Sunday, May 17, 2009

Who Moved My Cheese?

Dear Readers,
There are a few books I love reading time and again. Who Moved My Cheese?, is one such book.
Here is my review.
Happy reading. Do pick up this book, in case you haven't read it.

Book Review:
Reviewed by: Lubna Kably, Chartered Accountant

Title: Who Moved My Cheese?
Author: Dr Spencer Johnson
Price: INR 100 to 150 (approximately)
Publication: Random House (Vermillion), UK
Official website:

So there I was standing on the edge, my toes involuntary curling inwards with fear, my stomach churning. What was I doing on the edge? And I mean the edge, in every physical sense of the word – the edge of a platform atop a tower fourteen stories high at Surfers’ Paradise, Brisbane. The wind whipped my pony tail in rebellion, as I stood there and shivered.

The jump master, after having harnessed me, stood there patiently. I wanted him to push me off the ledge so that I would not have to decide. This he would not do. It was entirely my call. My call for a shot of adrenalin – Bungee Jumping! I experienced this shot of adrenalin, years and years ago, but remember this incident as vividly as if it were just yesterday.

There are occasions in life, which call for a decision and for making that jump and yes, ones’ toes will curl inwards. But jump we must (or search in the maze), because the ‘Cheese’ is moving and we have no other choice but to move and to find new Cheese.

In these days of an economic slowdown, of quick and rapid changes in policies the world over that have an impact on business operations and on employment, of changing client needs, or for that matter employee needs, employer needs and our own needs, it is important to anticipate, recognise, and understand change.

Who Moved My Cheese? is one such book, which will help you to move with the Cheese and enjoy the new Cheese.

As its official website says: “It is the story of four characters living in a “Maze” who face unexpected change when they discover their “Cheese” has disappeared. Sniff and Scurry, who are mice, and Hem and Haw, little people the size of mice, each adapt to change in their “Maze” differently. In fact, Hem doesn't adapt at all...”
“This timeless allegory reveals profound truths to individuals and organisations dealing with change. We each live in a “Maze”, a metaphor for the companies or organisations we work with, the communities we live in, the families we love places where we look for the things we want in life – “Cheese”. It may be an enjoyable career, loving relationships, wealth, or spiritual peace of mind. With time and experience, one character eventually succeeds and even prospers from the change in his “Maze”.

In an effort to share what he has learned along the way, he records his personal discoveries on the maze walls, the “Handwriting on the Wall”. Likewise, when we begin to see the “writing on the wall”, we discover the simplicity and necessity of adapting to change." This book helps one to learn how to deal with inevitable change.

Let us now move on with the book review. The book begins by describing how a group of former classmates at a reunion enter into a conversation around how the world has changed since they were at school together. It is at this point that one of the group tells the story of “Who Moved My Cheese?”

The mice are named Sniff and Scurry. Sniff sniffs out changes early and Scurry scurries into action. The two little men are Hem and Haw. Sniff and Scurry soon notice changes in their environment. Hem and Haw, however, take the cheese for granted. Gradually the cheese begins to dwindle. Sniff and Scurry are not concerned. They see that the Cheese is not going to last forever so with their running shoes on, they get off to a flying start in search of new Cheese.

As Cheese stocks continue to dwindle, both Hem and Haw, one day find themselves with no Cheese, they are shocked and bewildered. Both throw a fit. However, Hem thinks Cheese is his birthright. He denies and resists change because he fears that something worse will happen if he steps out of the “Maze”, his very own comfort zone. He continues to hope that the Cheese will come back. Alas it will not.

Haw learns to adapt in time when he sees that change has to be dealt with and can lead to something better, if one makes such an attempt. As Haw, leaving his friend Hem behind goes in search of new Cheese, he learns new truths and leaves notes on the wall of the maze hoping that Haw will follow and find them.

The truth or “The handwriting on the wall” are:

* Change happens: They keep moving the Cheese
* Anticipate change: Get ready for the Cheese to move
* Monitor change: Smell the Cheese often so that you know when it is getting old
* Adapt to quickly: The quicker you let go of old Cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new Cheese
* Change: move with the Cheese
* Enjoy change: Enjoy the taste of new Cheese
* Be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again: As mentioned earlier, they keep moving the Cheese

The more important your Cheese is to you, the more you want to hold on to it. The point is that we can be lulled into thinking that there will be no change that our life is stable. We thus fail to notice that the world is changing around us.

Perhaps the time is right to draw up our own checklists:

1.Is our professional business on the right track? Which direction should we keep moving – say by offering new services to cater to the emerging needs of clients, or finding new clients, or spreading in new geographies?
2.Is our career on the right track? What value are we offering our employer? What do we need to do to move up the career path?
3.Is our personal life on track? How much time do we devote to the family or to our own needs? When was the last time you went to the dentist (Don’t laugh, I know for a fact that most of us keep postponing such things, blaming it on lack of time).

At the end of the book, the former classmates discuss the application of the story to their own lives and situations both on the career, business and personal front and how they must move with the Cheese.

It is a slim book, but one that packs a powerful punch. The truth may be difficult to digest – it simply means Change or else…So keep your running shoes, on – always.

Yes, this is again reviewed for The Bombay Chartered Accountants Societys' Journal.

Photographs sourced from : and the book photograph from Amazon.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Monk who sold his Ferrari

Dear Readers,
I found this review a bit tough. I am sending it off now to the BCAS for publication in their journal (PS: It got published in the June edition). Review is below.

Title: The Monk who sold his Ferrari
Author: Robin SharmaPrice: INR 185
Publication: Jaico Books

Much has been written about this book and I am not surprised. You can either like this book or hate it, but you cannot ignore it. Before I begin this review, I must honestly admit that I am skeptical of self-help books which harp about “Leaving things to the forces of the Universe”. Yet, if one reads such books with an open mind, there are lessons that one can adopt, even as one chooses to ignore certain things that don’t make practical sense. The Monk who sold his Ferrari is one such book. I can almost call it spiritual pop. But, yes, who says that you do not have the freedom to pick and choose and adopt those ideas that do make practical sense and can turn your life for the better?

This book begins with the story of Julian Mantle, a successful lawyer who quite simply suffers a burn-out. He survives a heart attack, drops out of the rat race, sells his possessions – including his Ferrari and sets off on a journey (albeit to India) to find out life’s true meaning. Years later when he returns and meets his former associate, another advocate, he is a changed man – both physically and mentally. He has learned some valuable lessons from mythical Himalayan sages which he shares with his former associate (and the readers).

Julian tells his former associate a parable. How can a garden, a lighthouse, a sumo wrestler, a pink wire cable, a shiny gold stopwatch, fresh yellow roses and a winding path of diamonds be interlinked? Well they are.

Much as I hated the naïve dialogue in this book between Julian and his former associate, the best part of this book are the action steps provided at the end of each chapter. Now let us turn to the mysterious objects and find out how they are linked and how they can make our life more meaningful.

The Garden: The garden, in this book is the symbol of the mind. The key lies to banish all negative thoughts, to concentrate on definite meaningful objectives and to remove inner turbulence. Like most other such books, this chapter adds, find your real purpose in life then act on it. It even suggests that you can take risks and give up your profession for something you truly love. I guess, this is not always possible, even as one can try and attain a work-life balance through some sacrifices on the work front and find time for their passions, be it music or painting or writing or family time.

The gems that one can take away from this chapter is to learn to focus on the present, to keep negative thoughts at bay, imagine yourself as you want to be and to run your own race.

Practical tips: “A worrisome thought is like an embryo. It starts off small but grows and grows. Soon it takes on a life of its own”, explains Julian. He wears a necklace around his neck. Whenever, he is unable to shake off a negative thought, he removes one bead and puts it away in a cup. This reminds me of the Worry dolls traditionally made in Guatemala. According to folklore, the doll is thought to worry in the person’s place, when placed under the pillow at night. This permits a person to sleep peacefully and wake up without their worries, which have been taken away by the dolls during the night. Yes, this habit of banishing negative thoughts is worth a try, because endless worrying saps energy, it prevents us from focusing on our dreams and attaining it.

The Lighthouse: “The purpose of life is a life of purpose” says Julian. Clearly defined priorities and goals in every aspect of your life will serve a role similar to that played by a lighthouse, offering you guidance and refuge when the seas become rough. You should clearly know what aims you wish to achieve over the course of your life, be they material, emotional physical or spiritual and you must then manifest this vision into reality by consistent action.

From a practical point of view, this begins with goal setting. Julian says that accomplishing little feats will prepare us for realising the big ones. There is nothing wrong with mapping out a full range of small goals in the process of planning your bigger roles. Above all, he says: Stay spirited, joyful and curious.

Practical tips: Julian explains the steps as below

Step 1: Have a clear vision of your outcome;
Step 2: Create positive pressure to keep you inspired (something as simple as telling your best friend that you want to lose 5 kgs by the end of the month so that he/she can encourage you towards this goal);
Step 3: Set precise doable timelines to your goals;
Step 4: Commit you goal to paper. Prepare a “Dream Book”. You can have different sections for different goals – viz: physical fitness, financial, personal empowerment, relationship/social, spiritual. Fill it with pictures of things you desire, of people whom you wish to emulate;
Step 5: Stay with your goal for the first twenty-one days and soon it will become a habit (for example: an early morning walk).

The Sumo Wrestler: The Sumo wrestler is a constant reminder of the power of kaizen, the Japanese word for self-expansion and progress. Here the key take away is that we must learn to live out of our comfort zone to realise our fullest potential. “The only limits on your life are those that you set for yourself. When you dare to get out of the circle of your comfort and explore the unknown you begin to liberate your true human potential” says Julian. This chapter then goes on to explain ten rituals of radiant living – from spending some time everyday in solitude, to vegetarianism, to getting up early, to reading.

Practical tips: I think the concept of stepping out of your comfort zone is an important point. It could be something as simple as conquering one’s fear of public speaking. It need not be something as drastic as giving up your career to pursue something else. Even as the author says, that if you truly believe that an alternate career will bring you joy, go for it. Thus identify your fears, chalk out how you can conquer them and work on them everyday. For example, if you are scared of public speaking, join a study circle which also includes several of your friends, participate actively in that, and then move on to a wider audience.

A pink wire cable: The sumo wrestler had donned a pink wire cable. It denotes the power of self control and discipline in building a richer, happier and more enlightened life. Alone, each strand of wire is very weak. But a cable which comprises of several strands of wires is tough and strong. To build up an iron will it is essential to routinely perform tiny acts and build up an abundance of inner strength. Inner strength enables you to tackle whatever life throws your way.

Practical tips: Start up doing the things that you know you must be doing, or which are good for you, but you find it difficult to do. Like waking up early and going for that morning walk. Small victories lead to larger victories. Once a bench mark has been attained, raise the benchmark higher. Soon you will be doing things you never knew you were capable of doing with an energy you never knew you possessed.

A shiny gold stop watch: This was a symbol of our most important commodity – time. Time mastery in short is life mastery. Julian reiterated the well known phrase that: 80 per cent of the results we achieve in life come from only 20 per cent of the activities that occupy our time. Julian called for a holistic system of time management that encompassed not only life at the work place, but life per se. He advised that we should keep away from time thieves who for flimsy reasons eat into our time. It is also essential to simplify our life and to savour each and every moment as if today will be our last day.

Practical tips: Time management may sometimes necessitate saying -No. When someone calls for an idle chat while you want to finish your report, learn to say No. When dragged in all directions, prioritise. Keep time for yourself, for your family. Build a time table which includes everything, not just the client appointment, but the trip to the doctor, or the parent-teachers meeting. What is high priority is something you alone can decide for yourself, use time judiciously; after all, no one has more than 24 hours a day.

Fresh yellow roses: A Chinese proverb says: A little bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gave you roses. When you practice random acts of kindness daily, you enrich yourself. Think less of yourself as an individual and more as a member of the universe to which you belong. Julian brought out the true meaning of belongingness or inclusiveness and friendship in this chapter.

Practical tips: Cultivate richer relationships. How about taking the new joinee to the lunch room? Or helping the technically challenged colleague to help fix the printer? Or volunteer at the local NGO during your spare time? In short, help others smile, and they shall smile back at you.

A winding path of diamonds: This signified ‘enlightened living’. Julian explained that: Happiness is a journey. We can either marvel at the diamonds along the way or can keep running all day chasing that elusive pot of god at the end of the rainbow that ultimately reveals itself to be empty. In other words, we need to live in the now!

Practical tips: Practice gratitude and live in the now. Perhaps you could keep a journal where you note down daily whatever you have been grateful for during the course of that day. The size of your car, or your house, or for that matter your bank balance cannot buy you happiness. The size of the gratitude that you experience everyday can.


Although I cannot give this book my highest rating, Julian in one of the chapters says: “You need not apply every strategy to make your life work. Try the techniques and use those that feel right to you”. This makes a lot of sense, even as not everything in this book does.

You may well ask, what was the reason for brining in the Sumo wrestler or the pink wire cable, or for that matter the lighthouse? Well, these were just mind clues. The more bizarre a clue, greater are you likely to remember it, and perhaps even practice it. So take those baby steps, towards a better YOU.