A Summary and Review of Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson: A Guide for Thinking Executives – and Those Who Want to be One

This summary and review of the book, Who Moved My Cheese, was prepared by Corey Felder while a Business Administration student in the College of Business at Southeastern Louisiana University.

Executive Summary

“Who Moved My Cheese” is a great short story written by Spencer Johnson.  This story is a great representation of how change is you everyday life occurs and how it should be dealt with.  Sometimes there is no way around change and in the end change could be better.  This story has four characters that travel through a maze in pursuit of cheese every day.  They cheese that they are pursuing could stand for anything that someone wants in life. This could range from many things.  Most would consider the cheese as you job but it could be a range of many different things. The cheese could be your faith, family, friends, lover, sports or even passion.  Everyone has the desire to be happy and the cheese is your happiness.  If give you the security and comfort.  Without cheese many people would be lost.  This is why the cheese or anything in life that makes you happy is something that you value the most.  The maze in the story represents the path you take to find your “cheese.” It is compared to a maze because a maze is a very mysterious place.  There are very many dead ends that may make you feel like you have been working for nothing.  Also a maze has a number of corners that you never know what is around the other side.  These mysteries can make is hard for someone to leave their comfort zone when they have found their cheese or whatever makes them happy.

Two of the four characters are mice.  The mice are basically the role models in the story. They have the perfect mentality to adapt to change.  They are sporadic very and do not over think situations they just act.  The other two characters are humans the size of mice that are in the same maze.  The humans have a horrible mind set for change.  The humans love to get into a routine and do not like change.  This is especially true when they are happy with what they have. Humans always tend to over think things and are truly afraid of change.  In the story all four characters find a huge supply of cheese or happiness.  The two small humans become very content with what they have, on the other hand the mice are very aware and are not surprised when the cheese runs out.  When is does the mice never hesitate and just move on.  The humans on the other hand are very confused and do not know how is ran out.  After they realize they are scared to death of change.  One of the humans eventually decides that change is needed, his name is Haw.  While traveling through the maze or path is takes to reach happiness, he learns many valuable lessons that will help him if he is every afraid of change again.  

Haw ultimately finds his happiness or cheese.  When he finds this cheese he sees that the two mice are already there.  The other human never changes and therefore never finds his happiness again.  Because haw faced his fear and changed he received the ultimate prize of happiness.  

The Ten Things Managers Need to Know from “Who Moved My Cheese”

1. Most people today are very afraid of the unknown and are not willing to change for anything. Many times there is no way to avoid change whether you like it or not. In today’s world some type of change or rearrangement is needed to keep up with its fast pace. You could be left behind wondering what happened if you don’t change when needed.

2. Having cheese makes you happy. This statement is very powerful and explains why when people find their happiness that it makes them very happy. This wouldn’t seem like a bad thing but when people are happy they never notice the little changes around them and this can cause them to stay in one place too long.

3. The more important your cheese is to you the more u want to hold on to it. This statement basically means that over time whatever makes you happy is harder to let go. This is like many things, when you have something for a long time it is very hard to give it up completely and start over.

4. If you do not change you can become extinct. Many people wait as long as possible before they change with the times. They wait till there is no other option but to change. This is a horrible approach and they soon find out if they wouldn’t have waited so long they could have found a new comfort zone more quickly than they assumed.

5. What would you do if you were not afraid? This is a great question to ask yourself when you’re not sure if change is right. Many times fear of the unknown is what holds you back from changing your routine. If fear was not a factor and you say that you would change, it is definitely time to move on.

6. Smell the cheese often so you know when it’s getting old. Being aware of your surroundings will help you notice small changes that you otherwise never would have noticed. Without this extra sense of what’s going on around you, you may be left behind.

7. Movement in the right direction helps you find new cheese. I believe movement in general will help you find your new comfort zone. Many are scared they are moving in the wrong direction but any direction can be better that staying put.

8. When you stop being afraid, you begin to feel good. Fear is the number one reason why people don’t change. Many people remember how hard it was to find their happiness the first time and are scared of the journey again. Once your fear is lifted you begin to feel good again even before you find your happiness again.

9. The quicker you let go, the sooner you will find new cheese. This means you must be aware that change will happen whether you accept it or not. The sooner you act the sooner you will become happy again, the longer you wait the harder it is to let go and the harder it is to find new happiness.

10. Once you find your new cheese enjoy it but don’t come attached. It is very easy to fall in the same trap of getting too comfortable again. Be ready for change at any moment and it will truly help you in life.

Full Summary of “Who Moved My Cheese”

Overview:

This is a story about change and explains very well how many people are scared or intimidated even by the word change.  Many people become comfortable in their everyday life.  People become comfortable in their hobbies, diet, exercise, and most importantly their job.  This is not necessarily a good thing.  Some type of change is good and sometimes there no way to get around change and without it you may be left behind in your many daily activities, especially your job.

Introduction:

This story involves four characters who search through a maze for cheese.  The four characters include two mice that are name Sniff and Scurry.  The other two characters who are two little people that are the same size as the mice are. Their names were Hem and Haw.  They may be the same size as the mice but they look and act just like humans in today’s world.  The cheese that the mice and little people search for is basically the metaphor for what people want in life.  This could range from a job, a relationship, spiritual peace, physical activities or even hobbies.  This “cheese” can become very addictive and if we are not too careful, we could become attached.  The maze represents where you spend your time looking for the cheese. This could be the business you work for, you community you live in or even yours friendships/relationships.

The Beginning:

The two mice and little people had a very different idea of how the cheese should be found.  The only thing they did similar was waking up early and leaving their homes in the maze to search for cheese.  The two mice, Sniff and Scurry, had a very different approach in finding their cheese then Hem and Haw, the two little people.  The main difference being that Sniff and Scurry would use their good instincts to find their cheese.  Sniff and Scurry used the simple trial and error method for finding cheese.  They were never afraid to explore new places and new areas even though they many dark corners and blind alleys where they could easily get lost.  The two mice were basically like bumper cars.  They were always losing their way and bumping into walls but they constantly kept a good memory of where the cheese was not.  The little people used a very different approach in the way they had a more developed or sophisticated technique to find the cheese. This method used by the little people sometimes worked very well but many times their beliefs and emotions took over and made them veer off their path.

Even though the mice and little people had different approaches they both found a nice collection of cheese at Station C in the maze.  Every morning the mice and little people would arrive early at Station C and enjoy their cheese.  The little people picked up the habit beginning to wake up a little later everyday because they assumed the cheese would be there every day.  One day while the mice and little people were at Station C, the little people noticed how the mice never seemed settled.  It looked as if like they were always ready to just jump up and leave.  The mice were never content to just stay at Station C.  The little people would always kick back by taking their shoes off while at Station C, contrary to the mice who would keep their shoes handy.  This is why the mice did not seem settled.  The mice may have enjoyed the cheese just as much as the little people, but always had the idea of leaving and finding new cheese.

Having Cheese Makes You Happy:

Hem and Haw had become so attached to the cheese at Station C, that they moved their families and homes there. “This is great”, Hem said, “There is enough cheese here to last us forever.”  The little people even began referring to the cheese as “their cheese”.  They went so far as to hang a sign at Station C stating “Having cheese makes you happy.”  Hem and Haw then began bringing friends over to their station, to show them and brag of how much cheese they had.  They became very conceited.  They would eat until they could not eat anymore.  They were not thinking ahead, but rather only thinking about today and how satisfying it was to them at this very moment.  They were so satisfied with what they had they did not notice what was about to happen.

The two mice, Sniff and Scurry, were still eating the cheese from Station C.  They continued to arrive at the station very early, unlike the little people.  They would look around the station every morning looking for any flaws, or anything different.  Lately they had been noticing that the cheese supply was getting very low.  Hem and Haw had never noticed this which is why they would eat so much and never had any worries.  One day when Sniff and Scurry arrived at Station C the cheese was completely gone.  Both Sniff and Scurry knew this day was coming and they were not surprised at all.  This is why they never settled down at Station C and were always ready for new opportunities.  So when Sniff and Scurry discovered there was no cheese left, they acted very quickly and went into hot pursuit of more cheese.  Their feelings were not hurt and it did not take them long to be on their way because they were not nearly as settled as Hem and Haw were.
When Hem and Haw arrived that day at Station C, they were absolutely devastated.  The cheese was gone and they were in complete shock. They had not been paying attention to what was happening, as Sniff and Scurry were, and had been completely oblivious to the little changes that had been taking place.  After they had realized what happened and soaked it all in that there was no cheese left at their honey hole, Hem began to scream. “Who moved my cheese?” The cheese was very difficult to find, which was why both were very upset. An example of how they were so unprepared could be why they did not act very quickly.  A great deal of time passed before they even thought about the fact that they would have to move and find cheese elsewhere.

The More Important Your Cheese is to you, the More You Want to Hold on to It:

“The more important your cheese is to you, the more you want to hold on to it.”  This cheese was everything to Hem and Haw, unlike Sniff and Scurry. The little people’s lives revolved around this cheese.  Their food, jobs, family, hobbies and even safety was all dependent on the cheese.  Without the cheese Hem and Haw had nothing.  When they went home to their families that night they were both very depressed.  They did not know what they were going to go.  They had not been warned about this and believed it was really unfair.

The next day they returned to the station hoping to find the cheese had suddenly reappeared and their lives could go back to normally.  Maybe this was the problem.  Hem and Haw were too caught up with their normal, happy, successful lives that were never noticed the cheese supply was gradually getting smaller and smaller by the day. Hem and Haw looked over the empty station, which at one point had been full of cheese.  They began to ponder on where it could have gone and how it had been taken from them so quickly and suddenly.  Haw then noticed that Sniff and Scurry were nowhere to be found.  They began to wonder if the two mice could have known anything about where the cheese was.  But little people came to the conclusion that Sniff and Scurry were just mice and that they must have simply responded to the cheese disappearing and moved on.  Hem and Haw do not see the meaning behind the cheese disappearing just yet.  But the mice responded in the best way.  To just respond to what has happened and move on rather than hoping that it would magically just reappear.
Hem and Haw began to argue.  Haw began to exclaim to Hew that they should probably change and go explore new areas of the maze, but Hew did not want to and Haw knew this.  Hew believed they had worked too hard for the cheese in Station C and that somehow they were special because they were humans not mice.  Hew began to blame others for what had happened and ignore Haw’s advice to start searching for more cheese. Hew wanted to find out what exactly happened, by getting to the bottom of this.  
At this point the two mice had been busy trying to find the new jackpot of cheese.  They were searching very fast and scampering around like mice do.  They were exploring many parts of the maze they had never seen before.  They had no fear of new things and were not afraid of failure.  The only thing that was on their minds was finding cheese. After looking for some time, they stumbled upon Station N, which was the mother lode of cheese.
Hem and Haw continued their daily routine.  They traveled to Station C every day, expecting to find different results.   Haw began to plead with Hew that they must give up on Station C, even though they had made their roots and loved it there.  As Hew said before, he was persistent on staying at Station C.  He believed that the cheese was here before, than it had to come back at some point.  So as they waited for the cheese, they began to explore a little by digging holes in the walls at Station C, just hoping to find the cheese close by.  Sadly, this situation continued for weeks and weeks and still no cheese.

If You Do Not Change You Will Become Extinct:

Haw at this point had come to the conclusion that if you do not change you will become extinct.  At this point Haw was beginning to wonder and think that maybe it is best to change and explore for new cheese. Haw wondered, “Why did I not get up and move with the cheese earlier.” Haw then stuck his head into the unknown of the maze and began to wonder what was out there.  He could not help but keep looking back at his home at Station C and think about what he would be leaving behind.

What Would You Do If You Were Not Afraid?

Haw began to really think what he would do if he was not afraid of change.  He knew that some fear is a good thing because it can put you into action to change and discover new and better things.  Too much fear can be a very bad thing.  This can cause you not to do anything and actually put you in a worse situation then you were in to being with.  Haw was stuck with a big decision.  He knew he had to leave, but fear was stopping him.
Haw then made the decision he had been putting off for so long, he decided to leave Station C in search of new cheese.  When he first started on his path he found it was much more confusing and did not think he was going to make it.  He felt at first that he had made a mistake and was falling into a huge hole that he could not recover from. As time went on things began to become easier.  He had nothing when he had left Station C and he had nothing at this moment, therefore things could not be worse off.

Smell the Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old:

After many days of searching the maze, Haw began to really analyze what had happened to the cheese.  It had not just disappeared all at once, but it had gradually disappeared.  He also realized that the two mice, Sniff and Scurry were not so dumb and were actually smart for the way they thought.  They noticed the cheese was slowly getting smaller.  Haw also began to realize that the cheese as becoming old.  As he recalled, that it had begun to smell because it had been starting to become old.  But he never noticed because he was in his own comfort zone.  
About this time he came upon a huge cheese factory. He became over come with excitement and thought that his luck was truly changing.  He had been waiting on this break for some time, and just knew it would work out.  He was overwhelmed with anticipation and at this moment never thought about his old home at Station C.  Haw went inside to explore his new factory he had found, and was left heartbroken.  The cheese factory that he was sure was going to turn his life around was completely empty.  This was absolutely devastating to him and Haw began missing his old home and old friends, especially Hew.  But Haw kept moving on.  He sometimes he would wonder how things were at Station C, but not nearly as much as he did before he found the cheese factory.

When You Stop Being Afraid, You Feel Good:

Haw began to really embrace his exploration of the maze.  He would sprint down dark paths and smile in the process.  He had come to the conclusion that when you stop being afraid, you feel good. He noticed now that he smiled more and his fear of what was going to happen next had become smaller and smaller.  This seemed odd to Haw because he had not found the cheese, yet was still happy. He started having happy thoughts, rather than the horrible nightmares he once had.  He dreamed of cheese every day.  With this image in his head he just knew he was going to find more cheese and his confidence grew.  He had always thought that change would lead to something horrible.  But now he was realizing that it will lead to something better.  He was imagining the possibilities of what was to come not what he had left behind.
Haw then stumbled upon another station that looked very promising.  There was cheese outside the door, so he ate a small amount and kept the rest in his pocket. When he entered the station he noticed this station was empty as well but could tell that it had not been empty long, and if he could have acted sooner then he would have enjoyed it’s cheese.  Haw over time made his way back to Station C.  This was not because he missed Station C, but it was just in the path of his journey.  Here he ran into his old friend, and offered him some of the cheese that he had saved in his pocket from the last station.  His friend Hew said he did not want any, and that he was too used to the old cheese in Station C and was not going to try anything else.   Hew was stuck on his old cheese and was not changing for anyone.  Haw did not understand this, but respected his friend’s decision and went on his way.  Haw saw how his friend was which reassured him that he made the right choice in leaving.  

Noticing Small Changes Early Helps You Adapt to the Bigger Changes that are to Come:

While back on the journey, Haw began to think about all the lessons that he had learned.  He would never make the mistake of waiting again.  He was going to be aware of everything going on and was going to notice the early changes.  Right about this time he rounded the corner and there was Station N, full of cheese.  He could not believe it until he saw his old pals Sniff and Scurry.  Haw now understands change is a good thing and that if you can fight your fears of change the opportunities are endless.

The Video Lounge

LINK: http://video.ft.com/v/63153603001/Oct-28-Input-inflation-forces-change

This is a great video that gives you a great idea of how change happens. This video is an interview of Ken Powell, an executive in a large food corporation. People have changed in many ways since inflation has been setting in. Powell explains how food consumtion has actually gone up. He believes this is because more people are eating at home to save the extra dollar. Eating out can become very costly and eating at home is just one way people are changing to adapt to inflation.

Personal Insights

Why I think:

  • The author is one of the most brilliant people around because he really gives detail to what exactly is going on today. Our generation is special in that the average person will change jobs over three times in his or her working career. This is an amazing number compared to prior generation who would normally keep their sane jobs for their entire life. The author really expresses the importance of being prepared and how if you are not prepared the world will leave you behind.

Then, all of the following bullet-items are mandatory to write about:

  • If I were the author of the book, I would have done these three things differently:

1. The first thing I would have done differently is not use the characters he did. I would not have portrayed the mice as being the role models of the story. That could be hard to grasp because mice are seem as pest and may confuse the reader.

2. I would have made the book a little lengthier. The book had great detail throughout but in my opinion the story could have been a little longer. When I first read the book I had to go back and skim for details because it was hard to grasp some of the concepts because the story was so quick.

3. I also disliked the ending of the book. The book never gave much incite on what Hew should do now that he had found his new happiness. I feel like Hew was going to make the same mistakes he had made in the past.

  • Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:

1. Before reading this book I had never given any thought about change. My goal for when I graduated was to find a nice job and settle down. It’s not completely a bad thing to settle down you just have to pay close attention to your surrounding and don’t get left behind.

2. I was also unaware that there are many more things you can make a routine and be left behind besides work. Your community, friends, relationships, and activities are all thing that can leave you behind if you’re not careful or willing to change.

3. This book also brought to light that things can be over thought. I always believe that every decision you make you should really think it through. This story actually reflects the opposite and sometime you must be spermatic and do this without thinking.

  • I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:

1. I will use many of the things i’ve learned in this book. This will help me in my career by making me aware to pay close attention to details. Many times the reasons to change are right in your face and you never open your eyes to see them.

2. I will also be more confident of the unknown. I graduate in less than two months and I’m scared to death I will not find a good job. This book has taught me that fear is not a bad thing unless it controls you. As long as fear doesn’t stop you from being active it is perfectly ok.

3. You should never blame anyone but yourself if your comfort zone runs out. Always keep moving and never assume it will just come back. Normally when your comfort zone moves it’s not coming back and you must go find it.

  • Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:

“A one minute masterpiece”

Dan Rather, CBS News

“Essential reading. You can read it on a plane ride and apply the direction immediately.

Jack Bower, Director of Education  IBM

“I gave copies to my boss, my subordinates, other refinery managers, and even my wife, our close friends, and our clergy. It has that type of appeal and is that good.

Robert Davis, President of Chevron Chemicals

All three of these quotes have one thing in common, they all agree this book has a great message and they recommend it to everyone. This book is not just directed to individuals in the business field but can be put to use by anyone. Dan Rather of CBS has a huge influence on people today. He anchors a very popular news station and for him to give credit to the book as, as he did, means a lot. Jack bowers of IBM also has a great influence with this book. As an educator you know he has read many book and for him to characterize it as essential is very powerful. Robert Davis of Chevron also as a great influence in today’s world. Like he said in his quote he has recommended this book to many people around him which shows he believes in the book.

Bibliography

Praise for Spenser Johnsons book. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?printsec=frontcover&id=HXQDqU1zfe0C#v=onepage&q&f=false  

Who moved my cheese? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.whomovedmycheese.com/BooksBySpencerJohnson.html

Who moved my cheese? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.redtreeleadership.com/whomovedmyche

Mandeep, Mehra. (2008). who moved my cheese. Retrieved from http://www.ishlt.org/ContentDocuments/newsletter_winter09.pdf

Johnson, Spencer. Who moved my cheese? New York: G. P Putnam’s Sons.

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Contact Info

To contact the author of this article, “A Summary and Review of “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson for Thinking Executives – and Those Who Want to be One,” please email Corey.felder@selu.edu.  

Biography

    David C. Wyld (dwyld.kwu@gmail.com) is the Robert Maurin Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, and executive educator. His blog, Wyld About Business, can be viewed at http://wyld-business.blogspot.com/. He also serves as the Director of the Reverse Auction Research Center (http://reverseauctionresearch.com/), a hub of research and news in the expanding world of competitive bidding. Dr. Wyld also maintains compilations of works he has helped his students to turn into editorially-reviewed publications at the following sites:

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4 Comments
  1. Posted April 12, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    May be some are afraid of change but I am not, I have had many changes in my life in the nine years and going well it takes a strong-willed person to be that way

  2. Vy Vu
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 1:22 am

    This article is very interesting because it informs of why change is good, and don’t be afraid of change, When something make people happy they are very reluctant to let it go and hence afraid of changes. Many people wait as long as possible before they change, and that is a mistake because by then they could have found a new comfort zone, and that is very true. When you have no fear you begin to feel good and find happiness in everything you do. The book also informs that the quick you let go , the sooner you will find new happiness. This book is great for people who are stuck in a routine they cannot get rid of and they want change, I will definitely recommend this book to anyone that fits this category.

  3. April Smith
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 11:56 am

    This book sounds very interesting. First of all, I love cheese so it isn’t hard for me to think of cheese as happiness! Second of all, it sounds like it would be a fun read to see how nature (the mice) automatically adapt and adopt change where it is a choice for humans and we have consequences for when we don’t accept change. I may just put this on my wish list! I mean, seeing as how I’m about to graduate and have to move on with my life, this book may help me cope with the fact that my life is about to vastly change.

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