Who Moved My Cheese?

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Who Moved My Cheese?
AuthorSpencer Johnson
CountryUnited States
GenreSelf-help / motivational, Motivational, Business fable, Psychology, Leadership, Parable
PublisherPutnam Adult
Publication date
September 7, 1998 (1998-09-07)
Media typePrint (Paperback)
Pages94 pp.
LC ClassBF637.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 bestselling work and motivational business fable by Spencer Johnson. The text describes the way one reacts to major change in one's work and life, and four typical reactions to those changes by two mice and two "Littlepeople," 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.[1] As of 2018, it has sold almost 30 million copies worldwide[2][3] in 37 languages and remains one of the best-selling business books.[4] This book guides the reader to anticipate change, adapt to change quickly, enjoy change and be ready to change quickly, again and again.


Allegorically, Who Moved My Cheese? features four characters - two mice, "Sniff" and "Scurry," and two Littlepeople, human metaphor, "Hem" and "Haw". The Littlepeople's names derive from the phrase "hem and haw," a term for indecisiveness. They live in a maze, a representation of one's environment, and they look for cheese, representative of happiness and success. Initially without cheese, the mice and humans pair off and explore the lengthy corridors searching for cheese. One day both groups discover 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. They are not surprised; having previously observed the cheese supply dwindling, they have mentally prepared for the arduous but inevitable task of finding more cheese. Leaving "Cheese Station C" behind, they hunt for new cheese together. Hem and Haw then discover no cheese at Cheese Station C. Angered and annoyed, Hem demands, "Who moved my cheese?" The humans are unprepared for this situation, having previously assumed the cheese supply to be constant. After acknowledging the cheese is indeed gone they get angry at the unfairness of the situation. Haw suggests a search for new cheese, but Hem is dead-set in his disappointment and dismisses the proposal.

Meanwhile, Sniff and Scurry find "Cheese Station N", with new cheese. Back at Cheese Station C, Hem and Haw blame each other for their problem. Hoping to change, Haw again proposes a search for new cheese, but Hem is comforted by his old routine and is frightened about the unknown, so he knocks the idea again. 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, after chiseling "If You Do Not Change, You Can Become Extinct" on the wall of Cheese Station C for Hem 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 to 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 writings 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 he 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 complacency. Hearing movement in the maze one day, Haw realizes someone is approaching the station, and he hopes it is his friend Hem who has found the way.[5]

Who Moved My Cheese Inc.[edit]

In 1999, Who Moved My Cheese Inc was founded to handle the Who Moved My Cheese? book order demands from businesses. 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 called the book "the classic of downsizing propaganda" and 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."[6]

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams said that patronizing parables are one of the top things he receives complaints about by email.[7] Adams' retort to the message in the parable is that it is a "patronizing message for the proletariat to acquiesce".[8]


There are multiple parody works called Who Cut the Cheese?.[9]

  • Andy Borowitz published a parody, Who Moved My Soap?: The CEO's Guide to Surviving Prison, Simon & Schuster, c2003.[10]
  • Darrel Bristow-Bovey published a parody, I Moved Your Cheese, Penguin Random House South Africa, Apr 13, 2012.[11]
  • The webcomic Abstruse Goose has a strip which is a parody of the book.[12]
  • Comedian/TV host/motivational speaker Ross Shafer wrote Nobody Moved Your Cheese![13]


  1. ^ Maryles, Daisy and Dick Donahue. "Behind the Bestsellers", Publishers Weekly 10 December 2001: 18.
  2. ^ (Over) 28 million:
  3. ^ "Almost 30 million":
  4. ^ "Who Moved My Cheese?". Time. December 4, 2008. Archived from the original on December 5, 2008.
  5. ^ Johnson, Spencer (1988). Who Moved My Cheese?. G.P. Putnam's Sons.
  6. ^ Ehrenreich, Barbara (2009). Bright-sided : how the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America. New York: Metropolitan Books. ISBN 978-0-8050-8749-9. OCLC 317928923.
  7. ^ "What moves the 'Cheese' for books", Del Jones, USA Today, 26 December 2002.
  8. ^ Kreissl, Brian (7 January 2014). "Is Change Management patronizing to Employees?". hrreporter.com. Canadian HR Reporter. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  9. ^ Jim Dawson (2011), Blame It on the Dog, Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony, p. xi, ISBN 9780307778772
  10. ^ "Nonfiction Book Review: Who Moved My Soap?: The CEO's Guide to Surviving Prison: The Bernie Madoff Edition by Andy Borowitz". PublishersWeekly.com. Retrieved 2016-02-20.
  11. ^ Bristow-Bovey, Darrel (13 April 2012). I Moved Your Cheese. Penguin Random House South Africa. ISBN 9781770223080. Retrieved 2017-08-02.
  12. ^ "The Story of the Cheese Maze". Abstruse Goose. Archived from the original on 2022-05-28.
  13. ^ "Nobody Moved Your Cheese!". Ross Shafer. Retrieved 2018-07-02.

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