Who Moved My Cheese

Author: Spencer Johnson

Genre: Fiction, Self – Help

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson was published more than twenty years ago and even today remains one of the highest selling best-seller business books of all time, having sold more than 26 million copies.

Many of us might find the title a bit strange, but the subtitle explains it further: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life.

We have heard the now trite aphorism: Change is the only constant. All of us – companies and individuals – go through it. Online models have killed many brick and mortar companies, Covid 19 has driven many old businesses in red, changing consumer preferences like Netflix has brought old icons to their knees. Individually, we have all dealt with severe changes: loss of a relationship, death of a loved one, marrying into a larger family, moving to a new city, being independent for the first time, and so on.

All of us also struggle with large changes, since it is human to stay in our comfort zone. We go through the classic cycle of denial and fighting against what is inevitable. It is no surprise that the world’s best companies have remained static and “ignored” changes in their market place (think IBM, Kodak, Nokia, Blackberry). Equally, individuals have refused to accept changes and spoilt their lives (think of all the fights after marriage, in spouses and with the in-laws). And yet, Darwin taught us the rule of nature: “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.

And hence the need for this book.

Cheese is a metaphor for what we want to have in life – a good job, a loving relationship, money, a possession, good health, or spiritual peace of mind.

The Maze is where we look for what we want – The organization we work in, or the family or community we live in.

Story stars four characters, who are true to their names –

Sniff – Who sniffs out change early.

Scurry – Who scurries into action.

Hem – Who denies and resists change as he fears it will lead to something worse.

Haw – Who learns to adapt in time when he sees changing can lead to something better

The story goes that the mice, Sniff and Scurry, have the perfect mentality to adapt to a change. “They kept life simple. They didn’t overanalyse or overcomplicate things. When the situation changed and the cheese had been moved, they moved with the cheese.”

But the little human people, Hem and Haw, having complex emotions and tendency to overanalyse and overcomplicate things, find it much more difficult to change with the given circumstance.

The story mainly pushes us to accept who we are, to embrace the change occurring in our lives, to adapt accordingly, to predict the change that will be happening and sometimes even to go as far as leading the change, may it be in our personal or professional lives. I have personally used these learnings in various large scale organizational transformations, example when we were integrating an acquired company or restructuring teams.

Key takeaways from the book –

“The more important your cheese is to you the more you want to hold on to it” [The more comfortable and accustomed we are in our lives, the harder it is for us to change]

“We keep doing the same things over and over again and wonder why things don’t get better.” – The sooner we accept that change has happened and that doing same work repeatedly won’t give us the same results, the better it is, as it helps us to move on quickly.

“Sometimes, things change and they are never the same again. That’s life! Life moves on. And so, should we.”

“If you do not change you can become extinct.” As scientifically true as that is, it is also a practical reality. Think about all the companies that went under because they were not ready for technological or market place changes and held on to their old cheese till after it was too late.

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” – Fear of unknown is always scary especially when we have something to lose.

“What you are afraid of is never as bad as what you imagine. The fear you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that actually exists.”

“Noticing small changes early helps you adapt to the bigger changes that are to come.” The more quickly you let go of old cheese, the sooner you find new cheese. And the fastest way to change is to laugh at your own folly, then you can let go and quickly move on.

“If you do not adapt in time you might as well not adapt at all.” Changing on time is as important as changing itself.

“The biggest inhibitor to change lies within yourself and that nothing gets better until you change.” Everyone has to find their own way, past their fears. No one can do it for you or talk you into it. You have to see the advantage of changing by yourself.

“It is safer to be aware of your real choices than to isolate yourself in your comfort zone.”  Ignorance is bliss, for time being. It is better to ride the change rather than drowning in it.

While the book is entertaining and informative, the one watch-out for readers is to decide when to fight change and when to accept it. There are times when we can buck a trend and emerge victorious just as there are times when we have to calmly accept what is beyond our control. As somebody wise prayed: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”

Why read this book : The book is a mere 35 pages, takes very less time to complete, but gives us a lot to think and learn about. It is beneficial to all: a student, an employee, a homemaker, or a businessman, as Change is the only constant and is inevitable. By reading this book find out who you are (Sniff, Scurry, Hem or Haw), and learn how you can improve to be the person who welcomes change instead of the one who ignores it.

Goodreads Link: Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson | Goodreads

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