The Cheese Stands Alone

Ross Shafer is a walking example of what can come from following his advice. He started out as a pet shop owner in a small town of just 5,000 residents. Now, he's an Emmy Award-winning comedy writer; the author of 10 books on motivation, management, and customer service; and a popular public speaker. What enabled him to come so far from such modest beginnings?

"Desperation," he says. "I wasn't making money in the pet shop business, I was working a lot, and my animals were eating each other. It's hard to make money when your inventory is in a state of natural selection." Shafer wanted out, so one day he announced that he wanted to be a television talk show host. Less than six years later, against all odds, he was hosting The Late Show on the Fox Network, which competed directly with Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show.

"I figured out early on that if I was going to be successful at something I wanted to do, it was going to be my 'fault,' " he says. When Shafer talks about fault, he means responsibility. "A lot of people don't accept that their ability to succeed is ultimately at their own hand. We've gotten so used to Prozac and psychiatrists—and now life coaches—giving us advice that we don't look within ourselves anymore. That's the problem with speakers like Anthony Robbins or others with a so-called formula for success: They don't know you, your family dynamics, your work habits, or your passions. The only expert on you is you."

That's the philosophy behind Shafer's book, Nobody Moved Your Cheese!, his response to the 1998 blockbuster change-management book Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson. "That book is flawed," argues Shafer. "It's just conceding that someone else is in control of your life. The cheese is something that can't be moved." Ultimately, Shafer says, the basis of Nobody Moved Your Cheese! is an attitude: "Adjust your attitude and be responsible for your own success." That, he says, is a requisite step to providing good customer service. "Unhappy people cannot provide good customer service," he says. "That's such a missing link."

Indeed, Shafer compares good customer relations to love affairs: "Advertising does a great job of attracting you. Then, when you have to go up and make that first interaction, that's when you determine whether you're going to have a date. And this continues all the way up to whether or not you should divorce your customer, or he's going to divorce you."

Shafer says he delivers his message "without rehashing the tired, old, motivational mantras that everyone's heard before. I'm honest with people, and I'm bold enough to say things that people aren't used to hearing, especially in corporate environments. And I like to make people laugh while I'm doing it."