Ever felt overwhelmed with the constantly changing world around you? We all get this from time to time. This is one of the reasons why Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? has become such a beloved book by millions of people around the world.

Published in 1998, Johnson’s insightful parable, analyzing how we can cope most effectively with the unexpected changes in our business and our personal lives, was an instant hit. Labeled by Time as “the bestselling business book of all time”, it has sold over 26 million copies, and spent five years on the New York Times business bestseller list. In 2011, it featured on Time Magazine’s list of the Top 25 Most Influential Business Books.

The paperback edition is a pithy 32 pages. Its accessibility is one of its strongest assets: the book’s brevity is coupled with an engaging narrative about how two mice and two “little people”, who live in a maze, set about hunting for cheese. It is a metaphor for finding success and happiness in your life, whether in your work, your community or your relationships.
But as Johnson says in the introduction: “It would all be so easy if you had a map to the maze. If they’d just stop moving the cheese. But things keep changing.” Who Moved My Cheese? encourages readers to analyze their differing reactions to change and uncertainty, overcome their anxieties and make their way into the unknown with efficiency and success.

Johnson has been labeled “the king of parables” by USA Today. The apparent simplicity of Who Moved My Cheese? disguises the complex psychological analysis that follows the four characters, and their different approaches, through the maze. The book is often distributed by managers to employees as a motivational tool, or during times of significant organizational change, designed to help them cope with rapid developments in the business environment. However, its humorous, easy to read approach also explains its appeal among readers seeking self-improvement and help with their day-to-day decisions.

The narrative illustrates our differing responses to unknown and difficult environments, showing that how we cope with changes can have a substantive effect on our success and happiness:

  1. Change will happen: anticipate it and monitor the situation. The responses of our mice, Sniff and Scurry, and our “little people”, Hem and Haw, illustrate the differing strategies for surviving and flourishing in uncertain and fluctuating situations. (The names of the little people are taken from the phrase “hem and haw”, a term for indecisiveness.) Both parties eventually manage to locate a supply of cheese in the maze at “Cheese Station C”, although their approaches to the search and their responses to their successes vary significantly.

    Hem and Haw (with their “complex” brains) demonstrate the limitations and anxieties that can result from overly analytical strategic planning. They set out to secure success and happiness in the shape of cheese, but instead become depressed during a frustrating, intricately planned search. Once they have managed to locate the cheese, they believe they have worked hard for the victory and earned it. Their fixed preconceptions mean that they begin to take their successes for granted. They fail to identify the changing circumstances that result in the cheese supply eventually disappearing (Hem’s response is: “Who moved my cheese?”), leaving them unprepared and empty handed.

    Meanwhile, the more freethinking (“brainless”) mice appear to find the cheese with greater ease, although relying on a degree of luck to do so. They demonstrate that acting without thinking can save time and energy. However, they are able to observe and respond to the changes in their circumstances. Having noticed their dwindling cheese supply, they are better prepared to take constructive action to resume the search and overcome their new difficulties in good time.

  2. Adapt to change quickly, change yourself and enjoy it: Sniff and Scurry set out before their supply of cheese runs out, and are rewarded when they find another huge stash of cheese at “Cheese Station N”. However, Hem and Haw demonstrate that a reluctance to respond to change can make life much more painful. The two “little people”, driven by fear, disbelief and a misplaced hope, keep returning to Cheese Station C, growing increasingly hungry, depressed and weak.

    Change requires you to cope with a new situation and grapple with a new set of rules, however frightening that may be. Eventually, Haw begins to fantasize about a huge mound of brie, his favourite cheese. The process of visualization helps him to increase his desire, and find the courage and energy to renew his search. After slowly overcoming his fears and growing in confidence, Haw eventually finds Cheese Station N (where Sniff and Scurry have been all along) and his circumstances improve significantly.

    Before he re-entered the maze, Haw chiselled on the wall of Cheese Station C: “If you do not change, you can become extinct.” Hem, however, is too afraid to take the advice and search for more cheese. He remains behind, growing increasingly angry and emaciated. While there is a “happy” ending, when Hem eventually manages to follow his friend’s tracks and find both Haw and the cheese, Hem’s long, difficult experience is a clear lesson that we need to be ready to adapt to change and embrace it, if we are to succeed.

    The primary takeaway from the book is learning how to overcome fear, handle life changes gracefully and find a path to realize your dream in a less stressful manner. Fear is what makes confronting change so difficult, but as long as you are afraid of leaving your comfort zone, things will never get better. In difficult times, when you do not have everything you need or enjoy happiness, you have to look for something new and be prepared to fill the voids with an alternative. As your environment changes, your responses need to change to – or you will be left behind and empty handed.

Remember, of course, that Who Moved My Cheese? is a parable. Your new “cheese” could be a new job, a new love, a new way of doing business: all you need to do is step outside your comfort zone and begin the search. In short, it offers you a way to find happiness and success by adopting a simple, straightforward approach to overcoming whatever problems life may throw at you.

Read The Full Summary in Blinkist

If you would like to learn more about Who Moved My Cheese?, you can do so at Blinkist. This online service provides clear and accessible summaries, called blinks, of popular non-fiction books. In the blink of Who Moved My Cheese?, you will learn more about how to deal with change, whether in your private or your working life, including:

  • how to prepare for a major life change and why thinking like a “simple” mouse may better to help you reach your goals;
  • which of the four characters – Sniff, the observer; Scurry, the action taker; Haw, reluctant but encouraged to be brave; or Hem, so frightened of change – best represent you and others in your life and business – and
  • how the book can make your team begin to think more favorably and the potential benefits it can bring to an organization in a rapidly changing business environment.

Clink the button below to visit the extended summary of Who Moved My Cheese? by S. Johnsson in the Blinkist online app:

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