The 7 habits of Arbeit Macht Frei
July 26, 2004 5:42 AM   Subscribe

I've seen it happen where these types of managers have the nerve to hold this type of book up in front of a group of people and imply the problem is the workforce for not choosing to be happy about poor leadership. From an Amazon review of Fish!. I've been motivated with that twice. A friend of mine was encouraged to take The Flight of the Buffalo and another is going to a sponsored Dale Carnegie class. So, who's moved your cheese?
posted by pieoverdone (55 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I graduated right after Sept. 11th, and now with the war, I have found it so hard to find a job in my area, Criminal Justice. What I got out of the book the most, was letting go of my fears! Because with that, the cheese will come.

Oh, I think it's already here.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 5:49 AM on July 26, 2004

The Fish philosphy was brought up in my last performance review. It was already a given that there would be no raises (I've been here 7 years, we've had 2 profitable quarters) and I got raked over the coals for doing things that were on my performance plan of all things. A year previously HR was all hot and bothered over the Fish! book and after telling me that I shouldn't have met my goals (or whatever message he was trying to get across - I still haven't figured it out) my manager read me the gospel from it. I told him to blow me and walked out.
posted by substrate at 6:11 AM on July 26, 2004

I will be starting my own series of books and a lecture circuit. Seven Habits of Increasing Hostile Workers.
posted by substrate at 6:12 AM on July 26, 2004

What constantly amazes me is that managers constantly push employees into all manner of fads, while completely ignoring the simplest way to motivate those under them - leading by example.
posted by dg at 6:25 AM on July 26, 2004

Having never seen the video, it remains to me a legend, tantamount to the book of the covenant or the dead sea scrolls. However, the throwing of the fish, I pass by every day at my lunch break.
posted by iamck at 6:25 AM on July 26, 2004

I read as much of Who Moved My Cheese as I could stand (a chapter or two). I'm still shocked at what some people consider valuable and insightful advice. Perhaps they didn't get enough story time in kindegarten?

Here's where I would insert a My Pet Goat joke if my brain wasn't fried from 16 hours of fixing broken web sites and writing tricky database updates. Oy, it's past my bedtime.
posted by TungstenChef at 6:28 AM on July 26, 2004

Allow me to save you the expense of buying these management fad books by telling you the One Big Secret of Management: It's the employees' fault.

Yes, I am bitter and cynical, thank you.
posted by tommasz at 6:34 AM on July 26, 2004

The Amazon reviews never fail to reveal the kind of reader the author is most successful in reaching. The people who gave it 5 stars are the HR types that put little hearts or smiley faces to dot their i's.

I've been in Operations (and by extention HR) Management for 10 years. All it takes to keep people properly motivated is to provide and maintain an open, dignified and professional enviroment, where integrity is rewarded and undesirable behaviors like being pettily territorial, or backstabbing are strongly discouraged. Whatever set of devices you need to get you there is fine, but when you rely on cutesy devices and gimmicks, it makes you look foolish and debases the environment and whatever kind of esprit de corps you are trying to develop.
posted by psmealey at 6:37 AM on July 26, 2004

1. Come up with a "vision".
2. Become "empowered".
3. ???
4. Profit!
posted by reklaw at 6:38 AM on July 26, 2004

My last manager was big into the Fish philosophy. He was probably the best manager I've every had - willing to listen, leading by example etc. Made us watch the Fish video and all. It had quite a good effect on our team, morale increased, we were having a quite a bit of fun, it was generally ok...until the new 2IC started. I quit a month later.
posted by Jase_B at 6:41 AM on July 26, 2004

I was subjected to an excruciating half-day of Cheese parables several years ago. We have another retreat scheduled for the middle of August, and I am sure my bosses are dreaming up something awful for us right now. I sure hope they don't hold up a copy of Fish in front of us.
posted by kozad at 6:43 AM on July 26, 2004

Our department watched the Cheese video at a retreat a couple of years ago, and it was the most worthless piece of garbage I have ever seen. Those who say these products are merely a way of hiding the inadequacies of management are exactly right. Closely related management scams are psychological tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which only serve to reinforce preexisting feelings toward a person, in much the same way a horoscope or fortune cookie does.
posted by TedW at 6:57 AM on July 26, 2004

When you get the Who Moved My Cheese treatment at work then you can fully expect that your employer is about to insert smegma into your anal orifice. Move My Cheese indeed.
posted by nofundy at 7:09 AM on July 26, 2004

Jase_B - What's a 2IC?
posted by ssmith at 7:10 AM on July 26, 2004

"Motivating" is really a benign term for "manipulating." The books of this genre are really trying to present models to subvert your underlings' will and get them to perform exactly as you would like.

A former co-worker of mine claims to have told a director at our former company that he was "not going to drink your Kool-Aid."
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:14 AM on July 26, 2004

I wish someone would post something in favor of the Fish or Cheese methodologies here. I'd like to hear someone justify these trivial, jejune, employee-insulting videos, and the hours of what could have been productive work time wasted in watching them? The fish throwers began throwing fish out of despair having failed at everything else in life and now finding themselves working in a fish market. They can shout and hurl halibut all they want, but they still work in a stinking fish market, selling fish to people who make five-thousand times more money than they do, and whose jobs afford them some kind of personal dignity, and don't turn them into clowns or a public spectacle. I'm glad the fish throwers throw fish -- you can't expect much other compensation in that job. But don't think that the lessons of fish throwing apply anywhere else.
posted by Faze at 7:16 AM on July 26, 2004

Anybody else think that a couple of those "reviews" sounded suspiciously like they were written by the authors or friends of or cousins of or lovers of the authors?
posted by papercake at 7:22 AM on July 26, 2004

You should ask yourself, with every decision you make: is this good for the company?
posted by psmealey at 7:25 AM on July 26, 2004

the simplest way to motivate those under them - leading by example.

Amen to that. For almost 4 years, I worked for the worst human being I've ever encountered. Professionally, he was a pitiful manager who continually made bad decisions while refusing to accept that his employees actually had good ideas that could help his company. He lied to and stole from his own staff, got caught and refused to apologize. He would do or say anything to get what he wanted - convinced he could bullshit his way out any mess he got himself into. He was very, very good at short term deception, which fueled his ego and ambition.

He was often throwing books at us, rather than simply acting like a rational, competent businessman. God, it was soul-crushing.
posted by davebush at 7:26 AM on July 26, 2004

stupid, pointless crap like fish/cheese garbage, and the scads of "motivational"posters they sell to go along with them, are just a few of the many reasons i am so happy not to work in a stinking business office setting.

plus the ability to go for coffee whenever i want, or to openly surf mefi here and there at work, those are nice plusses. thank god for academia! everyone should work there!

(now if i can just manage to finish off that pesky "thesis" my advisor keeps talking about... maybe i need a three-day retreat to hear an inspirational message about fish markets to help motivate me!)
posted by caution live frogs at 7:35 AM on July 26, 2004

The one nice thing about these seminars is all the free luggage they give you.
posted by ChasFile at 7:39 AM on July 26, 2004

I'm having to do a quarterly review at a business which is wholly unethical, floundering, and recently oh-so-happily wallowing in DISC profiles and The Seven Great Penises of Management Pants books. One member of management broke up with his way-out-of-his-league (he should have been thanking the good lord jeebus every day she stood to look at him) girlfriend and gave 'the things he had learned about himself after reading these books' as his reason for ending the relationship.

What did I accomplish this past quarter?
What will I accomplish this next quarter?
How can I improve my job, my output, and my efficiency?

With this coming at a time when I think I have secured new employment and am only waiting it out, the temptations presented by those questions are almost overwhelming. However, according to my DISC profile, I am dispassionate, so perhaps I should straight-edge it.
posted by littlegreenlights at 7:45 AM on July 26, 2004

he was a pitiful manager who continually made bad decisions while refusing to accept that his employees actually had good ideas that could help his company

I have worked with/for two such people. One was absolutely vindictive and was the demon spawn of satan, and the other, was merely clueless... he actually thought that he came up with the ideas on his own that others and I had given to him. In either case, I think we agree that a good manager should never be afraid of elevating an employee and his/her ideas above him or herself.

Unfortunately, in today's overburdened "matrix" organizations that don't allow for a management layer, management ability is no longer valued as a skill. So, people are promoted into management positions for a variety of reasons, but rarely because they are actually good managers. Too often these jobs are handed out as plums rather than to qualified people. So, you get book after book about simplistic, and sometimes infantile psychological to give these numbnutzes cliches and other diversionary devices to keep them from being discovered as thoroughly incompetent managers.

Oh, and if anyone tries to sell you on this Fish thing, tell them that a Fish usually starts to stink from the head.
posted by psmealey at 7:47 AM on July 26, 2004

All it takes to keep people properly motivated is to provide and maintain an open, dignified and professional enviroment, where integrity is rewarded and undesirable behaviors like being pettily territorial, or backstabbing are strongly discouraged.

Oh, god, I just picked myself up off the floor over that one... I'm not laughing at you, mind... just it's that I find it so funny that I find this funny. I mean, what: You expect people to just be decent to one another? And show respect?

In an American business culture?

Why, that might actually require that managers honestly recognize that they aren't the primary value-drivers. Who's gonna do that?

OK, OK, ... in all seriousness... You're completely right, and that fact just serves to underscore the main point of this post: That all this management-fad nonsense is really just an excuse to let people with no business in management positions justify their own petty territorialities and vendettas. I've had the great good fortune to direct-report almost exclusively to managers who actually did this -- create an atmosphere of mutual respect and professionalism (and almost always finding ways to make it fun, too, like the "Full Beer Equivalent" [FBE] discplinary system). And I've seen other managers, and more senior managers, who lived by a more Macchiavellian code.

And I've seen who gets more loyalty. And in a high-turnover workforce, loyalty is gold. It's what gets you the lead to your next job.
posted by lodurr at 7:51 AM on July 26, 2004

It's too bad when Myers-Briggs gets hijacked into shoving people into boxes. It's a useful set of perspectives to look at problem solving and conflict.

But yeah, ditto on all the above. Treat people decently and with dignity and don't be a dickhead and you can't help but have happy employees.
posted by ao4047 at 7:54 AM on July 26, 2004

As usual, the original is better.
posted by wobh at 8:29 AM on July 26, 2004

Not only did a former manager make us all read Who Moved My Cheese?, he would on occasion stay late at the office and leave little packages of cheese on workers' keyboard where we would find them in the morning.

He was fired 6 months after I got there. No one was sad.
posted by falconred at 9:12 AM on July 26, 2004

I've never read Cheese or Fish but I did like Eat That Frog and the War of Art, though they're not really "management" books.
posted by dobbs at 9:19 AM on July 26, 2004

people!! ... what is wrong with you?? ... remember this ... there is no "i" in team ... got that? ... no "i" in team ... there is also no "i" in slave, brownnoser, backstabber or flunky

now get to work!!
posted by pyramid termite at 9:33 AM on July 26, 2004

there is no "i" in team

I'm fond of pointing out that there is an "m" and an "e."
posted by kindall at 10:12 AM on July 26, 2004

i know a clueless dufus who landed a job as department head, leading a group of people who had been doing for 25 years something he had exactly 2 years experience at. he demanded respect without giving respect, railroaded 2 people out of the office over small issues in order to establish the "chain of command" and a year later when management/worker relations were circling the drain, he purchased numerous copies of "who moved the cheese" and left one sitting on each desk. and was mystified and angry when several were returned with the title altered to read "who cut the cheese". he's still there, heading up a committee formed to address the high employee churn rate.
posted by quonsar at 10:21 AM on July 26, 2004

The Not My Desk review of Who Moved My Cheese.
posted by cmonkey at 11:18 AM on July 26, 2004

As a bookstore employee (1 of 3 jobs I work), I'm astounded by how popular these books are. "Who Moved My Cheese" is a $20 book which is only available in hardcover despite the fact that it has been available for years. The book is maybe (at most) 100 pages. The worst part though is that the also make a version for kids and teens (I'm imagining empowered parents buy them to empower their children).

The highlight for me is finding these books at thrift stores and reselling them at a profit.
posted by drezdn at 11:31 AM on July 26, 2004

We were subjected to the Fish crap and it's pretty funny to watch senior management try to work fish metaphors in to everything.

One vapid program no one has mentioned is Give 'Em the Pickle. That one never fails to bring a smile to my face. It's incredible that anyone could get in front of hundreds of people and enjoin them to give them the pickle with a straight face.
posted by bbrown at 11:36 AM on July 26, 2004

Y'all obviously haven't yet orbited the giant hairball.
posted by Vidiot at 11:51 AM on July 26, 2004

My first real job had Give Em the Pickle. I thought it would be too obscure. Any time we had to capitulate to some user's ridiculous request we called it 'a pickle'.

Tangent: I'm in the Midwest. We were all 'wtf is Friendly's Ice Cream Parlor?'
posted by pieoverdone at 11:52 AM on July 26, 2004

Farrell's. Sorry.
posted by pieoverdone at 11:54 AM on July 26, 2004

I've never run into this "Cheese" thing, but it astounds me that anyone in the universe would ever respond positively to a metaphor that describes human beings as less functional than mice in maze.

My mind boggles...
posted by Irontom at 12:01 PM on July 26, 2004

When told there's no "i" in team. I usually respond by suggesting a word with "u" in it.
posted by devon at 12:25 PM on July 26, 2004

I am surprised no one here has encountered the BOHICA management paradigm. Bend Over Here It Comes Again…
posted by arse_hat at 12:33 PM on July 26, 2004

When told there's no "i" in team. I usually respond by suggesting a word with "u" in it.

My freshman year in high school, I had a mediocre lacrosse coach. He was a dunderheaded moron that was actually a football coach, but I suppose got the job because no one else was available to coach freshman lax. Ar any rate, he, like so many football coaches, incessantly spouted those tired aphorisms.

One day, after a particularly agonizing defeat, which we lost largely because he insisted on starting his football players over the guys that were actually better at lacrosse, he announced over the grumbling with, "there's no 'i' in team". I got so indignant at hearing that bullshit one more time, I was unable to stifle my response. I shouted out, "maybe, but there is an 'i' in win, and it's dead fucking center".

I got benched for the next four games.
posted by psmealey at 12:44 PM on July 26, 2004

I have an acqaintence with a very specific skill set not so much in demand in this area who spouts cheese-isms now that his laid-offness is countable in years. He's a nice guy but every time I see him I want to shout: "HOLY FUCK ALREADY! NEW MAZE! NEW FUCKING MAZE! GO FIND A NEW FUCKING MAZE! Either that or STFU!"

We don't hang out so much any more.
posted by Fezboy! at 1:46 PM on July 26, 2004

We once had a conference with Tom Peters and Jim Collins as speakers. Both spent the entire time talking about employee relationships. And to boil it down trouble employees where "not on the bus."

Then we got back to the meeting and over half the department (but not me) had memos saying they would agree to be on the bus.

Some of these people had worked hard there for 20+ years.
posted by Yossarian at 1:47 PM on July 26, 2004

Can someone pls. explain the Fish theory? Or, for that matter, the Cheese one?

I took a DISC profile recently (HEAVILY D, if anyone cares...), and actually found it fairly useful as a reference point for interacting with different styles of people. I think it's important to differentiate between "work style" diagnostics, like DISC, Myers-Briggs, etc., and "management tools" like Cheese and some others I've had to endure (and quickly forgot).
posted by mkultra at 2:04 PM on July 26, 2004

Ok, when I sat through Fish, I felt it was very heavily slanted towards the idea that management is infallible. It has 4 tenets: Choose Your Attitude, Have Fun at Work, Play, Make Their Day. No matter if your Christmas bonus has been yanked, your CEO is being fired, you're burnt out, your boss is a raving lunatic who changes your schedule on your day off then throws a tantrum when you show up at the wrong time. None of this matters. If you don't do those 4 things at all costs, you have an 'attitude problem'.
posted by pieoverdone at 2:19 PM on July 26, 2004

I am a manager, and the only book I've read that ever accurately describes how to be an effective person and manager is How To Win Friends And Influence People written in 1937. Listen to people, never complain or criticize, become genuinely interested in people.
posted by patrickje at 3:02 PM on July 26, 2004

A series of books really should be written dealing with managerial issues explaining what it means to be both an effective manager and what it means to have a "professional" demeanour...I guess it should be entitled..."How Managing America Officially Became Your Fault: The Decline of Professionalism in the Workplace!"
posted by Epitath at 3:29 PM on July 26, 2004

I saw the fish video. It traumatized me. I'm terrified of fish.

Aren't you?
posted by Hildegarde at 3:49 PM on July 26, 2004

yossarian ... "on the bus?" ... ken kesey's rolling over in his grave right now ...
posted by pyramid termite at 5:07 PM on July 26, 2004

I wonder if the fish throwers have to watch the fish video?
posted by iamck at 6:21 PM on July 26, 2004

WTF is that?! Jeebus, I'm afraid now...

On a different subject...

There's a certain philosophy of management -- it seems to me to come primarily from the high-tone B-schools like Harvard, Princeton, Wharton, Simon, et al. That philosophy can be boiled down to:

"If we tell you to do it, it's possible by definition."

I've seen this most clearly when I've had the opportunity to compare the management style of Ivy MBAs to that of MBAs from Engineering schools like RIT and RPI. The latter tend to be more pragmatic, and ask: If something's not working, why? If things are bad, how do we improve them? Where's the failure point? Demmingism seems to me to take a much stronger hold among the E-school B-schoolers.

The former tend to be more succinct, if significantly less constructive, and rather than asking questions simply demand: Make it happen. Their core assumption is that anyone who fails is basically lazy or malicious. They tend to favor a Hammerite scarece-resource approach to personal development (he who fights hardest for the scarece resource must by definition be the best worker).
posted by lodurr at 4:39 AM on July 27, 2004

Hildegarde: WTF is that? I love being in the water, and I'm from an all-fresh-water place. Always had a silly fear out in deep water, of something that looks like that taking a bite out of me.

Management is sleazy so Cheese is cheesy.
Hop the bus with ol' Ken Kesey.
If you wanna get paid, drink the kool-aid.
Doncha know where's the jest?
One more book and we hit the Cuckoos Nest.
posted by Goofyy at 5:37 AM on July 27, 2004

My favourite management book is Robert Townsend's classic and long-out-of-print Up the Organization, which hits the spot with its analysis of management problems: nepotism, refusal to delegate, power games, secrecy, etc. Only trouble is, it's no use to employees, as the changes Townsend suggests can only be implemented by upper management voluntarily giving up the practices that maintain the corporate status quo.
posted by raygirvan at 5:42 PM on July 27, 2004

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