S. Johnson. 1998. Who moved my cheese?

S. Johnson. 1998. Who moved my cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life

First, a little note about these types of books, which will most likely apply to other “business” books and those that can fall into that general category, and that I do not really feel like repeating every time…

As part of my natural incurable curiosity and the routine of my daily job, and apart from the more technical training required, I often run across books fitting different categories, such as business, change management, leadership, strategic thinking, career development. What I have realized over the years is that the crushing majority of these works are not revealing anything earth-shattering. In fact, their underlying messages and techniques are often very, very simple – even though it seems that some of them can only be explained by brick-sized volumes… But that is why these books are so widely spread, to the point of creating business cultures: because they are intentionally very simple (often written so that a 12-year old can understand them) so that they apply to most situations, are understood by most people, and serve to reinforce what their authors consider best practices and exemplary behaviours and attitudes. And the truth of the matter is that intellectuals and people who are genuinely interested and competent in theory are quite rare – and the shelves of university libraries are filled with books more suited to their tastes and dispositions. No, these books serve a different aim: finding their way to the desks of as many corporate employees and managers as possible, and attempting to establish their authors as some sort of guru with a long-lasting following that will secure their status and revenue until their retirement and beyond, preferably while also expanding the ideas found in their articles and books (and blogs more recently) into a proprietary trademarked business that is indispensable to the health and happiness of any business organization, at the level of individual employees, as well as the collective entity. Okay, so now that we all agree on this small-talk, and keeping it in mind…

Who Moved My Cheese is worth reading for anyone who is dealing with change management. The main part of this small book (94 pages) is the story of two mice (Sniff and Scurry) and two mouse-sized little people (Hem and Haw) who live together in a maze, sustaining themselves with cheese, and who suddenly have to deal with the disappearance of the cheese. The entire book can be read in one 30-to-60 minute sitting, and can easily be shared with people from all walks of life: children, athletes, professionals… because it’s all about your attitude when faced with change. If the reader is in a motivational rut and has a bit of openness to getting themselves out of it, then yes, this book can be motivating and uplifting.

The lessons to be learned are conveniently written and repeated throughout the story and are summarized at the end as the following:

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


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

They keep moving the cheese.

Because some organizations have distributed this book to all their staff in times of budget cuts and major change, some critics have seen this as a way to strongly discourage anyone from questioning, or hesitating, or dissenting (because of the underlying message of the book). One could also easily argue that alternative interpretations of the attitudes and behaviours of the characters can be given. Personally, I think that both of these critiques would be looking too deep and giving more credit and importance to the book than it can handle. This is really just a very basic story of explaining in a very common-sense manner, the beneficial effects of having a positive and proactive attitude in dealing with change.

The story itself is actually inside another story, which provides a bit of an intro and context-setting before the story, and also a discussion of the lessons and applications that may be extracted from the story afterwards. But one could very easily just read the story itself (pages 25 – 76) and skip the rest, without missing much. The book could also have been called something like “The New Concise Dictionary of Cheese-Related Metaphors and Idioms for the Lazy English Reader” as it uses (and abuses) all the known cheese idioms and metaphors known in the English language – to get an idea of the level of literary sophistication here, just look at the names of the characters… so be advised, it is definitely a bit cheesy (… actually, I don’t recall seeing this one!)

Happy reading!

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