Who Moved My Cheese? - Dr Spencer Johnson
The subtitle ‘An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and In Your Life’ is a little spurious. This is a simple book that will take less than one hour to read from cover to cover. On the basis of a word count, or if you’re looking for a management book with answers, this will score very poorly. However that’s not what the book sets out to do.
It presents a rather whimsical story of life for two mice and two small people in a maze. The maze represents the environment for change with unknown futures and the accompanying fears. The four characters are used to represent different attitudes to change. The mice Sniff and Scurry represent the fairly straight forward reactive approach to change. As mice they’re not credited with great intelligence but when their source of cheese is moved, react by setting off to find new cheese supplies.
The little people, Hem and Haw, are credited with the intelligence of men which in many ways provides a hindrance to their ability to change. When their cheese is moved their ‘intelligent’ response leads to a wide range of reactions including denial, recrimination and resentment which disables their ability to set off to seek new cheese. Gradually Haw comes to terms with the need for change and the contrast with Hem is used to illustrate how fear of change can be disabling and how this fear might be overcome.
This simple story illuminates a range of responses to change and provides four different characters to illustrate these response types. These types are inevitably presented in simple forms and can’t deal with the complexity of real change. That isn’t the purpose of the book and is indeed its strength. The four characters provide a vocabulary that many will find useful in describing their, and their colleagues, reaction to change. The approach taken to make that vocabulary accessible is to make the story simple so that the book can be quickly read and passed on to spread the word. The book is so easy to read that I can imagine it being passed on to a colleague to be read in the next hour and moving through a team in a day, rather than languishing in an in-tray for three months awaiting spare time that will never arrive.
If you approach this as another pebble to be tossed into the pool of your ideas. It’s a small pebble but for many a very useful one. It is very accessible and might provide new thoughts, images and vocabulary with which to describe and most importantly share ideas on change. It doesn’t have the answers but no book ever can. People have the answers and the aim of this book is to encourage them to set off to look for their answers, their new cheese.
Many thanks to David Melia for telling me about this book.
December 4 2003