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The journey to "the other side of complexity"
on 7 April 2009
My guess is that the value of this book will depend almost entirely on two factors: the extent to which a reader is receptive to the lessons that this contemporary fable offers, and, the extent to which a reader applies them. Spencer Johnson has written eleven bestsellers, most of which examine especially complicated human challenges and problems, suggesting common-sense resolutions of them. For example, how to use 60-second interactions to manage others more effectively (The One Minute Manager, co-authored with Ken Blanchard, 1982), how to make better decisions ("Yes" or "No," 1993), how to manage change in work and life (Who Moved My Cheese, 1998), and the secret to enjoying work and life more (The Present, 2003). The subtitle of Peaks and Valleys indicates what it's about: how to make "good and bad times work for you - at work and in life."
Johnson introduces a young man, Michael Brown, who is "in a pretty tough spot." He meets someone recommended by a friend, Ann Carr, in a small café who agrees to shares a story with him on the single condition "that if he found it valuable, he would share it with others." He agrees. The details of the story are best revealed in the book. Suffice to say that, over time, Michael proceeds through a sequence of "peaks" and "valleys" and, when the story ends, is an old man who continues to share the story with others, as he agreed to do long ago.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed, "I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity." I have no idea whether or not Johnson was aware of this observation when he began to write the first of his eleven books but it is certainly relevant to what he shares in them. What Michael learns and then shares with others seems so obvious, so simple, perhaps even simpleminded. (The same can also be said of The Golden Rule and countless other by-now familiar observations.) Soon after they meet, Ann tells Michael, "I found that if you want to use the story to deal with the ups and downs that come at you, it helps if you listen with your heart and head, and fill in the story with your own experience to see what is true for you...Some people get very little from the story, while others get a great deal! It's not the story; it's what you take from it that's so powerful. That's up to you, of course."
The same could be said of this book.