Spencer Johnson. Who Moved My Cheese: An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1998, 2002. (95 pages)
The best laid schemes o’ mice and men often go astray.
Robert Burns, 1759-1796
“Life is no straight and easy corridor along which we travel free and unhampered, but a maze of passages, through which we must seek our way, lost and confused, now and again checked in a blind alley.
But always, if we have faith, a door will open for us, not perhaps one that we ourselves would ever have thought of, but one that will ultimately prove good for us.”
A little parable on change, what it does to us, and how many of us respond.
The two mice named “Sniff” and “Scurry” are simple creatures with simple brains, but good instincts, and they search for “nibbling cheese.” The two little people named “Hem” and “Haw” are complex creatures filled with many beliefs and emotions, and they’re searching for capital “C” Cheese which they believed would make them feel happy and successful.
All four live in a maze, a labyrinth of corridors and chambers, some containing delicious cheese, some containing dark corners and blind alleys leading to nowhere. Their routines led them to their typical cheese stations, because…
Having Cheese Makes You Happy.
One morning when they arrive discovering there was no cheese, Sniff and Scurry instinctively did not overanalyze things, rather, decided to change and ran back through the maze in search of New Cheese. Hem and Haw fuss, complain (“It’s not fair!”), yell…basically throw a temper tantrum. For Haw, Cheese meant feeling safe, having a loving family someday and living in a cozy cottage on Cheddar Lane. To Hem, Cheese was becoming a Big Cheese in charge of others and owing a big house. That night, they left discouraged and hungry and Haw wrote on the wall…
The More Important Your Cheese Is To You The More You Want To Hold On To It.
Hem and Haw begin to argue. Hem gets stubborn and prideful “We’re Littlepeople. We’re special. Thsi sort of thing should not happen to us. Or if it does, we should at least get some benefits.” Haw asks, “Why? Maybe we shoudl simply stop analyzing the situation so much and go find some New Cheese?”
Meanwhile, Sniff and Scurry found a new station with cheese, Station N, the biggest store of cheese the mice had ever seen. Hem and Haw are getting frustrated and angry and ultimately end up staying at the original Cheese Station C, without cheese.
Eventually they begin digging a hole in the wall, but finding nothing and then realizing the difference between “activity and productivity.” Finally coming to terms, Haw decides he is going to put his running shoes back on and go back out into the maze. Hem refuses. On his way out, Haw writes…
If You Do Not Change, You Can Become Extinct.
Haw, excited for his new adventure asks why he didn’t get up and move sooner? He thinks…
What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?
While sometimes fear can be good, it cannot be paralyzing. If ever faced with this dilemma gain, he would act sooner. But, better late than never. He ventures out, with some confusion, and low confidence, but with high courage.
Back at Station C, Haw is realizing that the Cheese at Station C had not just disappeared overnight, as he had once believed. The amount of Cheese that had been there toward the end had been getting smaller, and what was left had grown old. It didn’t taste as good. He had to admit, that perhaps, he could have seen what was coming. But he didn’t. Haw now realized that the change probably would not have taken him by surprise if he had been watching what was happening all along and if he had anticipated change. He decided to stay more alert, expect change and actually look for it, and would trust his basic instincts to sense when change was going occur and be ready to adapt to it. He writes…
Smell The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old.
Haw wonders about Hem and remembers the times when he had felt his best in the Maze was when he was moving along. He writes…
Movement In A New Direction Helps You Find New Cheese.
Haw then finally, scared to death, laughs at himself, realizing his fears were making things worse, and began to move in a new direction. He began to smile, letting go and trusting what lay ahead. He started to enjoy himself and writes on the wall…
When You Stop Being Afraid, You Feel Good!
Haw realizes he had been held captive by his own fear. Moving in a new direction had freed him. He begins to imagine himself enjoying New Cheese, and the more clearly he saw the image, the more real and believable it became. He writes…
Imagining Yourself Enjoying Your New Cheese Leads You To It.
He finds a New Cheese station, and it’s filled with different kinds of cheese that he had never seen before. They were delicious. He begins to renew his strength. He writes…
The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Find New Cheese.
Haw was happy when he wasn’t being run by his fear. He no longer felt weak as he did when he stayed in Station C with no cheese. He now feels that it was just a question of time before he found what he needed. In fact, he sensed he had already found what he was looking for. He smiled as he realized…
It Is Safer To Search In The Maze, Than Remain In A Cheeseless Situation.
Haw realized that the fear you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that actually exists. He use to believe that Cheese should never be moved, but now realizes it was natural for change to occur, whether you expect it or not. He writes…
Old Beliefs Do Not Lead You To New Cheese.
Haw now realized that his new beliefs were encouraging new behaviors. You can believe that a change will harm you and resist it. Or you can believe that finding New Cheese will help you embrace the change. It all depends on what you choose to believe. He wrote…
When You See That You Can Find And Enjoy New Cheese, You Can Change Course.
Haw knew he would be in better shape now if he had dealt with the change much sooner and left Cheese Station C earlier. He would feel stronger in body and spirit and he could have coped better with the challenge of finding New Cheese. In fact, he probably would have found it by now if he had expected change, rather than wasting time denying that the change had already taken place. He decided to proceed into the more unknown parts of the Maze, and found little bits of Cheese here and there. He writes…
Noticing Small Changes Early Helps You Adapt To The Bigger Changes That Are To Come.
Haw catches up to New Cheese Station N, and his friends Sniff and Scurry. Upon reflection he realized that he had started to change as soon as he had learned to laugh at himself and at what he had been doing wrong. The fastest way to change is to laugh at your own folly–then you can let go and quickly move on.
Sniff and Scurry kept life simple.
Haw had to admit that the biggest inhibitor to change lies within yourself, and that nothing gets better until you change. Perhaps most importantly, he realized that there is always New Cheese out there whether you recognize it at the time, or not. And that you are rewarded with it when you go past your fear and enjoy the adventure.
Hem would not change.
THE HANDWRITING ON THE WALL:
Change Happens: They keep Moving The Cheese
Anticipate Change: Get Ready For The Cheese To Move
Monitor Change: Smell The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old
Adapt To Change Quickly: The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese
Change: Move With The Cheese
Enjoy Change! Savor The Adventure And Enjoy The Taste of New Cheese!
Be Ready To Change Quickly And Enjoy It Again & Again: They Keep Moving The Cheese
— VIA —
The strength and weakness of this parable is its overt simplicity and childlike nature. I have a feeling this is great for helping people realize what is going on, but will be more difficult in actually moving people to accept what is going on and doing something about change in their lives. I’ve seen so many people struggle with broken expectations, absence of vision, and the inability to cope with surprise realities, I am really curious, with this book as a best-seller, how much practical and real help it has offered to people. In other words, knowing that you need to “anticipate, monitor, adapt, and enjoy” change is far different from actually anticipating, monitoring, adapting, and enjoying change.
I’m also curious how much of this is tied to personality and culture. Is the inability to go with the flow of change a distinctly American, Capitalist symptom? Is it personality adherent to those who are privileged and wealthy? Is it Western? In other words, how universal is the necessity of a book like this?
Regardless, one note must be made. Throwing this book into the hands of the people of your organization will not help solve the problems of change. Ultimately, the moral of this story is that this is hard heart and soul work. And there are some who are, for whatever reason, preconditioned towards adaptation better than others. How we get a wider population to accept this reality is, in my opinion, conditioned upon the questions above in paragraph 2, and contingent upon the individuals and community.