Who Moved My Cheese?

Who_Moved_My_CheeseA quick easy read on how to deal with change at work and in your life. Change is constant – an inevitability, yet so many are adverse to adapting or proactively changing before the need to adapt arises.

‘Who Moved My Cheese’ by Dr Spencer Johnson, tells a story of four characters in a maze that live their lives looking for cheese. Cheese makes them happy and gives them all they need out of life. Cheese is a metaphor for what you want.

The four characters search the maze every day looking for their favourite cheese, it is easy to get lost, however the cheese is needed to nourish them and keep them happy.

Two of the characters are mice, and they use their instinct to search the maze for cheese. They run up and down the corridors, trying to sniff the general direction of the cheese.

Stay with me!

The other two characters are little people, and they rely on their ability to think and learn from past experiences, sometimes getting confused by their beliefs and emotions.

Every day, both pairs of characters run through the maze looking for cheese. One day, they found the biggest amount of cheese you could ever imagine, it was there every day they visited. The little people no longer needed to rush out in the morning to find cheese, they knew where to go and that it would be there waiting for them. Even though they didn’t know how it got there it didn’t matter as there was just so much cheese for them there. They felt happy, successful and secure. The little people moved so they could live right next to the cheese. Now they had so much cheese in one place they may as well live right next to it.

The little people felt that they deserved this cheese; they had worked hard for it. They were very comfortable.

The mice stuck with their routine. Each day they headed to the same spot with the large amount of cheese. They continued to get up early and inspect the area before eating to see if any changes had occurred from the day before. Only after they would then sit down and eat the cheese.

One day, the mice arrived at the same cheese spot and were not surprised to see that all of the cheese had gone. They knew this would happen as they noticed the cheese supply had been getting smaller every day. They didn’t over analyse, the situation changed and therefore they changed as well. They took off running through the maze to find more cheese.

The little people however had not noticed the little changes that had been taken place and so arriving the next day they could not believe that the cheese had gone! Who moved my cheese? They both wondered. They had no idea what happened to the cheese, it just was not fair that their cheese had gone, in their minds they had worked so hard for it. There was a lot of confusion and they debated what could have happened for hours, why were they not warned?

After a lot more analysis and blaming of each other, the little people continued to arrive at the same spot in the maze expecting the cheese to have returned. Basically the little people were in denial, they were not being proactive about the change occurring and were adamant the cheese had been hidden, they just needed to find it, or it would return soon enough.

After some time they were getting weak, one of the little people, Haw, wanted to move on and find new cheese elsewhere.  The other, Hem, however was too scared and planted fear in Haw’s mind so he wouldn’t leave. Eventually Haw had enough of Hem’s fear and negativity and set out for new cheese by himself.

Haw felt uncomfortable back in the maze, it was confusing and challenging, but it wasn’t as bad as he had feared it would be! At least he was taking control instead of just letting things happen to him. Haw reflected on the loss of the cheese and realised he should have seen it coming, it had been getting smaller and it didn’t taste as good, they just didn’t do anything about it until it was too late.

Haw now felt good. It was refreshing and energising to be moving around looking for new cheese, he couldn’t believe his fear had held him back for so long. He used to think cheese should never be moved and now he realises he was wrong and change is natural, it is only a surprise if you didn’t expect it and were not looking for it. Change, he concluded is good. He felt bad for leaving Hem and he missed him but he knew he was doing the right thing out searching for new cheese.

Haw eventually found the biggest amount of cheese you could ever imagine, all sorts of different kind of cheese! He was very happy. It took him a moment but then he realised that the two mice were also there, they were so fat they had obviously found the cheese a long time ago… Haw learned that the mice didn’t overanalyse or over complicate matters, they kept it simple and moved on when change occurred, resulting in them getting new cheese a lot quicker.

Haw changed his habits; every day now before eating this new cheese he inspected it to see what the condition was. He did not want unexpected change again. He also went out in to the maze every day to keep in touch with what was going on around him, he didn’t want to get too comfortable at this cheese station and miss out on the big picture.

To summarise, what I took away from this book, is in the form of the 4 c’s;

  • Complacency
  • Calculate
  • Confidence
  • Change

Complacency – don’t allow it! As consumer’s expectations change, your offering needs to change with it. Your offering should never be complete and therefore it is never ok to allow complacency.

Calculate – evaluate and review the data and trends. What is really going on? What patterns have you noticed? What feedback are the front line getting?

Confidence – don’t let fear hold you back. Being comfortable will hold you back from bigger and better opportunities available to you. Have the confidence to try different offerings and markets. ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’

Change – fundamentally, if you’re not changing, you’re going backwards. Any business needs to continually evolve to stand still let alone get ahead of the game.

‘Movement in a new direction helps you find new cheese’.


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