Who Moved My Cheese?
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|Genre||Self-help / motivational|
|September 7, 1998|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
|LC Class||BF637.C4 J64 1998|
Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, published on September 8, 1998, is a motivational tale by Spencer Johnson written in the style of a parable or business fable. The text describes change in one's work and life, and four typical reactions to those changes by two mice and two "little people," during their hunt for cheese. A New York Times business bestseller upon release, Who Moved My Cheese? remained on the list for almost five years and spent over 200 weeks on Publishers Weekly's hardcover nonfiction list. It has sold more than 26 million copies worldwide in 37 languages and remains one of the best-selling business books.
Allegorically, Who Moved My Cheese? features four characters: two mice, "Sniff" and "Scurry," and two little people, human metaphor, "Hem" and "Haw." (The names of the little people are taken from the phrase "hem and haw," a term for indecisiveness.) They live in a maze, a representation of one's environment, and look for cheese, representative of happiness and success. Initially without cheese, each group, the mice and humans, paired off and traveled the lengthy corridors searching for cheese. One day both groups happen upon a cheese-filled corridor at "Cheese Station C." Content with their find, the humans establish routines around their daily intake of cheese, slowly becoming arrogant in the process.
One day Sniff and Scurry arrive at Cheese Station C to find no cheese left, but they are not surprised. Noticing the cheese supply dwindling, they have mentally prepared beforehand for the arduous but inevitable task of finding more cheese. Leaving Cheese Station C behind, they begin their hunt for new cheese together. Later that day, Hem and Haw arrive at Cheese Station C only to find the same thing, no cheese. Angered and annoyed, Hem demands, "Who moved my cheese?" The humans have counted on the cheese supply to be constant, and so are unprepared for this eventuality. After deciding that the cheese is indeed gone they get angry at the unfairness of the situation and both go home starved. Returning the next day, Hem and Haw find the same cheeseless place. Starting to realize the situation at hand, Haw thinks of a search for new cheese. But Hem is dead set in his victimized mindset and dismisses the proposal.
Meanwhile, Sniff and Scurry have found "Cheese Station N," and new cheese. But back at Cheese Station C, Hem and Haw are affected by their lack of cheese and blame each other for their problem. Hoping to change, Haw again proposes a search for new cheese. However, Hem is comforted by his old routine and is frightened about the unknown. He knocks the idea again. After a while of being in denial, the humans remain without cheese. One day, having discovered his debilitating fears, Haw begins to chuckle at the situation and stops taking himself so seriously. Realizing he should simply move on, Haw enters the maze, but not before chiseling "If You Do Not Change, You Can Become Extinct" on the wall of Cheese Station C for his friend to ponder.
Still fearful of his trek, Haw jots "What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" on the wall and, after thinking about that, he begins his venture. Still plagued with worry (perhaps he has waited too long to begin his search...), Haw finds some bits of cheese that nourish him and he is able to continue his search. Haw realizes that the cheese has not suddenly vanished, but has dwindled from continual eating. After a stop at an empty cheese station, Haw begins worrying about the unknown again. Brushing aside his fears, Haw's new mindset allows him to again enjoy life. He has even begun to smile again! He is realizing that "When you move beyond your fear, you feel free." After another empty cheese station, Haw decides to go back for Hem with the few bits of new cheese he has managed to find.
Uncompromising, Hem refuses the new cheese, to his friend's disappointment. With knowledge learned along the way, Haw heads back into the maze. Getting deeper into the maze, inspired by bits of new cheese here and there, Haw leaves a trail of writings on the wall ("The Handwriting On the Wall"). These clarify his own thinking and give him hope that his friend will find aid in them during his search for new cheese. Still traveling, Haw one day comes across Cheese Station N, abundant with cheese, including some varieties that are strange to him, and he realizes he has found what he was looking for. After eating, Haw reflects on his experience. He ponders a return to see his old friend. But Haw decides to let Hem find his own way. Finding the largest wall in Cheese Station N, he writes:
- 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!
- Savor The Adventure And Enjoy The Taste Of New Cheese!
- Be Ready To Change Quickly And Enjoy It Again
- They Keep Moving The Cheese.
Cautious from past experience, Haw now inspects Cheese Station N daily and explores different parts of the maze regularly to prevent any complacency from setting in. After hearing movement in the maze one day, Haw realizes someone is approaching the station. Unsure, Haw hopes that it is his friend Hem who has found the way.
Who Moved My Cheese Inc.
In 1999, Who Moved My Cheese Inc was founded to handle the Who Moved My Cheese? book order demands from businesses. For several years, the company worked 24/7 just to keep up with the demand for the book. In 2005, the company was reorganized as Spencer Johnson Partners with the idea of bringing in partners and additional content from Dr. Spencer Johnson, the author. Spencer Johnson Partners focused on creating additional programs and services that would continue to help clients navigate change, including Gaining Change Skills. Then, in 2009, the company was purchased and renamed Red Tree Leadership.
In the corporate environment, management has been known to distribute this book to employees during times of "structural reorganization," or during cost-cutting measures, in an attempt to portray unfavorable or unfair changes in an optimistic or opportunistic way. This has been characterized by Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America as an attempt by organizational management to make employees quickly and unconditionally assimilate management ideals, even if they may prove detrimental to them professionally. Ehrenreich summarizes its message as "the dangerous human tendencies to 'overanalyze' and complain must be overcome for a more rodentlike approach to life. When you lose a job, just shut up and scamper along to the next one."
Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams said that patronizing parables are one of the top 10 complaints he receives in his email. Scott Adams' retort to the message in the parable is that it is a "patronizing message for the proletariat to acquiesce."
Three more criticisms can be phrased as:
- "The cheese doesn't matter". This view claims that the cheese is a means, not a cause. In the parable, there is a point in which Haw's new mindset allows him to enjoy life, even without cheese. This plot line could lead to Haw's understanding that the cheese is not the ultimate cause, but just some means to gain a deeper cause. However this plot line is quickly averted, without good enough inner-story justification.
- "There is no cheese". The former criticism can be developed further along in an Existential/Buddhist manner to claim that we can always develop an infinite chain of causes and means, but ultimately, there isn't any "real cause" - "There is no (real) cheese".
- "You're being compared to a rat in a maze". In this view the reader looks beyond the parable's immediate moral to see a larger analogy of employees in the role of mice (or, colloquially, rats) in a maze, while those outside the maze (corporate management) are manipulating the experiment (the work environment) to their own advantage, indifferent to the plight of the rodents faced with life-and-death choices inside the maze.
Andy Boro published a parody, Who moved my soap?: the CEO's guide to surviving prison, Simon & Schuster, c2003.
The webcomic Abstruse Goose has a strip which is a parody of the book.
- Maryles, Daisy and Dick Donahue. "Behind the Bestsellers." Publishers Weekly 10 December 2001: 18.
- The Global Times on Who Moved My Cheese: "Who Moved My Cheese has sold over 26 million copies, staying on the New York Times bestseller list since its release in 1998." (23 November 2009)
- "Who Moved My Cheese?". Time. Dec 4, 2008.
- Johnson, Spencer (1988). Who Moved My Cheese?. G.P. Putnam's Sons.
- Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Metropolitan, 2009. Ehrenreich called the book "the classic of downsizing propaganda".
- What moves the 'Cheese' for books, Del Jones, USA Today, 26 December 2002.
- Kreissl, Brian (7 January 2014). "Is Change Management patronizing to Employees?". hrreporter.com. Canadian HR Reporter. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
- "Nonfiction Book Review: Who Moved My Soap?: The CEO's Guide to Surviving Prison: The Bernie Madoff Edition by Andy Borowitz, Author Simon & Schuster $10.95 (96p) ISBN 978-0-7432-5142-6". PublishersWeekly.com. Retrieved 2016-02-20.
- Abstruse Goose The Story of the Cheese Maze