Adapt or lose, says parable

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Anyone who is puzzled by the reference to dairy produce has clearly not read the bestseller Who Moved my Cheese?, an allegorical book that aims to help employees deal with change.

It has already proved popular in banking circles and looks more relevant than ever now that the sector is in a slowdown and change is being forced upon many people.

Randy Harris, a former vice-chairman of Merrill Lynch, was so taken by the book's 'unique insights' that he handed out copies to colleagues. A group of Dresdner employees in London are also known to have been earnestly leafing through its pages in recent weeks.

The book, by Spencer Johnson, describes itself as a 'simple parable that reveals profound truths about change'.

It tells a tale of four mice in a maze who discover that their cheese is no longer where they expected it to be - cheese being a metaphor for something desirable, such as a job. Each mouse reacts differently. Some quickly find new cheese. Others do not.

The message is straightforward. Anticipate and adapt to change and you will find new cheese become complacent and stuck in your ways and you will be left cheeseless and don't wait until the cheese has all gone before you look for new cheese.

The parallels between investment banking careers and cheese are obvious. Waiting until outplacement strikes is not the best way to deal with falling markets and poor deal flow.

Careers advisers agree. Chris Kiddy at business psychologists Kiddy and Partners says: 'If you are employed in financial services then re-examining your career ideas and options would be no bad thing. By starting to contemplate the unthinkable before it takes place, any kind of shock can be lessened.'

Roger Steare of the career coaching firm Roger Steare Consulting says: 'If you are purely reactive then you will always be on the back foot and always at a disadvantage. You should always know who the top headhunters in your sector are and what your contingency plans are.'

At first it may be hard to face up to the fact that the gorgonzola is no longer in its familiar place.

'The kneejerk reaction to losing a job in the City of London is to go and look for another job in the City,' says Steare. 'There is a tendency to search immediately for a position that will bring a comparable level of financial security.'

However, cheese comes in many varieties, and the City is far from the only source.

Philip Beddows, a consultant at outplacement provider BG Careers, offers advice for those who may be contemplating the cheeses of the corporate world: 'Try calling people who recruit for their company and ask whether they have a history of employing people from investment banks. If they say yes, then enquire which positions people from investment banks have historically gone into.'

In fact, there is no shortage of investment bankers who have developed skills outside the industry. Many are ready to give advice to those still inside. Some have found cheese in unusual places indeed.

Former commodities broker Simon Cowell says: 'It's easy to stay where you are: you always think that the devil you know is better than the devil you don't.

'I had always wanted to be a vet. So I tried to think of something I could do which involved animals, and eventually I left the City to set up Wildlife Aid. It's now one of the biggest charities in the south-east.'

Others have stumbled across alternative types of cheddar at their desks.

Author Linda Davies had worked in the City for seven years when she received sudden inspiration for the plot for her first novel while on the trading floor.

'I had begun to hate the lifestyle, but I was so tired that I found it very hard to know what else I would like to do,' says Davies.

'Ultimately, you have to burn your boats and jump. My boss asked me what my plans were for the next year, and to my surprise I said: 'To leave'.'

Davies spent the next 18 months writing, which turned out to be quite a lucrative type of cheese. 'I didn't do it for the money, but there have been years when I've made a lot more than I did in the City,' she says.

Hedging against career loss may require more than familiarity with Who Moved My Cheese?

Those who are determined to achieve a soft landing may also find it useful to consult another well-known self-help volume: What Color is Your Parachute?, a more down-to-earth book that contains practical advice about job-hunting.

Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr Spencer Johnson, Vermilion. (

What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles, Ten Speed Press