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Who Moved My Cheese? is a story about how two mice and two littlepeople react to change -- embrace it or fight it -- and how it affects them. Millions of people have read the book, many of them educators. Bruce Bracken, of Who Moved My Cheese.com, talks with Education World about why he thinks the book is so popular. Included: Comments from educators about how Who Moved My Cheese? has influenced them.

Bruce Bracken is the chief operations officer of Who Moved My Cheese.com. The company was founded by Dr. Spencer Johnson, the author of Who Moved My Cheese?, a book about accepting and embracing change. Bracken took the book's message to heart and left a 25-year career at another company to join Who Moved My Cheese.com. Among the book's biggest fans -- and biggest critics -- are educators, Bracken says.

"The book is written as a parable with metaphors throughout," Bracken told Education World. "That style of writing allows readers to interpret the meaning for themselves. When we can learn to not take ourselves so seriously and to laugh at ourselves, an evolution of character begins to take shape. Educators are meant to shape character by teaching knowledge and understanding. Who Moved My Cheese? is one of those books that struck a chord. With more than 11 million copies in print, there are obviously a lot of change agents in the world. Educators are among the best."

Education World: Many teachers have read Who Moved My Cheese? Why, do you think, is the book so popular among educators?

Bruce Bracken: As a group, educators are our second-largest customer base. From individual schools, both private and public, to school districts and universities, educators have recognized the value of Who Moved My Cheese?

The field of education is far from exempt from change; yet, we find it is a field most resistant to it. We find more Hems in education than we do in government. I had to pick myself up off the floor with this discovery, just as you probably did. Educators have described themselves as very territorial, set in their ways, and having a "prove it to me" mentality -- not a good recipe for change. Take, for example, this comment from a professor at a Tennessee university:

"I am a faculty member at a university that has always had large amounts of grant money available. In recent years, however, the federal government has moved money into other areas. I did not want to change; I enjoyed a favorable reputation in my area of interest. I began to think it was unfair that I had to adjust after 20 years of hard work and that having to change my research focus to compete with young people in new areas was not right. Then I read Who Moved My Cheese? and it shook me down to my toes.

"I'm now in the Maze and have found bits of New Cheese, although I haven't found a big Cheese Station yet. No worries; it is coming. I can envision it, and I am actually enjoying the hunt much more than I thought I would. My family has also noticed a big change in my attitude. All I can say is thank you for writing this book. The story is simple but amazing -- and it changed my life."

Educators teach their students to learn all they can so they have options in life. One's potential is not set in stone at birth; it has to develop and change with increased knowledge and understanding. The role of teachers is to help students in the process of this discovery, and teachers need to set an example. The simplicity of Who Moved My Cheese? struck a nerve with educators by showing them the value of New Cheese.

EW: Does Dr. Johnson give workshops for teachers?

Bracken: Dr. Johnson does not personally conduct workshops. The demands on his time do not allow it. We have certified presenters who, speaking on behalf of Dr. Johnson, present the Cheese message to educators, as well as to corporations, government agencies, and other groups. Educators as a group are the most fun, and yet the most difficult, audience for presenters.

Each presentation is targeted toward a specific client. The presentation takes the participants through the concepts of the book in a fun and thoughtful way. It is not a typical training environment. The presentation is highly interactive, requiring audience participation that gets people involved right from the beginning.

Participants go through the steps of recognizing the need for personal change, and they learn to recognize the personality of the four characters, Sniff, Scurry, Hem, and Haw. The participants then come to recognize parts of all four characters in themselves. The program concludes with organizational change and with discussions about how the participants can be of greater value within their organizations by embracing change and of how they can help others through the change process with greater success and less stress.

The entire program, if conducted as designed, lasts four hours -- which can be broken down into two modules of two hours each. Participants leave feeling energized, realizing they have power in change and that they must always be looking in the Maze, sniffing out new change and direction.

EW: How can people use the Web site along with the book?

Bracken: Unfortunately, our Web site is weak in supporting the message of change. We are in the process of constructing a site that will be interactive and fun, that people will want to visit often and learn from. Content of immediate value to educators will include accounts of how others have used Who Moved My Cheese? in their schools and organizations.

EW: What types of comments have you received from educators about this book?

Bracken: We've heard from both admirers and critics, as you would expect. The critics complain that the message is too simple and that they dislike being compared to mice. Those critics confuse simple with simplistic. If the message is so simple, why are we so afraid of change, and why do we feel so threatened by it? Educators, more than other groups of professionals, seem to feel very passionate about the book. They either really like it or really dislike it; there seems to be no middle ground. Yet, collectively, they are avid readers of it. Go figure!

A California teacher said, "I loved the book! After reading Happy Hedgehog, a book about change, to my kindergartners, I shared the story of Who Moved My Cheese? with them. They understood it. The message of Cheese transcends age and culture."

A New York educator reported, "I was an overworked and under-appreciated assistant principal in a New York City high school. I envisioned staying at Cheese Station C High School until I grew old and died. I was not enjoying myself anymore, but I was afraid I wasn't good enough to get another job. After reading Who Moved My Cheese? I found chunks of new cheese and am enjoying it immensely."

Finally, a student wrote, "I am writing concerning your book. I recently represented my school at a nationwide leadership conference, and I was required to read your book before the conference. I thought, as a kid, this book wouldn't be of interest to me, but after reading it, I am rejuvenated. I have a new perspective on life; I am a very positive thinker and a student body president who really cares. I want to thank you for your words of wisdom and congratulate you on what you have done to make a difference in this world."

This e-interview with Bruce Bracken is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Originally published 04/01/2002; updated 09/18/2006


 

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