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About mice, change and other pests: how do you cope?

I am not big on resolutions, remember? You may as well know that I am very, very hung up on promises – I promise something, I do it. There is one promise I made which I have not followed through; well, not very closely anyway – to build a resource for you, the reader. This is why, I will stop teasing and will publish a book review (or directly book inspired post) on Thursdays.

I probably haven’t had the opportunity to mention this one yet, but I am a great admirer of short books because these are parsimonious and distil the thoughts of the authors. Do I like War and Peace? Yes, I do although the older I get the harder it becomes to stomach Tolstoy’s dislike not only for women but for people more generally. Do I think that it could have been shorter? I do but this is another story. I most certainly think that the Harry Potter books are far too long as well (wow, I managed to put War and Peace and Harry Potter in the same paragraph).

Sometime ago, browsing the internet, I came across a little book entitled ‘Who Moved my Cheese?’ by Dr. Spenser Johnson. Now, who wouldn’t buy and read a book with a title like that? I did!

The book is a fable and builds on two assumptions:

1)      There are four ‘pure’ types of response when it come to change (well, some of these are more ‘pure’ than others); and

2)      These four types of responses co-exist in each of us; the question is which one is dominant at particular time and in specific situations.

The story unfolds through four characters: two mice (Sniff and Scurry) and two Littlepeople named Hem and Haw. They all needed to find cheese in the Maze – a labyrinth of corridors and chambers some of which contained delicious cheese. The characters used different abilities to find cheese and worked in couples. Sniff and Scurry used a trial and error method where Sniff would smell the direction of the cheese and Scurry would race ahead and lead the way. They made mistakes and bumped into walls, ran in the wrong direction and found blind alleys. But at the end they found there cheese mountain.

Hem and Haw used their complicated brains and were often blinded by emotion; they also made mistakes but nevertheless every morning they got up early, put their trainers on and went exploring in the Maze, looking for cheese. They used their ability to think and learn from their experience. They also persisted.

One day, all characters discovered the cheese they like; and a lot of it. What happened next was interesting though. Sniff and Scurry continued to get up early every morning and kept alert; Hem and Haw started getting more and more late, stopped running in the Maze and even forgot where they left their running shoes – they thought the cheese will last forever.

Till one morning they Sniff and Scurry went to the cheese station and there was no cheese. They didn’t waste much time; Sniff put his nose in the air and pointed and Scurry took off. Sniff followed and so they raced off through the Maze searching for new cheese.

When Hem and Haw got to the station they couldn’t believe their eyes: the cheese was gone! All of it! ‘Who moved MY cheese?’ – Hem started shouting while Haw didn’t even want to deal with it. They had a long discussion about where the cheese may have gone, who could have moved it and generally about the unfairness of the world. Hem and Haw went back to the same station, the one with the cheese gone, every day until they started to feel faint from under-nourishment.

Meanwhile, after making some mistakes and failing to find new cheese, Sniff and Scurry arrived at a new station – one that was full of their favourite cheese.

One day, Haw was sitting in the empty station with Hem, imagining  how their friends have already found new cheese; and the more he imagined it the more clearly he saw that they should stop blaming the world and get in to the Maze. Hem refused to go – he was hungry but comfortable and feeling safe.

Haw put on his old running shoes and went into the Maze. It was scary but the further he went the more exciting his adventure looked. He found small morsels of cheese; he found stations where there was cheese but he was too late – but he kept going. Until one day he got to the new cheese station where his friends Sniff and Scurry were already very comfortable.

I have to tell you that I loved this book; it is probably one of the best things I have read on change management. Dr. Johnson managed to create four simple characters built around the way in which we cope with change:

  • The intuitive and perceptive Sniff;
  • The fast acting Scurry;
  • Haw who after his initial indecision and wrong attitude moved with the cheese; and
  • Hem who never lost his sense of entitlement and refused to move out of the comfort of a cheese station with no cheese.

What I loved even more are the simple aphorisms that Haw kept writing on the walls of the Maze as he run through it. There are many of those but my three favourite ones are:

  • The more important your cheese is to you the more you want to hold on to it.
  • The quicker you let go of old cheese the sooner you find new cheese.
  • Old beliefs don’t lead you to new cheese.

Reading this simple story has made me realise that I have a lot of Haw and Sniff in me but I would like to develop more Scurry.

How about you?

Oh, and if you haven’t read this book already please go and do it!

16 thoughts on “About mice, change and other pests: how do you cope?”

  1. @Roshawn: I really like the book but John couldn’t finish it (although he is saying that reading my review he can see that it makes sense 😆 ). As to Scurry, I suppose quite a few of us miss him dearly; particularly the ones of more contemplative inclination. How to we find him is another matter that may be related to frogs! More about this next Thursday.

  2. That’s a book that has stood the test of time if it is still in print! He’s one of the authors of the ‘One Minute’ series.

    I wouldn’t call it in any way profound but it has some good points that make you think – which is what it is all about.

    • @Pat: You have a good point there. What is the relationship between profound and workable? I actually think that the book is both, rather profound and workable. The simplicity of it is not the kind that comes from ‘bastardising’ concepts but from hard work to translate these into images and stories easy to access b y different people.

    • @MultiMillionareRoad: You are very welcome. Positioning ourselves according to the four types of response is the first step; changing our profiles is the next one – the hard one.

    • @Shaun: Put this one at the top of the list: it is really ‘low fruit’. It will take you about 67 minutes to read :); and let me know what combination are you.

  3. It has been a number of years since every one in my family read this little treasure, but I agree, it is wonderful. So short, so true. You did an excellent job with the retelling. Thanks.


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