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Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson.
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“Who Moved My Cheese,” a bestseller by Spencer Johnson published in 1998, is a parable about the inevitability of change, the ways in which we typically deal with it, and how revising our attitude toward change can reduce stress and increase success. Like all parables, it’s told as a story that you can relate clearly to your life.

The Narrative

The story takes place in a maze, where four characters search for and consume cheese. Cheese represents happiness or satisfaction in its various forms — for instance, security, prestige, or wealth.

Two characters, Sniff and Scurry, are mice who take an industrious, uncomplicated trial-and-error approach to finding cheese, They don’t overthink things, instead trying out various routes until one day they find a large store of cheese.

The other two characters, Hem and Haw, are little humans who apply more sophisticated thinking and analytical skills to the daily search. They, too, find the same large stockpile of cheese as the mice.

But the two have very different attitudes toward their situation. The humans Hem and Haw take the cheese for granted, assuming it will always be there. By contrast, the mice stay alert to their surroundings. They notice that the quality and supply of the cheese are slowly dwindling.

One day the cheese is gone. How the characters cope with this change offers lessons in surviving and thriving despite the inevitable changes in life and the workplace.

The simple-minded mice don’t overthink things. They quickly accept the changed situation for what it is, not cursing the world or the environment for its unfairness. They adapt to the change and immediately head out to look for new cheese. And while it takes concerted effort, they eventually find happiness in the form of a huge new pile of...

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Who Moved My Cheese? Summary Who Moved My Cheese? Guide The Story

No matter what environment we operate in — whether a town, city, family, relationship, workplace, or other setting — change is inevitable. “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson is a parable about a place that changed, and how its inhabitants reacted. Through the characters’ triumphs and travails, the story offers lessons and tips for coping successfully with change in our lives by changing our attitudes and behavior.

The parable unfolds in a maze, where four characters — two mice (Sniff and Scurry) and two tiny humans (Hem and Haw), search for cheese, which represents happiness. They get pretty good at this. The mice use their simple, rodent-specific talents of sniffing out cheese and scurrying around until they find it. Hem and Haw use their human thinking and analytical skills to also find cheese. They find a huge supply and all four enjoy its benefits for quite a while.

One day the maze dwellers confront a crisis: The cheese is gone. All four characters must adapt in one way or another to their changed circumstances.

The mice are the best equipped at the outset.

  • They’re not surprised at the change because they noticed it happening. They stayed observant and...

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Shortform Exercise: Reflecting on the Story

This simple parable can give you insights into your own attitudes about change, which can help you be more successful in the future.


Which character would you most prefer to be lost in a maze with, and why? (Sniff, Scurry, Hem, or Haw)

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Who Moved My Cheese? Summary Who Moved My Cheese? Guide Applying the Lessons

Two chapters appearing before and after the cheese story (The Gathering and The Discussion) recount conversations among friends dealing with change and considering how to apply the lessons of the story in their lives and workplaces.

These may be useful in prompting reflection on changes in your life and how you’ve coped, as well as suggesting areas in which the principles could be helpful. For instance, you might understand what’s going wrong in a relationship, or how to deal with a recent change in your career or life.

(On the other hand, you might also take a second to reflect on the narrative and what it means to you, before reading on.)

As old friends at a reunion compare their lives and confess to being unsettled by change, one classmate relates the cheese story. The friends talk about which characters they resembled when experiencing change. Some lessons or conclusions they share from their lives are:

  • If you stubbornly resist change at work, you could end up being fired or let go. The same can...

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Who Moved My Cheese? Summary Who Moved My Cheese? Guide A Guide to Change

Change is inevitable, but it can be addressed successfully. Here’s a guide on what to do, and what not to do.

What to do to handle change successfully:

Be prepared for change: Pay attention to signs of change in your environment, whether it’s layoffs at your workplace, new aches and pains, or strains in your home life. Consider how potential changes could affect you and develop a plan to handle them - for instance, by learning new skills.

  • In the story: Mice Sniff and Scurry noticed the cheese stockpile getting old and dwindling. They were ready (they kept their running shoes handy) to search for a new supply when the old one disappeared.

Let go of the past: When things change, move forward quickly. The longer you wait, the more resistance you build to moving, and the harder it’ll be to adapt later.

  • In the story: Sniff and Scurry were action-oriented, and set off immediately to search for new cheese. It helped that they also kept things simple and didn’t overanalyze or overcomplicate things by, for instance, getting hung up on “what if’s.”
  • In the story: Initially, Haw also stayed with Hem and wished for things to return to normal. But Haw came to...

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Who Moved My Cheese? Summary Who Moved My Cheese? Guide Putting It All Together

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Let’s put it all together by talking about a common change in many people’s lives — job changes. If your job is redefined or eliminated, applying the principles in “Who Moved My Cheese” can help you deal with it successfully.

To start with, watch for change by paying attention to company statements, workload and structural changes, and industry trends. If you sniff out change, you can prepare for change by getting your personal finances in order, adding a part-time job, learning a new skill to develop your job in a different direction, or moving to a new company.

Don’t try to hold on to the past (don’t wait for the cheese to reappear) by ignoring warning signs, resisting new skill...

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Shortform Exercise: Prepare for Change

Change is natural. If you pay attention, you might detect the change coming long before it happens.


Are there some signs of change in your workplace or personal life? What are they, and what change might be coming?

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Shortform Exercise: Picture Success

Picturing what success looks like, and imagining yourself succeeding, can help you get there.


What would be your equivalent of sitting on a large pile of cheese? Picture your success in vivid detail - what does the world look like? What are you doing? How do you feel? How do others feel?

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Shortform Exercise: Overcome Fear

Even when you recognize that you must “move with the cheese,” it can be difficult to leave your comfort zone due to fear.


When’s a time you overcame your fear in the past? What was the result? How did your life improve (or not)?

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Shortform Exercise: Avoid Overanalyzing

When we notice change occurring, we may waste time overanalyzing what’s already happened or what might happen, instead of simply taking action to move forward.


Think about a time when overanalyzing held you back. How did you eventually move forward?

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Shortform Exercise: Prepare for Continuous Change

If you expect change to happen, you’ll be better prepared when it does. Think about how to better prepare for changes.


How could your company or organization better prepare for unexpected changes?

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • The Story
  • Exercise: Reflecting on the Story
  • Applying the Lessons
  • A Guide to Change
  • Putting It All Together
  • Exercise: Prepare for Change
  • Exercise: Picture Success
  • Exercise: Overcome Fear
  • Exercise: Avoid Overanalyzing
  • Exercise: Prepare for Continuous Change