out more mozzarella. The littlepeople realize theyre in a not so gouda situation but have grown arrogantcheese is an entitlement, American cheese anywayand complacentcheese is forever. They decry whatever boor sinned against them: Weve lost our way, they moan. The intuitive mice, unhindered by any sense of feta accompli, quickly find their new Edam while the littlepeople sit around like a pair of sapsagos wondering what to do. They stay on the long horns of their dilemma until Haw recognizes that the muenster is within and resolves to explore the Maze. Oh, do not ask what is it, he decides, let me go and find my Tilsit. Haws willingness to enter the Derby leads him finally to his new coéur a la crème. He sits, savoring his pecorino, and wonders whether Hem will ever work up the allegro con brieo to enter the Maze and find his own abbey of Télème. The storys auditors hold a discussion about its significance and decide essentially that Who Moved My Cheese? teaches that one should move with the times. Create enough pressure for change, move the cheese, and change will occur. Dont be trapped by fixed beliefs and outmoded customs. Whatevers useful is good so long as it keeps people running about in the maze looking for cheese. Simple things that work when things change does however verge on simplemindedness, a near dumbing down of Thoreaus simplify, simplify. While I sometimes find myself half agreeing that we live our existence in a maze, I fear that in my search for some Neufchatel, Ill encounter the Minotaur on one of his bad days. Forgive me then for continuing to believe that malt does more than Stilton can to justify the wheys of God to man.
Postscript. Both Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Who Moved My Cheese? offer elaborate web sites,
the latter purveying a complete line of products and links. And, yes, someone has already
written a satire of Who Moved My Cheese?, the title of which any adolescent boy