Who Moved My Cheese?
An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life
by Spencer Johnson, M.D., Foreword by Kenneth Blanchard, Ph.D.
Short Summary: Cheese is found, moved, then found again. But did someone cut the Cheese? No, that's just Spencer Johnson, M.D., belching brimstone.
Extended Summary: Change. It happens to all of us, except Dick Clark, but is it good or bad? Spencer Johnson elaborates in his "book" Who Moved My Cheese?, presented as a "fable" about dealing with change in business and personal life. But there's something else going on here...
The "book" begins with A Gathering, wherein former classmates have lunch and chat in an incredibly realistic manner about how much their lives have changed since high school. They agree that things have certainly turned out differently than they thought, and notice that they often "don't want to change when things change."
Carlos said, "I guess we resist changing because we're afraid of change."
"Carlos, you were Captain of the football team," Jessica said. "I never thought I'd hear you say anything about being afraid!"
Yes, this is how I talk with my friends.
Then, one of them, Michael, relates the story of Who Moved My Cheese? to the others.
The story revolves around two mice, "Sniff" and "Scurry", and two "littlepeople", "Hem" and "Haw". They live in a "maze" and spend their time running around, looking for, finding, and eating "Cheese". Cheese, as is stated in the foreword by Kenneth Blanchard, is "a metaphor for what we want to have in life", such as a job, a relationship, money, a big house, or an insulting yet best-selling business book. Cheese can even be "...an activity like jogging or golf..." (rejected title: Who Moved My Jogging?).
Of course, there are different attitudes taken by those hoping to acquire Cheese. Sniff is good at "sniffing out" Cheese, and Scurry excels at "scurrying" after the Cheese once he knows where it is. Are you with me? Are you sure? Because Johnson spends at least a page trying to get this message across: the two mice don't really think about things, they just react to them.
As for Hem and Haw, well, you could say they are a bit more complicated. You'd be wrong to say that, but you could say it. They use their brains a little more than the mice do, thinking things through instead of scurrying blindly off into the maze, and they also talk, which is unfortunate, because when they talk, they tend to use the word "change" in every single sentence, and their dialogue is no more realistic than the people in A Gathering.
Haw, we learn, also has the annoying habit of writing incredibly obvious sayings on the wall, perhaps sensing that they might make good seminar topics or bullet points in a PowerPoint slide presentation. His first saying is:
Having Cheese Makes You Happy
Did everyone get that?
One day, the mice and the two losers find a huge mound of Cheese in the maze. Hem and Haw decide that this mound of Cheese is so large they never have to think about finding more. They get comfortable and settle down, and thus are caught unaware when: surprise! Their Cheese is gone one day.
Sniff and Scurry are ready to handle this, and get back to looking for more Cheese immediately. Hem and Haw, however, mope around, complaining that someone moved their Cheese, and that they don't deserve this, and that they don't want to look for more Cheese. They feel they are entitled to the Cheese they worked hard for.
Boys and girls, do you see the difference between Sniff and Scurry, and Hem and Haw?
Hem and Haw become bitter and irritated, not to mention hungry, and finally, Hem kills Haw while he's sleeping and dines upon his flesh.
What really happens is, Haw goes off in search of new Cheese, while Hem stays stubbornly put, insisting that someone will put his Cheese back. He's entitled to it. In fact, at one point he puts his hands on his hips and screams at the top of his voice:
"It's not fair!"
Hem sure is silly, isn't he? I mean, what does he hope to accomplish with that?
Meanwhile, Haw runs through the maze, weary and frightened, stopping every single page to write new sayings on the wall, such as:
The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Find New Cheese
Old Beliefs Do Not Lead You To New Cheese
Movement in a New Direction Helps You Find New Cheese
At no point does Haw seem to realize that he's writing the exact same message over and over again in a slightly different way. He does, however, come to realize that he's enjoying running through the maze. He realizes he was foolish to worry so much about trying to find new Cheese, especially with the Cheese market doing so well these days. Why, everyone should be thrilled to get fired! Er, I mean... everyone should be thrilled to go looking for new Cheese!
Haw, after a boringly repetitive struggle, finds new Cheese, and also reunites with his disease-ridden pals, Sniff and Scurry. Haw vows to change his ways by being ready for things to change the next time. He sure learned something from those two mice! Sure, they may only be vermin, but they know a thing or two about change. Hem then immediately continues his habit of vandalism by scrawling idiotic messages over every available surface, repeating all his wise sayings, and hoping that Hem will someday accept the fact that They Keep Moving the Cheese.
Once Michael is done telling the story, his friends sit there for a few moments in thoughtful silence. Then they pummel him to death for being so incredibly condescending and dine upon his flesh.
Well, not really. They all agree, naturally, to get together later to discuss the story further, which leads us to the next section of the "book": A Discussion (rejected title: Padding the Word Count A Bit).
Here, through even more incredibly realistic dialogue, the former classmates discuss the Cheese mythos in great detail. Some of them begin to see just how much they really are like Hem and Haw or Sniff and Scurry.
Carlos opens his big fat yap again and talks about how his sporting goods store (remember, he was the Captain of the football team) went through an unexpected change:
"I wasn't Sniff -- I didn't sniff out the situation. And I certainly wasn't Scurry -- I didn't go into action immediately. I was more like Hem, who wanted to stay in familiar territory."
Michael... asked, "What are we talking about here, buddy?"
"Well, let's just say I didn't want to go out looking for new Cheese."
Jessica pipes up with how her 'Cheese' has been moved several times in her personal life, and Nathan relates to the movement of 'Cheese' in his family. It's all but said aloud: "Golly, it seems like all of us here, who represent a fair cross-section of American life and society, can benefit from the wonderful fable of Who Moved My Cheese? and apply it to our day-to-day lives!"
The "book" ends, not with an orgy of murder and frenzied cannibalism, but with everyone thanking Michael for his wonderful story.
Yes. Thank you, Michael. Most enlightening. You've taught me that if I encounter change, or unfairness, in my job or life, it doesn't pay to stick around and try to fix it or complain about it. I should just scurry off and look for something else.
And, I thank you for that.
Oh. Say, Michael... I have a story about change, too.
Did you hear about those temps working for Microsoft a while back? They were what you call "perma-temps", that is, temporary employees who have been with a particular company for a long period of time, sometimes years, yet still get paid through their temp agency and don't receive medical benefits or pension plans from the company. Of all the employees at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Washington, about a third of them were these perma-temps. It's just cheaper to employ people that way, and, after all, Microsoft hardly has any money to just throw around.
Well, some of the temps decided that they deserved stock options, since they were working just as hard and as often as the regular, permanent employees, and weren't being hired permanently themselves. In fact, under Washington state law, they were entitled to be considered "regular" employees, but Microsoft was illegally classifying them as "contract-workers". In terms you might understand, Michael, Microsoft was denying them their Cheese.
So, these temps placed their little hands on their hips and screamed at the top of their voices:
"It's not fair!"
And, do you know what? No one heard them.
Well... except for the courts, who ruled in the temps' favor, ordering Microsoft to pay over 10,000 temps possibly as much as $20 million for illegally shutting them out of their stock-purchasing plan. Why, it even applied to temps that worked for Microsoft as far back as 1986! Can you imagine that?
In fact, temps have taken Microsoft to court on numerous occasions, most recently winning a case granting them the right to access any records that Microsoft has on them. Some of them even have union representation now!
And isn't Microsoft the biggest, deepest, darkest maze there is? Full of winding tunnels, blind alleys, and giant, Cheese-hoarding rats?
But, I guess next time, they should just scurry off and look for new Cheese. Right, Michael?
"It's MAZE time!" Carlos called out. Everyone laughed, including Jessica.
Rest assured, if they did, the response would be: "Sounds like someone needs a change!!!"
And everyone would laugh.
Thoughts: Change, schmange. Temps deal with change all the time; it's all but the core of our existence. I'm a temp for more than the reason that I like things to change; I need them to. I go nuts otherwise. I think it's a healthy, if not particularly secure way to live, and so no "fable" about change, particularly one as poorly presented as this, is going to have much of an impact on me. In terms of worrying about my Cheese, consider me lactose intolerant. However, even to me, this "book" goes a little too far at pushing change as a good thing.
Who Moved My Cheese? seems to say that no matter what changes, no matter what, you should see it as a good thing. Surely, sometimes, change must be a bad thing. Surely, sometimes, it should be resisted. Surely, sometimes, you should stand your ground.
But this is a business "book", and it is clearly not written for the employees who are doomed to receive it during periods of transition (massive layoffs), but instead written for the department heads and chairpersons and directors and C.E.O.'s, who are restructuring (canning everyone) and want to maintain a positive, productive workforce (avoid lawsuits). I'm not one to be paranoid, but this is clearly a tool designed to keep people in line. Are your employees acting up? Disgruntled? Not going quietly into the night? Feed this to them.
Of course, I could be reading it wrong. Surely, Dr. Johnson must believe that if there are circumstances in my life or job that change, and I feel they are not fair, I should fight them, just like the Microsoft temps did. Shouldn't I? I mean, really... should I be a man? Or a mouse?
Scoring: Got Zilch? It's been a while since I wanted to throw a "book" on the floor and jump up and down on it. Doctor, heal thyself. And then, get bent.
(Note: There's a lot of scattered info on the internet about the temps vs. Microsoft, but this link hits most of the highlights, if you're interested.)
Also, check out the rest of Cheese Week by clicking here.
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