Current Book Review
Who Moved My Cheese: A Review
by Jerald W. Young, Ph.D.
Center for Stable Change, Inc.
Brief Summary of the Story
Who Moved My Cheese tells the story of two mice and
two "little humans" who live in a maze and one day
are faced with change: someone moves their cheese. The non
analytical and nonjudgmental mice just want cheese and are
willing to do whatever it takes to get it. The more complex
little humans have trouble letting go of how things used to
be and are afraid to go out into the unknown maze and try
to find more cheese.
The moral of the story: we need to change our attitude about
change and become more like Sniff and Scurry, the mice. Only
then can we anticipate change on the horizon and go forth
and successfully adjust to it when it arrives, rather than
Hem-ing and Haw-ing ourselves to death. We are told to anticipate
change, let go of the old, and do what you would do if you
were not afraid.
(Note: the story is told by one member of a group of old
friends returning for their high school reunion. Their dialogue
precedes and follows the story proper. Their comments provide
a real world context within which the author interprets the
meaning of the story.)
The Book's Contributions
The main contribution Who Moved My Cheese makes is
highlighting the importance of one's attitude toward change
when dealing with resistance to change. We must find the potential
for good in the change if we are to deal with it successfully.
Also laudatory is the book's pointing out that such emotion-based
issues as fear of the future and letting go of the past are
central to decreasing resistance to change. Moreover, by emphasizing
attitude, fear, and letting go, the book correctly locates
resistance to change as a process active within each individual.
In addition, implicit in some of the examples given by the
reunion group, resistance to change in the workplace is, at
its heart, an individual issue also.
Reading Who Moved My Cheese is like being invited to
dinner, getting served only one delicious appetizer, then
being asked to leave. It makes promises of great things to
come, but never delivers. We are left with the bittersweet
reaction of "that tasted good but is that all there is?"
That is, it sounds great, but how do I do it?
1. The book's relevance to resistance to change: Attitude,
fear, & letting go.
Who Moved My Cheese talks about 3 of the 22 primary
elements required to dissolve resistance to change (see Table
below entitled, Comparative Matrix for Book Reviews). Namely,
it states the necessity for taking responsibility for our
attitude toward change. It also infers that we should overcome
our fears of the unknown and let go of the past.
However the book implies that if we look for the potential
good in a change, then we will not be afraid and will be able
to let go. This is not how humans work. The future is unknown,
by definition. Knowing that the future could turn out to be
good does not erase the possibility that it could also turn
out bad. As long as we entertain the possibility that an undesirable
outcome could result from a change, we will experience resistance
to change caused by fear.
Also, letting go of the status quo is not a simple rational
decision. We hold on mainly because of strong non-rational,
emotion-based attachments to the good part of the present.
Simply "deciding" to let go will not work by itself.
2. Elegant vs. simplistic: Just change your attitude.
A fine line exists between an "elegant" solution
and a simplistic one. This book crosses that line. It would
be nice if dissolving resistance to change could be reduced
to "change your attitude," but it can't. Changing
one's attitude about change is a necessary condition for success,
but not a sufficient condition for success by itself. My work
has identified 21 additional issues that must be dealt with
in order to dissolve resistance to change (see Table below
entitled, Comparative Matrix for Book Reviews).
The book implies changing our attitude toward change and
focusing on the potential for good is all we need to do. Our
experiences with change in our own lives, both personal and
at work, tell us there is more to it than that. Is getting
your brother-in-law to admit that smoking can cause cancer
sufficient for him to give up smoking?
3. No concrete suggestions for how to adjust to change:
The Nike solution - Just Do It.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the book is the glaring
lack of specific instructions for taking action. It states
the need to change our attitude without giving any concrete
suggestions for how to do it. It infers the central role fear
plays in maintaining resistance to change, but does not explain
how to eliminate fear or let go of how things are.
We're told to change our attitude about change. Focus on
the good. However, when we are immersed in the emotional "whitewater"
of change (as Ken Blanchard says in the preface), just how
are we supposed to do this? This is not addressed except in
the superficial prescription to "Just Do It."
We are told we should be more like the non analytical and
nonjudgmental mice-just sniff it out and take action. For
anyone who has agonized over changing careers, ending a relationship,
or any other life transition, it is clear that simply taking
the action of letting go of the status quo and dissolving
the fears of the future are easier said than done. The prescription
to "Just Do It" just doesn't do it.
4. Lack of explanatory power makes its usefulness brittle.
"Just Do It or Fail" seems to be the books motivational
theme. In its rush to have us "Just Do It," the
book glosses over exactly how humans function in real life
change situations. It asks readers to adopt a non-analytical,
non-judgmental posture and just take action-any action-presumably
based on faith that author's prescriptions are right. No effort
is made to enlighten readers to what to look for when under
pressure to change, so they could presumably make informed
decisions about the appropriate action to take.
It simply says that change happens and the best thing to
do is to take action when it does. And, seemingly, leave the
thinking to other, more qualified people.
5. The illusion of a "quick fix" invites well-intentioned
The book's fanciful nature tells the story in absolute terms
and tempts readers to conclude that a change in one's attitude
toward change is sufficient to guarantee a successful change
project. Voilà! A "quick fix."
For managers under pressure to lead a change initiative,
with all the uncertainties that entails, the book can prepare
the ground for well-intentioned misapplications of its conclusions.
What is the book's apparent formula for change leadership
success? 1. Read the book. 2. Change your attitude. 3. Get
with the program. 4. And those who don't, get fired, as his
narrator in the reunion meeting relates.
The message of the book, along with its huge sales figures,
can be used as a rationale to short-circuit the more time
consuming, emotionally demanding job of managing the "people
problems" of change. But only by attending to the details
of the "people problems" and dissolving the barriers
to their support for positive change, can a change leader
craft a change initiative that will stick.
Reading "Cheese" is like reveling in the warm afterglow
of a motivational speech or entertaining seminar which, the
next day, dims to puzzlement over "where did all the
substance go?" Then you begin to wonder if maybe the
substance did not go anywhere, but that the substance wasn't
quite as substantive as you originally thought.
The Center for Stable Change, Inc.