Book review: Who moved my cheese, by Dr. Spencer Johnson
A must-read to deal with change
The photo Cheese Moving and other Bedtime Stories was originally uploaded by Tsahi Levent-Levi on Flickr and is reused her under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Using the power of a parable
Although most books on change management are written in a language that makes extensive use of terminology and related jargon, Spencer Johnson has applied a more reader-friendly approach in order to reach a broader audience.
In fact, this method has proved to be extremely effective, since “Who moved my cheese?” has sold millions of copies over the years, thus becoming a big publishing success.
This success is probably the result of the old-tested concept of writing and transmitting ideas successfully, even to people who lack specialized knowledge.
Dr. Johnson, rather than using real-life case studies, bibliographical references, or statistical figures, in order to support the main idea of the book as management writers usually do, chose to showcase his wisdom through a little fairy tale, create a myth around the actual story, and thus make his book more readable and accessible to the masses.
What a better way to connect again with old schoolmates than telling jokes and sharing stories and past experiences!
In this way, you can keep other people updated on what you have been doing with your life, since you last saw them.
“Who moved my cheese” is literally that, i.e. a little tale shared between old friends, with the purpose of sharing common problems occurring in life and at work, then discuss those problems, and, hopefully, find solutions and new routes of action.
The tale shared among those old friends is about two mice and two little people. Other than their size, which is similar to that of the mice, the little people are perfect humans in every sense. In fact, the mice make their decisions led by their “inferior” instincts, while the little people follow their own “superior” beliefs when it comes to decision making.
Both the mice and the little people are in constant search of the “Cheese”, i.e. their goals and aspirations in personal and professional life.
Their hunt takes place inside the “Maze”.
By using different strategies, methods, practices and tactics, they all finally manage to find a huge quantity of the “Cheese”.
While the mice keep an open eye for any decrease in the quantity of the “Cheese” and are prepared to search for new supplies in case a shortage occurs, the humans take the “Cheese” for granted and adjust their life pattern around it.
When big change finally happens and disaster hits, the mice take action immediately and soon manage to find an even bigger quantity and better quality of the “Cheese”.
On the other hand, the little people find it hard to deal with the new situation, and it takes long before they decide to move on and start their cheese-hunting ventures again.
After the end of the narrative, the old schoolmates exchange their thoughts, ideas, and suggestions, about how this tale applies to their own lives, and how they can benefit and improve from it.
The main characters of the book
The main characters of the book are two mice, Sniff and Scurry, and two little humans, Hem and Haw.
Sniff has a superb sniffing skill, which explains his name. His extraordinary talent to smell the “Cheese” from miles makes him a valuable partner in cheese hunting. Otherwise it would have been impossible to guess where the “Cheese” could hide; he shows the direction and Scurry runs to it.
Scurry is the other part of the winning team that is made up of the two mice. Sniff’s sensitive nose is combined perfectly with Scurry’s incredible hunting speed. Therefore, no opportunity is missed, since Scurry can follow Sniff’s smelling instinct, as fast as possible.
Hem has the most conservative beliefs of the two little humans. Once he finds plenty of the “Cheese”, he refuses to make any further change in his life. He adopts a steady and lazy daily pattern and expects that to last forever. When change happens and the “Cheese” vanishes, he can’t come to terms with the new reality and follow progress. He is doomed to extinction.
Haw adopts a more progressive and pro-active approach to change than his colleague, Hem. Although he is also shocked by the new situation that has emerged, and spends valuable time in waiting for new “Cheese” to show up out of nowhere, he finally realizes that he has to adapt, follow change, and progress, rather than expect things to be as they used to be in the past. His fresh approach to life is essential, in order for him to be able to begin his new cheese-hunting efforts. In the end, he is rewarded with more, premium-quality cheese.
Humans vs. Mice: What do they represent?
As it has already been mentioned, “Who moved my cheese” is a parable. The author uses the symbolical story of the two little humans and the two mice, in order to easily illustrate more profound ideas about managing change and the different approaches towards it.
The little humans: Hem and Haw
The attitude, mentality, and beliefs of the two little humans, Hem and Haw, represent the established order; the current status of things that has a tendency to remain unchanged.
Nowadays, it is amazing that, although it is generally accepted that change is constant and omnipresent, a large number of people can still identify themselves with Hem or Haw.
Both Hem’s and Haw’s biggest obstacle is their resistance to change; they find it hard, and even impossible, to accept it.
The mice: Sniff and Scurry
Although they are nothing more than humble mice, lacking the “superior” mental power possessed by the two humans, Sniff and Scurry are gifted with an essential skill for survival and progress, which is flexibility to change. They are aware of their “inferior” and plain characteristics and skills. However, this makes them better prepared for any potential change or risk that may threaten their own existence, contrary to the two humans whose arrogance can cause their extinction.
What does the “Maze” represent?
The “Maze” is a complex system of corridors and pathways where the “Cheese” is hidden, waiting to be found by the mice and the humans.
The same applies to real life. Things seems to be, or may become, so overly complicated, that many of us lose their way in life and miss opportunity at work.
Contrary to common belief, it is very easy to find yourself in a “Maze” during your quest for success in life and at work; there are no shortcuts to the road to success, and even after you reach success, this is only temporary, since you can't rest on your laurels, expecting things to remain unchanged forever. "Who moved my cheese" can help you in dealing with change.