Book Review: Who Moved My Cheese?


There are some books in the business world that are considered absolute classics, books that provide insights into modern business expressed in the best possible way.  Good to Great, The World is Flat, and How to Win Friends & Influence People are all among these business books, the ones that any businessperson should read.  But are there any other classics that should be read, and involve mice and cheese?

Who Moved My Cheese? is just such a book.  The metaphorical tale of how several mice (and a few little people, while we’re at it) handle  the movement of the Cheese in their lives attempts to offer us insight into how to adapt to change in our lives.  Does it provide some interesting lessons, or simply leave us with a pile of sta

Summary

Who Moved My Cheese? opens by describing how the four characters depicted in the book (two mice named ‘Sniff’ and ‘Scurry’ and two little people named ‘Hem’ and ‘Haw’ represent different parts of all of us and how we approach life.  There’s then a foreword by Kenneth Blanchard, noting that the ‘Cheese’ in the book serves as a metaphor for anything we seek in life, from a job or money to spiritual fulfillment and freedom, with the ‘Maze’ being where we go to seek those goals, our work, home life, or recreation (among other places or activities).  He also notes some of the successes in life that are credited to the book.

A Gathering

The rest of the book is divided into three sections, with the Gathering section opening up the ideas covered within the book.  It shares the tale of how several high school friends were meeting after years apart, discussing  how their lives were turning out, and how all of them have had to deal with changes in their living situations.  One of those friends notes that he benefited from hearing a story called ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’, which leads us into the main part of the book:

The Story of Who Moved My Cheese?

The main portion of the book shares the relatively short story (shortened even more for this summary) of Sniff, Scurry, Hem, and Haw, the two mice and two little people, respectively, who find themselves in a Maze searching for Cheese.  After some hard work searching and working to reach this cheese, the two mice and two little people each found their own supply of Cheese, a type that appealed to their own needs, one that kept replenishing each day.

The mice kept checking on the Cheese early each morning, but the little people started to assume that the Cheese would be there each day, and treated it as their Cheese, something they were entitled to simply for being themselves.  They started to leave their homes to get their Cheese later and later each day, putting less and less effort into getting their Cheese each day and expecting it to always be there.  They weren’t noticing that was a little bit less Cheese every day, that their supply was decreasing all the time.

Then it disappeared completely.

The mice reacted quickly, putting on their tennis shoes (yes, the mice wear tennis shoes in this story) and starting to search for new Cheese in the rest of the Maze.  Sniff had smelled the Cheese a long way away and began to move towards it,while Scurry ran off right away to reach the Cheese as soon as the old supply disappeared. It took some effort on their part, and quite a bit of searching, but they were able to find an incredible supply of Cheese quite a way away.  Their simple minds meant that they didn’t focus on what had happened to the Cheese or over think what to do in response to the change in the cheese supply.

The little people, however, did refuse to handle the change right away.  Both Hem and Haw spent several days analyzing the situation, discussing what could have happened, without making any progress toward getting more Cheese.  They didn’t think that anything had really changed, and even went as far as chiseling away at the wall where the Cheese had been to try to find more, expecting that more work would increase the amount of Cheese available in the same spot.

Finally, Haw decided that, as much as he didn’t want to do it, he would need to search more in the Maze.  He spent a lot of time wandering in the maze, trying to find his way while leaving encouraging messages for himself on the walls of the Maze.  At one point, he went back to see if he could get Hem to come with him, but was unable to convince Hem to come, and realized that The Handwriting On The Wall he was leaving would help to guide Hem if Hem changed his mind and wanted to make his own search for more Cheese.

Finally, Haw was able to find a new source of Cheese, the same one that the mice had found days ago because they had left as soon as their supply of Cheese disappeared, and enjoyed the Cheese with them.  The story ends with a hint that perhaps Hem was finally coming along, encouraged at last by his friend’s progress…

A Discussion

The book finishes with the same characters in the Gathering discussing what they got out of the story later that day.  There is quite a bit of discussion about which character each of them most resemble and what messages they got from the story.  One of the characters, Michael (who was the original storyteller), also discusses how he and his company applied the lessons of the story to their employees, encouraging the Scurries and Sniffs to be innovative, the Haws to warm to the idea of the impending changes with some encouragement, and sadly, having to let the Hems go.  The book ends with the characters realizing they need to adapt to change in order to keep finding new sources of Cheese in their lives.

Pros

  •  Easy to Understand: It’s not a very complicated story, being understandable (to some extent) even by children.
  • Very Short: It is under 100 pages, even with the foreword included in that total and several pages that are only a picture of cheese with a simply saying on it (The Handwriting On The Wall); you can read it under an hour.
  • Encouraging Messages: Speaking of The Handwriting On The Wall, there are numerous messages laid out throughout the Story section of the book, providing thoughts on how to handle change in the world.

Cons

  •  Not Terribly Expansive: As you might guess from a book that is under 100 pages and can be read in an hour, there’s only so much information that can be covered.
  • Very Blunt: The message of the book, being ready to adapt to change when it arrives, is not really very subtly discussed (although, that might be a plus if you are trying to get the message across to the Hems in your world).
  • Some Metaphors are Overdone: Metaphors like ‘The Handwriting On The Wall’ are so extreme as to make you want to roll your eyes while reading.

Overall

Who Moved My Cheese? raises a discussion about how important it is to adapt to change.  It is pretty simplistic for a business book, but that can be a plus if trying to get the point across.  If you face change in your life (as we all do at times), it provides an interesting read to give you some encouragement.

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