When the hunger pangs strike, and you take yourself to the fridge, you expect to find whatever delicious morsel you were hoping for happily waiting there for you, don’t you? What if one day you opened the door and the fridge was empty? And somehow, all the contents had slowly disappeared without you noticing. How would you react?
This short book is an exploration of the possible reactions when struck by these circumstances, using the vehicle of two mice and two little people. Sniff and Scurry, the mice, have simple conscious minds and merely react to what is in front of them – Hem and Haw are little people, with complex thought patterns and ponderings akin to those of the human brain. The best thing about the metaphor of Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson’s “Who Moved My Cheese?” is that it can be applied to any avenue that you choose – career, relationships, business or life in general.
In the edition of the book that I read, the fable itself is based around a school reunion, where a group of friends who haven’t met in a while and are catching up on each other’s lives. Some things have gone well for them, and other things less so; one of the members of the group recounts a story that helped him with his mindset regarding his business and offers to relay it to the group.
Who Moved My Cheese?
Sniff and Scurry run off into the maze, trying as many corridors and alleyways as they can before they find “Cheese Station C” and chow down. Hem and Haw take a more methodical approach but join the mice at Cheese Station C shortly after. The cheese is plentiful and varied, and they all make themselves quickly at home. Each day they return from their homes in the maze, the little people take just a little longer to walk there. They become gradually more leisurely. In contrast, the mice run at full scamper every day back to Station C with as much purpose as the day they discovered it.
So when the cheese runs out, the mice are the first to find out. They look at each other, and realise “the cheese is gone!” So off they go, back into the maze, to find some new cheese. No thought process required – the cheese is gone, let’s find new cheese.
The little people arrive later, walking casually, expecting the cheese to be at Cheese Station C as it has always been. On arrival, the reaction is simply shock – “Who moved my cheese?!” cried Hem. They proceeded to return there each day, in the vain hope that whoever moved the cheese would bring it back, getting hungrier and hungrier as the days progressed. In the meantime, the mice had gone deeper into the maze than ever before and located Cheese Station N, where there was more cheese than they had ever seen before. They were content.
Haw was trying to convince Hem to come with him to look for new cheese, but he was reluctant to leave. Eventually, Haw laughs at himself and how ridiculous the two of them are. At this moment, he realises all along that change is necessary, and that he has to adapt to the situation. He writes on the wall as a reminder to Hem before he departs.
If You Do Not Change, You Can Become Extinct.”
The Search for New Cheese
Haw goes out into the maze, finding little bits of new cheese here and there but only stumbling into empty Cheese Stations. He begins to get worried that he will never find new cheese, but he finds morsels enough to sustain him as he walks. He begins to find joy in the exploration, remembering how he felt before finding Cheese Station C. He draws pictures on the wall with quotes, to act as a path for Hem if he chooses to follow him. He tries to bring some new cheese back to Hem, to encourage Hem to join him, but he doesn’t want it – Hem only wants his old cheese. As Haw goes back into the maze and continues to explore, he adds to The Handwriting On The Wall as reminders to himself and leaving a trail for Hem.
Haw eventually stumbles upon Cheese Station N where Sniff and Scurry are waiting happily. They nod to him. He is overjoyed! After gorging himself on new cheese, he summarises The Handwriting On The Wall on the largest wall of Cheese Station N.
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 Is 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! – Savour The Adventure And Enjoy The Taste Of New Cheese.
Be Ready To Change Quickly And Enjoy It Again – They Keep Moving The Cheese.”
Haw uses his complex human brain and learns from what happened at Cheese Station C. He continues to go out into the maze, exploring new territory and finding New Cheese. He doesn’t want to get caught out again. As the fable ends, someone is approaching Cheese Station N. Haw hopes that it is Hem.
The final section of the book is the same reunion friends who open, discussing their thoughts on the fable. I read this after thinking about it a while myself, concluding that although there are times in which overly positive thought will be forced, in general it is an outlook that promotes adaptability. Helmuth von Moltke was credited with coining the phrase “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” From war to poetry but covering identical subject matter, in one of my favourite poems Robbie Burns famously wrote,
The best-laid plans o’ mice an’ men, gang aft a-gley.”
There is power to planning. Planning has always been a central factor of my being – without a plan, you are like a ship without a destination, sailing blindly across the ocean with no chance of ending up anywhere noteworthy. It is a necessity of the human condition to have goals, to have something to aim for because it allows us to grow and feel as if we move forward. It is a powerful force in anchoring the individual.
The problems come when the planning loses its adaptability. In this situation, those who “live for the now” are likely to come out on top, as they are not paralysed by their intentions going awry. The simple consciousnesses of the mice have no room for paralysis – the input is simple, there is no more cheese. As a result the output of response is just as simple – let’s find more cheese!
The human condition is more complex and less instinctual. Over-thinking the disruption of a plan leads to more planning and less action. As Hem and Haw complain and whine, they try to dissect the cause of their privation rather than taking the necessary action to fix it. They dally and they waste time. As General Patton said,
A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
Take from the story what you will, for the moral will be different to every man. But do read it. There are positive benefits to both planning and being adaptable. Harness both, conquer the maze, and find your Cheese.