Who Moved My Cheese Summary (Dr. Spencer Johnson)

Written by a physician/psychologist (Dr. Spencer Johnson), this book offers wisdom on how to deal with change in your personal and professional life.

It espouses its message on human nature through the use of four characters in a maze searching for cheese:

  • Two mice – Sniff and Scurry
  • Two little people – Hem and Haw

So if you’re experiencing a period of change or working on certain goals, the Who Moved My Cheese summary is a nice read.

Main takeaway – Don’t be afraid of change, but instead enjoy life’s adventures.

The Chase

The two mice (Sniff and Scurry) unthinkingly scurry around the maze looking for cheese.

This approach is instinctive and instructive and often the most effective method in achieving our goals, saving time and energy.

Rather than succumbing to anger or frustration, they simply move brainlessly in search of the cheese.

Hem and Haw, rather than searching for the cheese due to hunger, crave it for the happiness it will bring.

They overthink the process, creating complex maps strategies. Despite these advanced methods, they still frequently lose their way and become depressed with failure.

This mirrors life, where we tend to overcomplicate and overthink.

One day, however, Hem and Haw discover a stash of cheese and revisit every day for a snack.

However, they soon display signs of dependence and acclimatisation, similar to our feelings when we attain real-life goals and become attached to our achievements.

“The more important your cheese is to you, the more you want to hold onto it”

It never lasts!

Change always happens sooner or later.

In the book, Hem and Haw are dismayed to discover the stash of cheese is gone, while Sniff and Scurry never took it for granted.

When we expect everything to stay the same, we miss important signs and are unable to anticipate.

Why does this happen?

Often due to self image and internal beliefs, making acceptance of change more difficult.

E.g. If we think we deserve success, we’ll blinker ourselves when it diminishes.

In the story, while Sniff and Scurry were unphased by the situation and move on in search of another stash (which they find), Hem and Haw repeatedly return to empty stash, growing depressed and hungry.

Takeaway – we want to remain as vigilant as possible for signs of change and adapt as quickly as possible.

Fear and visualisation

What routinely stops us from embracing change?


In the story, Hem and Haw think about searching for more cheese and become fearful about getting lost.

However, if we don’t stretch out comfort zone in life, our situation won’t improve.

In any traumatic change, such as the ending of a relationship, we must have the courage to search for something new and find joy.

If we’re unable to overcome the fear, visualising our goal in specific detail (along with our desire to attain it), can help.

Just get moving

After visualising his goal, Haw struck out in search of more cheese, but Hem was still too dominated by his fear to move.

While Hem remained where he was, angry and hungry, Haw’s situation improved exponentially.

Although he was afraid initially, he slowly gained confidence and felt better for overcoming his anxiety.

He learned that fear of taking action is often worse than simply taking action and the situation will likely improve.

Even if we’re not met with immediate success, we increase the likelihood of finding our cheese, whatever that may be, as soon as we step outside our comfort zone and start the search.

Main takeaway – when we take action, we overcome our fears. We gain confidence and shed fear every time we embrace change.

In life and work

Can you apply these principle in your life and organisation to better manage change?

Ask yourself and employees which character you most identify with:

  • Sniffs – great marketplace observers, sniffing out potential changes and predicting shifts, with the ability to discover new approaches and strategies.
  • Scurrys – are action-orientated and like to get things done – give them the vision and let them execute.
  • Hems – do not deal well with change and you have to work hard to show them the benefits, hopefully transforming them into Haws, who are better able to face their fears.

Despite uncovering the new stash of cheese in the parable, Haw doesn’t stop there, but continues searching.

Important takeaway – what works today won’t necessarily work tomorrow. To adapt to changing times, stay alert and open to new opportunities.

Who Moved My Cheese summary

  • Change is inevitable
  • Our self image and beliefs can make us resistant to change
  • Our approach to change determines our results
  • Instinctive action is better than overanalysis
  • Visualisation of our goals can quell our fears
  • Stretching our comfort zone is essential to improve our situation
  • Simply taking action increases our confidence, reduces fear and improves our ability to embrace change moving forwards
  • What works today won’t necessarily be appropriate tomorrow, so stay alert to new opportunities and threats and respond accordingly

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