I have read, for the second time now, this wonderful little book called, Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson, MD. It is a delightful story about change, a very real and necessary phenomenon. The author uses cute but relatable characters to show us how change can be embraced, or in some cases, resisted, by any and all who may face this big scary beast in our personal or our professional life. There are four main characters and they all have different personalities and perspectives that anyone can relate to. In this profound analogy we learn from the choices and paths each of these characters take; their reaction to the change, the action they each take, and ultimately the results of their acceptance or resistance accordingly.
The characters in this story are two little people, Hem and Haw, and two simple mice, Sniff and Scurry. The maze represents where they live and work and the cheese represents their success, happiness, and health. One morning when they arrive, they all discover that the cheese is gone. It has been moved. Hem represents those who react to such unexpected change with anger, fear, and resistance. He stays where he is fuming that something like this happened at all and demands that it be brought back to the way it was. He feels he is not the one to have caused this, so he is certainly not the one responsible for fixing it.
Haw, on the other hand, after some thought and hesitation, realizes that whether he likes it or not, the cheese is gone and it is not going to carry itself back to where it was. He is also not real thrilled and has some fear as to what will become of him now that his comfort and stability have been jeopardized. Something needs to be done and somebody has to do it. So, very cautiously, he begins searching for a solution. He has doubts, feels lost at times, and even wonders if his efforts will go unrewarded, but he also knows that going back will be certain defeat; going forward is his only chance of hope.
Sniff and Scurry are very similar. They acknowledge that the cheese is no longer where it usually is and promptly decide that it needs to be found. Sniff follows his nose looking for the scent and Scurry jumps right onto the path found by Sniff and tries to find its end. They are both so eager to find their treasure that they often bump into walls and get slightly off track, but that doesn’t stop them. They get right back to the hunt. What is different about these mice is that their main focus is finding the cheese, so that they can move forward. They don’t spend time analyzing why or who is responsible, but only on what they need to do to get what they need and want. As a result, they find new cheese, lots of it, more than they ever had before, and are once again successful, happy and healthy.
Eventually Haw finds them too. He learned that if he had moved beyond his fear in the first place he would have found his new freedom sooner. At one point during Haw’s adventure, he did try to go back and get Hem to join him, but Hem was just too stubborn. He didn’t want new cheese and he didn’t want it in a different location. Ultimately in the end, Hem was defeated and he failed.
This simple little story carries a strong message. Change is going to happen everywhere and all the time. A person’s level of success and how easily or difficultly he reaches that success, is greatly affected by how he/she accepts or resists change and the actions they take consequently. I know the next time I am faced with a big change in my life, I will remember this story and turn the challenge into an opportunity to grow stronger and wiser.
- Reading List: Who Moved My Cheese? (career-ology.com)
- Cheese Moving: Effecting Change Rather Than Accepting It – HBS Working Knowledge (bjconquest.com)