‘Who Moved My Cheese?’

I’ve been writing a change management webinar over the last few days and have been reminding myself of some of the change management models and writings. I want to introduce you to, or remind you of, the short book, ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ by Dr Spencer Johnson.

Dr Johnson created the story to help him deal with a difficult change in his life. He shared his tale with others and they also benefitted. Some 20 years later, with encouragement from his fellow author and friend, Ken Blanchard, the book was published.

I was introduced to the book not long after it had first been written in the late 90’s. It featured in my management development training that I undertook in my first proper job out of university.

It’s a simple tale that takes less thank 1 hour to read but something that I still remember and keep on my bookshelf to this day. It tells a tale of two mice called Sniff and Scurry and two little people, Hem and Haw. They run through a maze everyday looking for cheese to make them happy.

The cheese in the story refers to the thing you want in your life – good job, love, money, health etc. The maze is where you look for what you want – the organisation you work in or the family or community you live in.

The story describes how they all find their cheese in the maze and for a while everything is good. Then one day they go to where the cheese normally is and there is none left. The rest of the book then describes how the mice and little people each react to the change.

The key learning points that one of the little people wrote on the wall are as follows:

  • Change happens
  • Anticipate change
  • Monitor change
  • Adapt to change quickly
  • Change
  • Enjoy change
  • Be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again and again

It’s a simple tale, some critics say too simple, that reminds us to move with the cheese and not be left behind. There are plenty of other messages too but I won’t spoil the story!

In today’s climate, change ‘management’ may seem like somewhat of a redundant concept. How much ‘managing’ can you do when a global pandemic hits and we are forced into lockdown? Unless you are in the health care or pharmaceutical industries, I’m sure not many of us had this on our strategic threats list.

Whether or not we pre-empted this type of crisis it has nonetheless brought about significant change for all of us. How we all react to this change can differ from person to person as we see in Dr Johnson’s story. How easily we adapt can mean less stress and more success in our home and work lives.

Now. I’m not here to preach to you that we should all be thinking positively about our newfound situation and looking to enjoy it. I know that most of us have good days and bad days and that as much as we want to be adaptable, we are grieving our old lives. However, what I do want to do is look at how we can take the leaning points from ‘Who Moved My cheese’ and see if it applies to our current global pandemic situation.

Change happens

Indeed, it does. We all know that life never stays the same and there are uncertainties, however, our day-to-day lives of working, shopping, and seeing friends and family generally doesn’t alter too much. With us now in lockdown our ‘normal’ lives have been changed completely. These are unprecedented times and hopefully not one to be repeated.

Anticipate change

How could any of us have anticipated this unless we were some sort of zombie apocalyptic survivalist?

Monitor change

We saw the start of the virus in China reported on the news. It seemed shocking but so distant. A world away from here. It spread, reaching the UK and with every government update we had more change – wash hands, reduce travel, social distancing to complete lockdown. We saw this all unfold on our TV screens and social media channels.

Adapt to change quickly

As we monitored the changes taking place across the world we then had to adapt to our own change. Some of Boris’s critics say we did not adapt quickly enough. This is isn’t a political post so I will leave that one there. Some adapted quicker than others. The denial, shock and resistance are all natural responses.


We’ve made the change – we are all at home! We’ve had to! Lockdown and police enforcement have meant that only the most daring, selfish, or stupid of us would not do as we were told to stop the spread of this virus.

Enjoy the change

This is an interesting point – should I enjoy this change? Should I be enjoying the loss of freedom and loss of choice? Maybe if I reframe it. I could be enjoying quality time with my family, or more opportunities to spend time on jobs around the house. Admittedly it can be difficult to see it from a different perspective when I am self-employed and worrying about my next mortgage payment or having been made redundant.

Be ready to change and enjoy it again and again

That sounds great in principle: always be ready for change, embrace it, adapt to it, and make the commitment to enjoy it time and time again. If change were to happen again, I hope we would have built our levels of resiliency and a host of coping mechanisms to be better able to adapt. Whether we enjoy it is another matter!

I think what this situation may teach us, is to be more prepared practically, not to take our friends and family for granted, to be appreciative of the little things, to recognise the importance of key workers to keeping society functioning, to make some financial planning no matter how small and to be kind and thoughtful to others.

So, as we all run around our own maze looking for our cheese can we learn from ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ and scurry into action rather than get hemmed in and left behind?

Worth an hour of your time!

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