Friday, July 25, 2008

Who Moved My Cheese (a book review)

Spencer Johnson, M.D., Who Moved My Cheese (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1998), 94 pages.

I have invited Dave, a retired school administrator, to facilitate an annual staff planning retreat next month. In planning the retreat, Dave asked if I’d read a little book titled Who Moved My Cheese. He suggested he use it in his presentation and dropped me off a copy to review. This is a short book (It’ll probably take me longer to write this post than it did to read the book), but don’t sell the book short. There are some valuable lessons about change on these few pages.

This is the story of two mice, Sniff and Scurry, and two littlepeople, Hem and Haw. They live in a maze and spend their days in search of cheese. One day they come upon a great find (Cheese Station C). There is an abundance of cheese and they settle in, growing fat and lazy. Hem and Haw begin to see themselves as “owners” of the cheese. But then, one day, the cheese is gone. Sniff and Scurry put back on their running shoes and begin to explore the maze, looking for new cheese. Hem and Haw feel bitter as they’ve come to think they’re entitled to the cheese. They have become afraid of the maze and sulk around. But one day Haw decides it’s time to go out in search of new cheese. Hem refuses to join his quest. Haw finds his running shoes, laces them up and goes out in search of new cheese. Along the way, he finds morsels of cheese, but nothing that can sustain him for long. He keeps searching as he learns new truths, such as “what you are afraid of is never as bad as what you imagine” (63). He draws graffiti on the maze, pictures of cheese with tidbits of wisdom inside, in case Hem decides to follow him. Examples include:
“If You Do Not Change, You Become Extinct.” (46)
“What Would You Do If You Were Not Afraid?” (48)
“Movement in a New Direction Helps You Find New Cheese.” (54)
“Old Beliefs Do Not Lead You To New Cheese” (64)
Along the way, Haw begins to enjoy the journey. He discovers that you “can believe that change will harm you and resist it. Or you can believe that finding new cheese will help you, and embrace the change” (65). He also begins to use his mind to envision himself finding something that is better. He reflects on his mistakes and plans for the future and, in the end, discovers an even more abundant cache of cheese than had existed in Cheese Station C. But as he enjoys all the cheese in this new station, he keeps his running shoes nearby for the time he’ll have to return to the maze in search of cheese.

At the end of his journey, Haw summarizes wisdom learned:

Change Happens (They keep moving the cheese)
Anticipate Change (Get ready for the cheese to move)
Monitor Change (Smell the cheese often so you know when it’s getting old)
Adapt to Change Quickly (The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese)
Change (Move with the cheese)
Enjoy Change! (Savor the Adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese)
Be Ready to Change Quickly and Enjoy it Again and Again (They keep moving the cheese) (74)
This is a wonderful parable about change and about the difference between leadership and management. The forward is written by Kenneth Blanchard, Ph.D., who coauthored with Johnson the One Minute Manager, another little gem that I read back in the mid-80s. I recommend both books.
For other book reviews by Sage, click here.
For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.


  1. So many of these sorts of books provide advice/thoughts which seem intuitively obvious. Of course, if that were true, people wouldn't need the advice.


  2. Although I have had it for long, I am yet to read it. Somehow I have been putting it off!

    As I have had lots of changes lately, I should go ahead!

    Thanks for the review..

  3. Sounds like a work I could appreciate these days.

  4. Haw is obviously a clerical worker nowhere near retirement. Hem, on the other hand, is or is upper management.

  5. Somehow, somewhere, I have seen an animated version of this book. It was exactly as you described it. Did someone buy the movie options for it?

  6. I read this book a few years back when the company I work for changed from a family-owned business to an employee-owned one. It was very helpful to us long-time employees who had difficulty with change. Many of us who learned to change are still with the company. Some who could not learn to change have left.

  7. I didn't realize cheese could lead to so much enlightenment. Nice review of a book I'll probably buy for the kids (after I read it). :)

  8. Sherman, you're right about the obvious and also how it's often missed

    Gautami, it won't take you long--if you're going through change at your school, you'll enjoy it!

    Kontan, yes, with the change you and your family are going through, you might enjoy it.

    Murf, is there a hidden message here?

    Ed, they have many versions of this book (kids, teens, animated), more than learning about change, the author has learned about marketing--if I was wearing my satrical hat, I would have said more about that--but go to their website and see all the crap you can buy!

    Dan, curious, did the company give you the book to read? We're going through a lot of changes too as we're relocating... the past 18 months have been stress and the next 18 promise to be more so.

    Scarlet, from health reports, skip the cheese and eat blueberries :)

  9. What perfect timing economy-wise to read this book. I've heard of it, but have never read it. ...and how synchronistic for me in my life as I'm anticipating a big change here pretty soon. I'll have to remember those words of wisdom.

  10. My boss said I didn't have to read this book because I was already a rat. I've always taken that as a compliment, albeit probably a backhanded one. . .

  11. The company purchased several copies, which were made available to senior and middle management. After they were read, they were pass on to subordinate supervisors.

  12. Now don't tell me you're Obama! Just kidding! :)

    But hey if you are, dude do pick me as your running mate. I'm so damn good at kicking ass and nuking people!

    Yes I like that book.

  13. Holly, good luck with the changes coming your way

    SFP, mind if I borrow that line :)

    Dan, maybe I should do that... Instead, I'm passing along copies of Deep Change, which is a much more detailed (but still not hard to read) book. It'll take a good reader a few hours where "Who Stole My Cheese" will only take them a few minutes.

    Mother Hen, maybe we could make up the third option--we could run as the Sagehen ticket :)

  14. Sagehen ticket - I like that. Dude I'm not ashamed to say that I want to RULE the world... after all, ruling over Husband alone isn't much fun ya know!

  15. I have used the book in a variety of settings. It has been interesting to me that those who could most benefit from the premise of the book tend to be those who are most likely to sell it "short."

    Thanks for the review.

  16. Many lessons in that book that are sometimes hard to learn.

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  18. yes this story is so inspiring :D
    super relate in terms of my bestfriend relationship

  19. This book is drivel and a waste of trees. Not all change is good. You're not supposed to simply accept change "just because". Germany changed quite considerably in 1935. Wasn't very good change, now was it?