Who Moved My Cheese?

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Who Moved My Cheese? (1998) by Spencer Johnson

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My reading of this book got off to an unfortunate start. I was prejudiced the moment I discovered that two of its leading characters were mice. Now I’ve nothing personal against Sniff and Scurry, the book’s heroes, it’s just that I have an antipathy to the hickory-dickory mice I encountered in tiny-tot nursery rhymes. They did nothing to inspire me when I was a toddler, and have done little to motivate since, except to teach me that it’s unwise to get too closely associated with farmer’s wives. So this is an allegory about four comic characters – two wise mice and two very fearful, and inadequate Lilliputian men called Hem and Haw – who face the task of finding cheese in a complicated maze. Being a fable, the maze is a metaphor for our passage through life, and the ‘cheese’  a symbol for all the things we crave for, whether it’s money, a better job, health, recognition, spiritual peace or closer relationships with our partners, family and friends.

The book can be read in a couple of hours, and seeks to remind us that

life doesn’t stand still. Its five main points are: Change Happens, Anticipate Change, Monitor Change, Adapt to Change and Enjoy Change.  Or, as the author chooses to put it: ‘Movement in a new direction helps you find new cheese.’ As an allegory, it would be wrong to expect the book to compare with The Wind in the Willows or Alice in Wonderland. Its failure is that in reality it’s no great shakes as a practical guide to the management of change.  It find a place in our short list of self-help books only because it’s sold twenty four million copies worldwide. Most of these sales have been made in America, where fans have been queuing up to buy cheesy spin-off products, ranging from a pen at $3.49 to wall posters at $19.99, and toy dolls of Haw and Hem at $12.99 each. Before the book was published the author’s partner, Kenneth Blanchard, made the tale a regular feature of his motivational lectures: ‘Believe it or not,’ he says, ‘this little story has been credited with saving careers, marriages and lives!’ To prove the point, the book begins by giving the testimonies of thirteen senior managers, each of whom claims that the book has revolutionized their lives. This is difficult to comprehend, for anyone who needs the help this book provides hardly deserves to be a big cheese in a major public company. In short, I find it both Hawful and Hembarrassing 

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