Published in late 1998, few books in the self-help or business category have had such amazing success in my lifetime. Who Moved My Cheese? was a New York Times business bestseller for over 5 years and has sold over 26 million copies worldwide. The author, Dr. Spencer Johnson, who passed away from cancer in 2017, left the practice of medicine to write books after deciding that the underlying cause of much illness was as much in the mind as in the body.
For those who have read Who Moved My Cheese?, you may vaguely remember it to be a story about adapting to change. This is true. But one of the reasons for the success of this relatively short book (in my opinion) is that it contains numerous “sub-lessons” that indirectly help point the attentive reader in a good direction. As indicated by Kenneth Blanchard, Ph.D. in his introduction where he wrote “I hope each time you re-read [it] you will find something new and useful,” there are a variety of valuable bits of advice scattered like crumbs across the pages of this now-classic work.
Sub-Lesson 1: Wear your jogging suit
In the opening of the cheese story, the mice and Littlepeople each put on their jogging suits and running shoes and enter the maze. They did this regularly, even after finding their “cheese.” As Dr. Johnson says it, “Every morning after that, the mice and the Littlepeople dressed in their running gear and headed over the Cheese Station C.” I would call this a “pro-active” approach to life. We all need to approach our goals and desires with more energy. As someone has put it, “hope is not a strategy.” I have seen numerous friends and colleagues fall into the trap of complacency. A pharmacist buddy of mine says “they have no fire in their belly” anymore. Putting on your jogging suit is a wonderful metaphor for taking life by the horns and going after what you want with gusto.
Sub-Lesson 2: Measure your results
Another sub-lesson from the pages of Who Moved My Cheese? is the concept of paying attention to and measuring your current results. Metrics are not exactly the most satisfying element of anyone’s job. This is made doubly annoying by the fact that they may not change much day to day. It is much more satisfying to launch a new product, build a new revenue stream, or implement some new technology. Daily measurement of business metrics has all the pizzaz of dry toast. But in the story, failure to measure results was one of the contributing factors to the downfall of Hem and Haw (the Littlepeople). “They had not been paying attention to the small changes that had been taking place each day.” So here is the lesson: measure your progress, measure your results, measure what matters! In my elective course that I teach on pharmacy management I provide students with a starting template to monitor what goes on in the pharmacy each day. You can do this in life as well. Measure what you are doing in life and watch for concerning patterns. How many books have your read this year? How many dates have you taken with your spouse or significant other? How many times have you been to church? Whatever matters to you…measure it.
Sub-Lesson 3: Don’t live in fear of new things
The older I get the more I can see how fear has crippled the progress of many people. If that is you, you are not alone. In this story, Haw recognized that “running through the maze usually involved some uncertainty.” And uncertainty can be scary. But the consequences of never pursuing anything new are scary too. You end up getting stuck in a dead-end job that does not satisfy or reward you. People afraid of change can sometimes grow bitter and cynical toward others who are taking small risks and growing in life and work. Fear of new things can lead to a victim mentality about why you are stuck where you are.
I would highly recommend reading Who Moved My Cheese? if you haven’t read it before. And even if you have, it may be worthwhile picking up and reading again.