What we’re reading this month

Cheesy but true: Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr Spencer Johnson


Who moved my cheese Dr Spencer Johnson

Change is an unavoidable truth in life. Even if you believe you’re in a state of stasis, your body is betraying you by changing all the time – killing off cells, growing new ones, breaking down nutrients to fuel the change process EVERY SINGLE NANOSECOND. Nothing stays the same, whether that’s Cheryl’s love life, the state of the economy or the state of your nails.

So it seems pretty futile to rail against change. It’s happening, whether you want it to or not. The only sensible course of action is to go with it – and this is the central thesis of Dr Spencer Johnson’s classic book, Who Moved My Cheese?.

As co-author of The One-Minute Manager, Johnson is no stranger to success in helping people be the best they can be, but this little book – fewer than 100 pages long – takes the biscuit (or should that be cheese and biscuits?) by selling more than 26 million copies worldwide. It’s one of the most successful business books of all time, but its message goes way beyond the workplace.

The main story centres around two mice, Sniff and Scurry, and two ‘Littlepeople’, Hem and Haw, who all live in a maze and eat the cheese to stay nourished and happy. The ‘cheese’ is, of course, a metaphor for the things we want in life – fame, fortune, happiness, love, health, world domination. The point is, we get very attached to our ‘cheese’ and if it changes, this can be devastating – not least because it requires us to get out of our comfort zones and into the unknown to flourish again.

In the book, Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw’s store of cheese vanishes. The mice, being simple souls, accept this change and set off into the maze to find new supplies. However, Hem and Haw, whose big human brains are much given to introspection and worry, find this change threatening. They’re comfortable in the cheese store, empty though it now is, and they don’t want to venture into the unknown maze. So instead of taking action to remedy the situation, they stay put to nurse their ‘poor me’ feelings of anger, fear, resentment and blame, and grow ill through hunger.

Eventually Haw decides he isn’t prepared to starve to death, so sets off on his own into the maze – Hem refusing to budge from where he’s ‘comfortable’ even though, by now, he’s anything but comfortable. Haw finds a small new cheese supply and discovers the mice already there enjoying it. Realising that this cheese won’t last long, they set off to find more and Haw realises he’s actually enjoying the search…

Johnson’s central message is simple: change happens, that’s non-negotiable. So anticipate it, adapt to it, enjoy it, and be ready to do this throughout your life. You have the choice of escaping your comfort zone when it becomes a prison (or possibly a tomb, as it might have done for Hem).

So when change happens, don’t be cheesed off like Hem. Embrace your inner Haw. (And let’s hope the spellchecker doesn’t change the way that’s spelt.)

Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way To Deal With Change In Your Work And In Your Life, Dr Spencer Johnson (Vermilion 1999, £6.99)