Who Moved My Cheese | Spencer Johnson

Published: 1998

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Who Moved my Cheese is a story about two mice and two “miniature humans” looking for cheese in a maze. The book aims to provide a perspective on how to handle change and has been used in many organizations for this very purpose. The plot is based on the mice having simple brains but good instincts. They are often wrong but progress through trial-and-error. Miniature humans have complex brains and therefore the ability to simulate events in advance. This ability can be effective but also limiting.

CONVENIENCE SNEAKS IN. All four characters leave their houses each morning to look for their favorite cheese. One day they found an area with a lot of cheese (station C). From that day on, the two mice, Sniffy and Scurry, ran every morning to Station C from their homes. The miniatures, Hem and Haw, slept a little longer each day and then went to station C with the knowledge that the cheese is there. After a while, they moved their houses closer to station C to shorten their morning commute.

PREDICT CHANGE. One morning there was no cheese left at station C. The mice were not surprised because they saw that the stock gradually had decreased over a longer period of time. They did not over-analyze. The situation had changed so they too had to change. The miniatures arrived later that day and were shocked. They had not noticed that the stock had decreased. “It’s not fair!” – they had made plans based on this cheese.

ADAPT QUICKLY TO CHANGES. Haw suggested that they go out into the maze to look for new cheese. Hem did not agree, he would go to the bottom with this. They had worked hard for the cheese and they deserved it. Every day they went to station C, but still no cheese. The mice Sniff and Scurry meanwhile ran around the labyrinth and after much trial-and-error they found the largest cheese store they had ever seen.

VISUALIZE IMPROVEMENT. Haw visualized himself running around the maze and suggested to Hem that they should go on a new hunt. Hem thought it was comfortable where they were and that it was dangerous out there. Maybe there’s no more cheese out there. Haw chose one day not to listen to his friend. At first he felt lost but gradually he began to find his way and to feel alive: ”when you move beyond your fear, you feel free”.

ENJOY CHANGE. The more Haw imagined himself finding cheese, the more he thought it would happen. Eventually he came to a large cheese station but it was pretty much empty. He ran back to his friend Hem to tell him there was more cheese out there. Hem had not even put on the running shoes. When Haw tried to give him some of the new cheese, he refused on the grounds that he did not think he would like it. He wants his own cheese back and if he waits long enough, it might come back. Haw again went out into the maze. He found some cheese here and some cheese there. One day he came to cheese station N, the magnificent cheese station the mice had found.

MONITOR CHANGE. Haw promised himself that next time he would adapt faster. He knew it was easy to get into old habits so he inspected his new station daily. He also ventured out into the maze to explore new areas even though he returned back to station N. He knew it was safer to be aware of his choices instead of isolating himself in his comfort zone.

VISUALIZE THE GOAL. In the story, the little man Haw shows an ability to visualize a world beyond station C. This is one of man’s advantages over animals living by trial-and-error. He could see in front of him the day he found the new cheese and had that image in his head to get through a period of change. He had a long-term goal: to find cheese and within that goal he was adaptable.

THE WORLD CHANGES, CHANGE WITH IT. Hem and Haw had adopted an unsustainable strategy. They found cheese and believed that the cheese would remain forever. This did not work and Haw chose to try to find a new and sustainable strategy. When he finally found the cheese, he decided never to settle down completely, but instead set out on new voyages of discovery, even though he always returned. He learned to read the obvious signs that were around him and adapted accordingly.