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Ralph Bruksos' Blog

"Have They Moved My Cheese?"

Sometimes we become so conditioned to a certain way of doing things, we don’t even think about changing.

In the 1970’s, Werner Erhard was a very powerful student and teacher of change. In his well-known est seminars, Erhard strove to point out how powerfully conditioning affects our ability to understand and successfully manage change.

In his presentations, Erhard developed a signature story about mice and cheese that perfectly illustrated this difference.

As Werner Erhard told it, a group of scientists conducted an experiment with a mouse. They didn’t feed the little thing for twenty-four hours and then put it in an opening in front of five tunnels.

They placed some cheese down tunnel number three. The mouse could smell it, but didn’t know which tunnel contained it. He went down tunnel one, then tunnel five, and then finally down tunnel three. The mouse got his fill of the cheese, came back out and was put away for another twenty-four hours.

The next morning they put the cheese in tunnel three and the mouse again went down several wrong tunnels before finding it. After seven or eight days, the mouse learned, and went straight down tunnel number three.

After a couple of months, they moved the cheese to a different tunnel. The next morning, the mouse went down tunnel number three. He because frustrated upon finding no cheese, eventually came out, and went down a few tunnels before finding the cheese in tunnel number one.

The scientists continued to place the cheese in tunnel number one. It only took the mouse a few days to realize that they had moved the cheese. It stopped going down tunnel number three and began to go down tunnel number one.

But as Erhard explained, the difference between the mouse and most of us is that even though the cheese has been moved from tunnel three to tunnel number one, we will persist in going down tunnel number three.

If we don’t find the cheese, we become agitated, frustrated and anxious. We feel that if we complain loudly enough, they will move the cheese back to tunnel number three. The truth is, we can gripe all we want; they aren’t moving the cheese back.

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Importance of Follow-through

I met Jack Dalton on a cold, dreary winter night in 1961 in the maximum security prison in Walla Walla, WA. Every two months, I drove over with a group of men from Seattle to conduct self-help meetings inside the prison. After Jack introduced himself, I told him I felt I knew him because I had read about his case in the newspaper. A prominent attorney, he had been convicted a few months before of grand larceny and sentenced to the Washington State Penitentiary.

He went to the University of Washington and graduated from law school.

Incarceration changed Jack, shifting his focus away from himself. In prison, he spent most of his day in the library, meeting with inmates and doing his best to help them and their legal problems. The men felt their greatest hurdles would be housing and employment.

Two months after I first met Jack, I found myself sitting next to him in the front row of the same old, poorly lit auditorium.

“Ralph,” he said, “I’ve been thinking. There’s a need for housing as well as jobs when inmates are released. I’d like to start a halfway house in Seattle. Will you help me?”

Of course I said yes.

Jack and I, along with other founders, started holding weekly meetings in my office to plan the establishment of the first halfway house of note, in Seattle.

Jack went to work. He talked to a group of missionaries who owned a house at 1102 E. Spruce Street, once used as a way station for missionaries leaving the country by boat. Now that planes had replaced ships, the missionaries no longer needed the house. They gave us a great price, and we purchased the property using money we’d collected through small donations. We were in business.

Jack decided to call his project for housing and jobs Pioneer Fellowship House. His time in prison had transformed him. Instead, he focused on serving others and on the needs of his fellow convicts.

The vision that started Pioneer Fellowship House expanded and became Pioneer Human Services. A component of the program was Pioneer Industries, a manufacturing company that provided training and jobs for former inmates.

In the year 2017, Pioneer Human Services did over $81 million, has three factories, employees over 1,000 and provides housing and training for countless. And, all because Jack followed through with his idea.

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How I Started Turning Change Into A Payday


I began to formally study change in 1960, after two friends each sent me a copy of the same article from the Harvard Business Review (“Marketing Myopia”, by Ted Levitt, July-August 1960).

The article examined the impact of change on the railroad industry, they had failed to see the challenges to their prosperity and change accordingly.

But change is not just something I study.

In fact, often more than I would wish, it has been a way of life, the path I’ve traveled to where I am today has taken more than enough turns to induce whiplash.

I have been incarcerated, the president of a nationwide company, a millionaire, and later so broke I had to borrow money from our teenage daughter. Well into my 40’s, with a family to support, I had to rebuild a successful career from the ground up.

As I’ve worked to help my clients, I’ve also battled the unexpected twists in my own life. So, I decided to write my second book, “Turning Change Into A Payday.”

I’ve done many things in order to cope with my own demons. To combat a fear of heights, I have parachuted from a plane and climbed mountains. To test my endurance, I began to run marathons when I was almost 50.

I’ve come to believe that the only way to effectively deal with change is to view it as an opportunity. The techniques described in my second book helped me and I hope they will help you with difficult times.

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Finding The Good In Everything

Finding The Good In Everything

I arrived at my Seattle office at 6:20 AM that morning. The phone rang as I was making coffee. “Have you heard about Ralph?”, it was my friend George, calling to tell me that Ralph Palmen, my friend and mentor had been shot in L.A. the night before. Ralph Palmen was – one of the great people in my life, a generous man with an extraordinary sense of humor. He was also an avid golfer, and we played together regularly.

Shocked, I asked George, “Is he still alive?” He said, “I don’t know.”

I immediately called the hospital and talked to the receptionist. I asked to speak to the nursing station for a patient named Ralph Palmen. To my surprise, instead of a nurse, Ralph answered the phone. Flooded with relief that he was alive, I asked, “What happened?”

In a weak voice, my old friend described how he had gone to L.A. the day before to give a speech. As was his custom when out of town, he went to a baseball game.

On his way back from the game, Ralph parked some distance from the motel lobby. As he was making his way from his rental car across the well-lit parking lot, he noticed a man coming up to him on his left. The man said, “Excuse me, sir. Do you have a minute?” Ralph then looked to see another man closing on his right, who said, “Just a minute, sir. Let me ask you something.” Ralph made an instant decision and ran for the lobby. What he didn’t see was a third man behind him who raised a shotgun and fired, hitting Ralph in the back.

Even though he had been shot and wounded, Ralph kept running.

He managed to make it to the motel lobby, where he fell and lay bleeding on the floor. People walked around him, probably assuming he was drunk or high. There is a bit of irony here. Ralph, being the man he was never drank or used drugs.

After about ten minutes, someone noticed that he was bleeding and called 9-1-1. The medics rushed him to the hospital. He was immediately taken into surgery.

He survived the surgery, came out of the anesthesia, and was lying there in a hospital bed, sorting out the details of his experience, when I called.

He explained to me that he had been contemplating his good fortune: at least he was still alive.

Then he said words that have resonated with me ever since: “You know, in all of our years together, you and I have always tried to find the good in everything that has happened to us. After thinking about it for three hours in somewhat of a haze, I finally figured out that this is probably going to slow down my back swing and improve my game.”

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It seemed like the right time to continue giving

At age 24, I chose to create a life of success in exchange for the life of mediocrity that I was living.

I was influenced by some friends, authors, and speakers.

I had been court martialed and incarcerated in the Navy. After discharge I was out on appeal bond facing a year and a half in jail. I dropped the appeal and went on work release; I rode the bus and caught rides, as I had lost my license for one year.

I had dropped out of University where I had four years of paid tuition, books and stipend under the G.I. Bill after three weeks, in the first quarter.

Over the next seventeen years, I became a Corporate President of a company with 23 branches in the United States and Canada. I taught one evening class at the same University, became licensed charter boat captain as an avocation.

My wife, our three children and I lived in a large home with a pool, and view property. We owned a small apartment complex and investments.

Our company was preparing to go public, investment bankers were diligently preparing us.

The Chairman and I, as President, owned about 70% of the issued stock. My boss, the Chairman and CEO, was injured in a tragic boating accident. He lost one leg just below the hip and the investment bankers abandoned the public offering.

My wife and I, and our CEO had guaranteed the SBA loans and bank borrowings. When they foreclosed we lost everything. It took eleven years to pay the negotiated settlements.

We started over.

One difference, I had learned how to become successful.

We finally bought another home, and paid 100% of the debt, including the new mortgage.

I became a marathon runner at age 42 and ran 55 marathons including Boston and completed three triathlons.

I wrote my second book which was printed in the U.S., China, Europe and French in Canada. The third book is almost complete.

I became a consultant to countless companies such as Boeing, U.S. Navy, Pemco Insurance, Carrier Corporation, and many others.

I was a founder, as a volunteer, with others, of a small half-way house which grew to over 65 half-way houses, two manufacturing plants and doing over $80 million per annum, Pioneer Human Services.

Years ago, I formulated my philosophy, my mission in life, “To spend the rest of my life helping people who want to be helped.”

I chose to be a giver, not a taker. I could do that through my consulting, my writing, speaking and now with my blog.

That’s the genesis of this and future blogs.

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