Business Book Review – Who Moved My Cheese Author: Spencer Johnson
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
A group of old friends are having dinner and the subject of conversation gets onto change. One of the friends comments that he is no longer worries about change since her heard a funny little story. This is how Spencer Jhnson introduces the reader to Who Moved My Cheese, a fable about coping with change in a positive manner.
The story is based on four characters who live in a maze. There are two mice, Scurry and Sniff, and two ‘littlepeople’ Hem and Haw. Things are going well for the four characters as they have found a huge source of their favourite food, cheese. Hem and Haw have even built their house right next to the cheese. However they do not notice the supply of cheese is getting smaller and are shocked to discover one day that it has disappeared completely. At this point the story goes in two directions. Scurry and Sniff, the mice quickly accept the cheese is gone and start looking for replacement cheese elsewhere in the maze. The littlepeople on the other hand feel aggrieved by the loss of the cheese. They believe they have been the victims of a fraud and spend their time worrying and complaining rather than looking for new cheese. Therefore they go hungry.
The story captures the moment in life when you have lost something you thought was permanent in your life and see it as the end of the world. The past is full of fond memories that you want back, and the future is full of uncertainty and fear. Johnson’s message is that we should see change as a new beginning, not the end of something. When faced with this reality in the maze Haw writes himself a graffiti message on the wall; ‘If you do not change, you can become extinct.’
Sudden change can drive a person to self doubt and depression. However the message from the book is that you shouldn’t take yourself so seriously. Being able to laugh at yourself and the situation can actually liberate you from the pressure of the moment and make you more open to new ideas and suggestions to get yourself moving again. The next message Haw writes to himself on the wall is ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’ Haw then gets moving in the search for new cheese and actually finds himself enjoying the new situation, he also realises that he has an ability that the mice don’t; the ability to use his imagination which he uses to visualise where the cheese might be. This visualisation creates anticipation and confidence helping Haw to be freed from the fear of the past.
Dealing with change is a fairly important basic human survival skill. The ability to be aware of the need to change is vital to success in both our personal work lives. Walking around with eyes shut to change can mean that you are missing out on opportunities to identify new and exciting challenges, and perhaps even be more proactive by changing before you are forced to. The book states that while life is not short, it does go by seemingly quickly. For it not to be wasted a person needs to be able to introduce a level of risk and adventure so that they get the chance to face new challenges and learn new skills. In the book Hem and Haw find out is that breaking through your fears makes you free. Those who are obsessed with security actually have a far more stressful life and they are so worried about losing it.
While Who Moved my Cheese is a story about personal change it has also become a very popular book in the workplace. Business leaders face the constant challenge of achieving change in their workforces to ensure their businesses do not become extinct. They also face the challenge of being proactive about organisational change to keep the company cutting edge and contemporary. Most employees are employees because they want the security of job. For others it is just the easiest way to get through life to let others make decision for them. However thinking like this can restrict personal growth and it can be hard to become a truly independent person.
While the short story format of Who Moved My Cheese will not appeal to everyone it cannot hurt to ask yourself is there a ‘big cheese’ in your life that may one day disappear?
Ten things you can learn from Who Moved My Cheese
- Things are not going to stay the same forever, change is unavoidable.
- When change does occur you are not a victim, it’s just a natural part of life.
- To handle change better think of it as the beginning, not the end.
- If you do not change you may become extinct.
- Learn to laugh at yourself and your situation.
- When faced with fear ask yourself; What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?
- Be proactive, as in Coveys Seven Habits remember we are not animals, we have the ability to choose our response to every situation.
- Living for security is living in fear of change.
- Breaking through fear makes you free.
- Is there a big cheese in life? Thinking this over now can help you prepare for change that may well occur in the future and help you be more proactive about it.