Book Summary: Who Moved My Cheese (1998) by Spencer Johnson is a fable that revolves around four characters; two mice named  ‘Sniff’ and ‘Scurry’ and two humans ‘Hem’ and ‘Haw’ who are referred to as little-people.

In the fable, the mice and the little-people make their way through a maze in search of cheese. The ‘Cheese’ is used as a metaphor for the things that we desire in life such as a house, good health, achievements or activities like jogging or tennis. The ‘Maze’ represents the places that we spend time searching for our ‘cheese’ (what makes us happy) such as our workplace, our home, or the community.

 

Spencer Johnson
Who Moved My Cheese Book Summary

Book Notes

  • Once, long ago in a land far away, there lived four little characters who ran through a maze every day looking for cheese to nourish them and make them happy.
  • Two were mice named “Sniff and “Scurry” and two were little people-beings who were as small as mice but who looked and acted a lot like people today. Their names were “Hem” and “Haw.”
  • Spencer Johnson points out that each of the 4 characters mentioned in the book Who Moved My Cheese are in actuality – a part of ourselves. They reflect our own tendencies and habits towards change….
  • Here’s a short description of each of the characters:

1. Sniff tends to sniff out change early,
2. Scurry has a habit of scurrying into action
3. Hem denies and resists change as he fears it will lead to something worse
4. Haw learns to adapt in time when he sees that changing leads to something better.

  • Every morning, they each put on their jogging suits and running shoes, left their little homes, and raced out into the maze looking for their favorite cheese.
  • The mice, Sniff and Scurry, used the simple trial -and-error method of finding cheese.
  • The two little-people, Hem and Haw, also used their ability to think and learn from their past experiences. However, they relied on their complex brains to develop more sophisticated methods of finding Cheese.
  • Sometimes they did well, but at other times their powerful human beliefs and emotions took over and clouded the way they looked at things
  • –One day, the mice and the little-people discover Cheese Station C,’ a place at the end of a corridor in the maze that’s full of Cheese!
  • In the beginning Hem and Haw would race towards Cheese Station C every day to enjoy the tasty new morsels that awaited them. But after a while, a different routine set in…
  • Hem and Haw would wake up each day a little later, dressed a little slower, and would walk to Cheese Station C. After all, they knew where the Cheese was now and how to get there.
  • Sniff and Scurry on the other hand, continued their routine… they arrived early each morning and sniffed and scratched and scurried around Cheese Station C. They would inspect the area to see if there had been any changes from the day before. Then they would sit down to nibble on the cheese.
  • It wasn’t long before Hem and Haw regarded the Cheese they found at Cheese Station C as their cheese. It was such a large store of Cheese that they eventually moved their homes to be closer to it, and built a social life around it.
  • Hem and Haw decorated the walls with sayings and even drew pictures of Cheese around them which made them smile. One read:
  • Having Cheese Makes You Happy
  • Every night the little-people would waddle home, full of Cheese, and every morning they would confidently return for more. This went on for quite some time….
  • After a while though, Hem’s and Haw’s confidence grew into the arrogance of success. Soon they became so comfortable that they didn’t even notice what was happening…
  • The pile of Cheese at Cheese Station C was shrinking day by day.
  • One morning, the two mice ‘Sniff’ and ‘Scurry’ arrived at Cheese Station C and discovered that there was no cheese.
  • They weren’t surprised.
  • Since Sniff and Scurry had noticed that the supply of cheese had been getting smaller every day, they were prepared for the inevitable and knew instinctively what to do.
  • The mice did not overanalyze things. To the mice, the problem and the answer were both simple. To them, the situation at Cheese Station C had changed. So, they decided to change.
  • They were quickly off in search of New Cheese.
  • Later that same day, Hem and Haw arrived at Cheese Station C.
  • “What! No Cheese?” Hem yelled. He continued yelling, “No Cheese? No Cheese?” as though if he shouted loud enough someone would put it back.
  • “Who moved my Cheese?” he hollered.
  • Haw just shook his head in disbelief. Whilst Hem continued to yell, Haw ignored him. He didn’t want to deal with what was facing him, so he just tuned everything out.
  • The little-people’s behavior was not very attractive or productive but it was understandable. Because Cheese was important to them, the two little-people spent a long time trying to decide what to do. All they could think of was to keep looking around Cheese-less Station C to see if the Cheese was really gone.
  • Whilst Sniff and Scurry had quickly moved on, Hem and Haw continued to hem and haw.
  • They couldn’t believe it. How could this have happened?! Hem and Haw went home that night hungry and discouraged. But before they left, Haw wrote on the wall:

The More Important Your Cheese Is To You The More You Want To Hold On To It

  • The next day Hem and Haw left their homes, and returned to Cheese Station C again, where they still expected, somehow, to find their Cheese.
  • The situation hadn’t changed.
  • Hem analyzed the situation over and over and eventually his complicated brain with its huge belief system took hold. “Why did they do this to me?” he demanded. “What’s really going on here?”
  • “By the way, where are Sniff and Scurry? Haw asked, “do you think they know something we don’t?”
  • Hem scoffed, “What would they know?” he continued, “they’re just simple mice. They just respond to what happens. We’re little-people. We’re smarter than mice. We should be able to figure this out.”
  • “I know we’re smarter,” Haw said, “but we don’t seem to be acting smarter at the moment. Things are changing around here, Hem. Maybe we need to change and do things differently.”
  • “Why should we change?” Hem argues, “we’re little-people. We’re special.
  • -And so whilst Hem and Haw were still trying to decide what to do, Sniff and Scurry were already on their way looking for New Cheese.
  • -Eventually, Sniff and Scurry would make their way into an area of the maze they’ve never been before: Cheese Station N. They squealed with delight. They found what they had been looking for: a great supply of New Cheese!
  • In the meantime, Hem and Haw were still back in Cheese Station C evaluating their situation…
  • Haw thought about how good it would be for him to be out on an adventure in the maze, and to find fresh New Cheese. He could almost taste it.
  • The more clearly Haw saw the image of himself finding and enjoying the New Cheese, the more he saw himself leaving Cheese Station C.
  • Let’s go!” he exclaimed, all of a sudden.
  • “No,” Hem quickly responded. “I like it here. It’s comfortable. It’s what I know. Besides, it’s dangerous out there.”
  • Haw was getting tired of just waiting for their situation to improve. He began to see that the longer they stayed in their Cheese-less situation, the worse off they would be.
  • Haw was also afraid and wondered if he really wanted to go out into the maze. He wrote a saying on the wall ahead of him and stared at it for some time:

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid

  • Haw said, “Sometimes, Hem, things change and they are never the same again. This looks like one of those times. That’s life! Life moves on. And so should we.”
  • Haw picked up a small, sharp rock and wrote a serious thought on the wall for Hem to think about:
  • If You Do Not Change, You Can Become Extinct.
  • The story continues. Eventually, Haw would leave behind Hem in pursuit of New Cheese. Along his way, he would face his fear of change whilst noting down the lessons he learnt in the walls of the maze:
  • The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Find New Cheese. 
  • It Is Safer To Search In The Maze Than Remain In A Cheese-less Situation 
  • The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Find New Cheese.
  • By now, Haw had let go of the past and was adapting to the present. He continued on through the maze with greater strength and speed.
  • Eventually, one day he stumbles on Cheese Station N, another magical place with more types of Cheese than he ever thought existed!
  • As Haw enjoyed the New Cheese, He went over and wrote down a summary of what he had learned on the largest wall of Cheese Station N.

 

A summary of the key lessons outlined in Who Moved My Cheese:

Change Happens
(They Keep Moving The Cheese)

Anticipate Change
(Get Ready For The Cheese To Move)

Monitor Change
(Smell The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old)

Adapt To Change Quickly
(The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese)

Change
(Move With The Cheese)

Enjoy Change!
(Savor The Adventure And Enjoy The Taste Of New Cheese.)

Be Ready To Change Quickly And Enjoy It Again & Again
(They Keep Moving The Cheese)

 

The Book on Amazon:
‘Who Moved My Cheese?: An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life’