Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr Spencer Johnson - Book summary

Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr Spencer Johnson - Book summary

Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr Spencer Johnson - Book Summary

Many businesses go down, people view themselves as a failure, jobs turn stressful and relationships go sour, yet they see what is happening and not why it is happening. Often they end up saying, “How it happened to me?” They fail to realise that a change is desirable; a change within ourselves. We need to work on ourselves, to explore new opportunities, to CHANGE ourselves. However, people perceive change differently and so they react / respond to it differently; denying change, resisting change, cursing change or accepting change.   

Who Moved My Cheese? is a book written by Dr Spencer Johnson.  In this book, Dr Johnson has beautifully portrayed, through a story, different reactions of people to change by using characters and objects as symbols.
Main symbols used in the book:
It is a metaphor for everything that we cherish, that makes us happy. It means different things to different people. Material things, jobs, money, good health, spirituality, relationships, security, freedom, recognition, etc.

Places where we spend time looking for what we want in our life. Where we seek happiness. This can be our place of work, family, community, or relationship. In short, it means life, our environment.

Everything that compels us to change ourselves. Changing ourselves can mean changing our belief system, perception, approach, attitude, or behaviour etc.

Sniff and Scurry
Mice relied on Trial & Error. They did not over-analyse things and were not burdened with complex beliefs. They loved their cheese.
Hem and Haw
Little people had their beliefs and emotions and relied on experience. They are of the size of mice but behaved like humans. They wanted their Cheese (with a capital C).

A Gathering at Chicago

Some former classmates get together for lunch. One of the friends, Michael, said, “My business was going to close, and then I was glad to hear a story, which proved truly beneficial.” He continued, “I told this story to everyone working in my company and my business survived.” The name of this story is "Who Moved My Cheese?" Michael affirmed that people benefit from hearing this story. He asked, “If you agree, I will tell the story.” All the people were very happy and asked to tell the story. Michael started telling a story

The Story

Every morning, Sniff and Scurry and Hem and Haw wore their running shoes and jogging suits and went to find a cheese of their choice in a maze. This maze had countless corridors having some dark corners and blind alleys. The maze was interspersed with some tasty cheese.
One day Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw found Cheese station C, which had a huge stock of delicious Cheese. The Cheese was enough to last their lifetime. Now they did not need to go elsewhere in the maze to search for Cheese. After getting such a large stock of cheese, the life of all of them became happy and easy.
Having Cheese Makes You Happy

Going to Cheese Station C every morning became a routine for Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw. Sniff and Scurry used to get up early in the morning and run to Cheese Station C. For a few days, Hem and Haw also got up early to go to Cheese Station and ran to it. Later they became relaxed and confident and got up late. They would slowly put on clothes and take a leisurely walk to the cheese station. At the cheese station, they would take off their running shoes, wear their comfortable slippers, and enjoy the cheese. They also decorated the walls of the cheese station. They were complacent.

Hem and Haw had no idea who put the cheese and from where it came. They assumed it was their cheese and it would last forever.

Hem and Haw reaffirmed themselves, "We deserve this cheese. We had to work hard to find it." Their confidence turned into arrogance and they stopped watching what was happening around them. 

Sniff and Scurry, on the other hand, would come to the cheese station, as usual, observe the cheese station, and pay attention to what has changed from the previous day. One day they came to the cheese station and found that it was empty. They were not surprised. They were observing that the stock of cheese was decreasing every day. They were ready for it.

"Change is your friend not your foe,
Change is brilliant opportunity to grow."

Simon T. Bailey
Sniff and Scurry were not burdened with complex beliefs, so they did not unnecessarily analyse the situation. They immediately put on their jogging suits and running shoes and started running in the maze to find new cheese. The problem and solution for them were simple. The situation at the cheese station has changed, so they also needed to change themselves.

When Hem and Haw found that there was no cheese at Station C, they were shocked. They felt betrayed. They had assumed that the cheese is going to last forever. They were not ready for this change. Hem shouted, "Who moved my cheese?  This is not right." Hem was screaming. His face was red with anger.

Haw didn't want to hear anything. He did not want to believe it. He was in a state of denial. It took both of them a long time to decide what they should do now. They kept searching for the cheese around the cheese station and finally went home hungry. Haw wrote on the wall:

The More Important Your Cheese Is To You The More You Want To Hold On To It

Hem and Haw believed that injustice was done to them. They yelled, "Nobody warned us.”  They came again to Cheese Station on the next day but there was no cheese. They protested, "Why did they do this to us? We should get compensation." They were repeatedly analyzing the situation but to not much avail. Haw wanted to stop this and go to the maze in search of new cheese. Hem flatly refused to do so. Haw couldn’t find Sniff and Scurry and said, “whether they know something that we don’t?” Hem cut him short by saying, “They are only mice not little people, they cannot know anything more than us.”

Sniff and Scurry proceeded into the maze to an area they had not visited before. Their only aim was to discover new cheese. After some time they found Cheese station N, which was full of new cheese. They had never seen such a huge stock of cheese. They were very happy.

Hem and Haw continued to go to Cheese Station C to find the cheese. They were now angry, frustrated and blaming each other for the current situation. Haw suggested that they should go back to the maze to find cheese. Hem said no, it was risky and he was no longer at an age to start afresh, he was comfortable there. Haw wondered if Sniff and Scurry have found new cheese and were enjoying it.

         Their frustrations increased, they became irritable. They could not sleep. They were having nightmares. Even then, they did not leave their old routine of looking for cheese in Cheese Station C. With a lot of effort, they made a big hole in the wall of cheese station wall to find out if the cheese is on the other side of the wall. But there was no cheese. Hem said, “If we work hard we will get results.” Haw began to realize that this is a wasteful effort. There is a difference between activity and productivity. Haw said that we are doing the same thing again and again but want a different result, which is silly. He was beginning to realise his mistake.

Haw put on his jogging suit and running shoes to go into the maze. Hem tried to dissuade him and said that they should wait until they put their cheese back in Station C. Haw said firmly that they would never put the cheese back. That was YESTERDAY. Sometimes things change and they never return to the old state. It is time to find new cheese. Haw wrote a message for Hem on the wall

If You Do Not Change, You Can Become Extinct

The fear of not finding anything in the maze had held him back. Now that Haw was ready to go into the maze, he felt more alive. Haw was smiling. He was wondering why he did not start new efforts immediately after the cheese was removed. He wrote on the wall

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

He decided that if he ever had a chance again, he would be ready to change himself as soon as possible. This will make things easier. He now appreciated that it is better to be late than never.

Initially, Haw had to struggle. He could find a little cheese scattered here and there but that was not enough. His progress was slow. The maze had changed and finding the cheese was a challenge. But he knew that searching for the cheese was not as difficult as he feared. He was convinced that whatever he was doing, although it was difficult, was better than being in a state of inactivity and scarcity. He was taking control rather than letting things happen to him. He also realized that the cheese did not disappear overnight at Cheese Station C. The quantity of cheese was gradually decreasing; the cheese was getting old and did not taste good. If he wanted, he could have known what was coming. Yet he did not act. If he was aware of the changes around him and if he had anticipated the change, this sudden change would not have surprised him.

Smell The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old
One day Haw found a big cheese station, but going inside he found it empty. Someone had already reached the cheese station and finished the cheese. He was pained and horrified by the feeling of emptiness on seeing the empty cheese station. He started thinking of going back to the Cheese station C. Then he again asked himself - "What would I do if I were not afraid?"

He thought of Hem and wondered, "Is Hem still in the state of inaction because of his fear". He wrote on the wall

Movement In A New Direction Helps You Find New Cheese

He realized that he was lagging because he was falling prey to negative thoughts. He realized that he was happy when he was moving. He stopped and wrote on the wall:

When You Move Beyond Your Fear, You Feel Free
Once someone overcomes his fear, it is beautiful beyond imagination. He started making a mental picture that he is sitting in the middle of a pile of his favourite cheese.

Imagining Myself Enjoying New Cheese Even Before I Find It, Leads Me To It

He found another cheese station that had some new cheese scattered at its door. He ate them all and gained strength. However, upon going inside he found that someone had already finished the cheese. Someone had already come there before him. He thought that had he come there sooner, he would have found that new cheese. He wrote:

The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Find New Cheese

Haw went back to Hem and gave him some pieces of new cheese. Hem refused to take them and insisted that he wanted his old cheese back as he cannot like the new cheese. Haw again wrote on the wall:

It Is Safer To Search In The Maze Than Remain In A Cheeseless Situation

Haw had realized that our fear is not as bad as we imagine them to be. He remembered that there was a day when he did not want to start his search because of the fear of not getting the cheese. He thought more about what could go wrong than what could be right. He understood that it is natural to change constantly, whether you expect it or not. Change can only surprise you when you don't expect it and you don't anticipate it. He wrote

Old Beliefs Do Not Lead You To New Cheese

He felt that new beliefs are encouraging new behaviour in him.

He knew that if you believed that change would harm you, you would oppose it. Otherwise, the desire to search something new would help you adopt change. He wrote:

When You See That You Can Find And Enjoy New Cheese, You Change Course

Haw understood that if he had accepted the change early, his situation would have been better today. He was happy that he had written messages on the wall, which would be a guide for Hem. He then wrote on the wall:

Noticing Small Changes Early Helps You Adapt To Bigger Changes That Are To Come

Haw continued to explore new parts of the maze, despite initial setbacks. He let go of the past and started adapting himself to the future. Then his efforts came to fruition and he saw Cheese Station N. It had the largest supply of cheese. Some cheese was new to him. When he went inside, he saw Sniff and Scurry there. They had become fat by eating tasty cheese. Haw took off his jogging suit and running shoes and kept them with him so that he could use them again if needed. He ate his cheese and said, "Hooray, this for a change." He was aware that Sniff and Scurry had taught him how to keep life simple and to change quickly with changes in the surroundings.

Haw began to re-evaluate his mistakes. Now he knew that the biggest obstacle to adopting change is the person himself. He realised that the change was beneficial to him, even though at the beginning he did not like it. He reminded himself that along with small changes we should also prepare for big changes. The most important thing was to know that there is always a new cheese around us whether we recognize it at that time or not. And if we rise above our fear, then we get a chance to taste it.

He thought about Hem and wondered if he has let go of the past and changed himself. Because he only could understand the importance of change and its benefits and decide to change. If Hem can read his messages written on the wall, then he will move in the right direction.

Haw wrote a summary of the lessons he learnt so far on the walls 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

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 realised that he had moved far beyond the situation of Cheese Station C. However, he was clear that if he becomes comfortable and complacent he will revert to the old state. Even after Cheese Station was full of cheese, Haw used to go into the maze to find new cheese. He had learnt to get out of his comfort zone. He understood the importance of finding new options rather than remaining inactive.

Then Haw heard some noise in the maze that kept on growing. It looked like someone was coming. Haw prayed that his friend has made it...

A Discussion Later That Same Day

All friends meet again in the evening. Angela asked which of you is Sniff, Scurry, Hem or Haw.

Carlos said I was not Sniff because I could not smell the change; I was not even Scurry because I did not take action immediately. I was like Hem, I understood that I wanted to live in familiar surroundings. I did not want to face change.

Jessica said that the Cheese in her life was removed too many times. Nathan said that change is certain in everyone's life. I wish my family had heard this story earlier; we would not have had to close so many stores.

Laura said that she wants to know how many of us are afraid of change. Only one raised his hand. Then she asked to tell who feels that others are afraid of change. Everyone raised his or her hand. All admitted that they were denying the fear of change. They realised that sometimes we don’t realise that we are afraid of change. Jessica and Nathan discussed the disadvantages of not changing with the change in business. Because some of your competitors will certainly change.

Nathan said that the most important question is what should we do to move past the old cheese? Perhaps we should introduce the change ourselves and then try to adapt to it. That is, we should occasionally remove our cheese.

Elaine said that everybody is still talking about business or jobs. However, after listening to this story, I relate it to my personal life. I think the relationship I have now has become like old cheese and it looks mouldy.

Cory said the same thing happened to me - we should leave the old relations and make new ones. Richard said that there is another aspect to it - we should leave the old behaviour instead of leaving the old relationship.

Jessica said I would go home and tell this story to my children and ask them who they are - Sniff, Scurry, Hem or Haw.

Michael said that this story helped a lot in managing my business. People were ready for change because nobody wanted to be like Hem.

********** End of Story **********

"Until you spread your wings, you will have no idea how far you can fly. 
Life is not about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself."


Some takeaways from the book:

  • Change does not close paths but leads you to find new paths.
  • We all fear change. We may accept it or not. Sometimes we are not even aware of our fear of 'Change'.
  • Inactivity in response to Change is not a solution. We should look for alternatives.
  • Only we can decide to change.
  • Think about what you will do if you were not afraid.
  • Be aware of the changes happening around you.
  • Be ready to change yourself along with the changes happening around you.
  • Introduce Change in your life from time to time, to test your strength and will to face the Change.
  • Fear of working on new options is scarier than working on new options in reality.
  • When you move beyond your fear, you feel free.
  • Life is not only managing problems but also painting the picture of “New Cheese”. Nurture desire to change.