If you do not change, you can become extinct!”Spencer Johnson
Think about the past year and all the changes you have seen and experienced in your world and the world around you. If you are like me, you have seen and experienced significant changes in both your personal and professional lives. For work, these changes may have included a shift to working from home, change in work processes and procedures as well as an increase in the use of technology to drive and maintain business operations. On the personal side, the changes might have applied to a juggling a new work /life dynamic of multiple roles and significant changes in how you do school, attend church, and even socialize. And chances are, you can readily identify other changes that might be coming in the months ahead.
While change is constantly happening in the environment around us, change can be difficult to deal with. Some people see change as exciting and readily embrace it because of the new opportunities and innovations it presents. But for others, the process of change is chaotic, risky, and filled with negative emotions such as uncertainty, stress, and fear since change marks a departure from what is comfortable or familiar. One reason why people fear change is that they do not understand it. And when people do not understand the change or the reason for it, they tend to resist it, feel overwhelmed by the change and become stuck.
Individuals and organizations that resist change or ignore it, are more likely to be overtaken by the competition or simply left behind. Therefore, it is crucial that both individuals and organizations demonstrate the ability to anticipate change and adapt quickly to changes in the environment if they are to succeed. So, how can we get better at dealing with and responding to change?
“See what you’re doing wrong, laugh at it, change and do better.”― Spencer Johnson,
Who Moved My Cheese – Synopsis of the Story
Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson (An oldie but goodie) is one of the simplest and best book I have read about change. It provides key insights on how change impacts people, typical responses and important lessons to remember when dealing with change. It tells a parable story about four characters- two mice (Sniff and Scurry) and two little people (Hem and Haw) who search for cheese in a maze. For the purposes of the story, ‘Cheese’ represents the things we want in life that will make us happy and satisfied. For you, cheese could be wealth, loving relationships, security, a career, good health, or spiritual peace of mind. And the ‘Maze’ is where we look for what exactly we want. This could be the place you work, your family, your community and the world around you .
At the start of the story, all four characters search the maze and find their cheese at Cheese Station C. Then one day, Sniff and Scurry arrived early at the Cheese Station C to discover that all the cheese had disappeared. Rather than stopping to overanalyze what had happened to the cheese and why it was gone, the mice determined that the situation at Cheese Station C had changed, so they needed to change. Both looked out into the maze and immediately moved on in search of new cheese. Sometime later in the day, Hem and Haw slowly arrived at the Cheese Station C to find that the cheese has disappeared. Both Hem and Haw were caught off- guard and their responses were totally different. Hem got angry and screamed that “it wasn’t fair. “Haw was shocked and frozen in denial.” Both struggled to accept the reality that the cheese was gone. Because the cheese was so important to them, Hem and Haw spent a long time trying to figure out what had happened to the cheese and what to do.
Because Sniff and Scurry had moved on quickly back into the maze, after much trial and error they eventually found new cheese. However, Hem and Haw stayed at Cheese Station C wondering how it was possible for the cheese to be gone. They spent their days being upset about the situation and trying to figure out had gone wrong. After some time, Haw noticed that the mice were gone and wondered if they had found new cheese. Haw told Hem that since things were changing, they needed to change and do things differently. Haw suggested they stop analyzing the situation and move on, but Hem refused since he was stuck on trying to find answers and unwilling to try something new.
Though Haw was interested in moving on, Hem’s pessimism and discouragement caused him to lose hope and not act. But one day, Haw realized that their “cheese-less” situation was deteriorating as they kept waiting for things to improve. Realizing his folly, Haw started laughing at himself and told Hem that they could not keep doing the same thing over and over again and wonder why things didn’t get better. Haw told Hem that “Things change, life moves on and so should we.” But Hem could not get past his fear and refused to go back out into the maze. Haw then decided it was time to leave his friend and go back out into the maze to find new cheese.
Though Haw was afraid, he gathered his courage and stepped out bravely into the maze. As he explored, he found bits and pieces of new cheese. Excited, he ran back to Cheese Station C to tell Hem that there was new cheese in the maze and found him looking hungry. Haw offered Hem some of the new cheese, but Hem was unwilling to try the new cheese since he did not think he would like it and wanted his old cheese back. Haw then realized that Hem did not want to try anything new and left him behind to continue his search for new cheese. Before long, he found Cheese Station N which had plenty of new cheese in all shapes and sizes that he had never seen, heard of, or tried before. He looked around and saw Sniff and Scurry with big tummies which suggested they had been here awhile. Haw dived into enjoying the cheese while hoping that Hem would eventually step back out into the maze and follow him.
“When you change what you believe, you change what you do!” Spencer Johnson
Responses to Change: Which Character are You?
As evidenced by the story, change happens to all of us but each of us responds differently. How we react to change determines the impact change will have on our lives and our chances of success. To better understand your own reactions to the change(s) taking place in your life, reflect on the how the four characters of book responded to their cheese being moved and consider if there are any similarities in your own responses to change:
- Sniff: These are people who sniff out and anticipate changes in their environment and notice the change happening around them at an early stage. They are flexible and generally better prepared for change when it comes.
- Scurry: These people who jump into action immediately once a change has been detected or has occurred. They are open to changing direction easily and quickly and tend to benefit from change sooner than others.
- Hem: These people who deny and ignore change and want to stay where they are comfortable. Hems feel entitled and act like victims (blaming others) when change occurs. They get stuck in fear and do not adapt. They resist change and ultimately pay the price for it when they are left behind.
- Haw: These people “hem and haw” at first but become open-minded when they see that change can lead to something better. They are willing to adapt, learn something new and will laugh at themselves when they see what they are doing wrong and make the changes to do better.
So, which of these characters are you most like? And what could you do differently to handle change more effectively? Believe it or not, we all have these four characters in our families, and on our work teams.
“Being in the uncomfortable zone is much better than staying in the cheese-less situation .”
― Spencer Johnson,
Seven (7) Tips & Lessons from Haw
No one controls how you respond to change—just you. Here are seven tips and lessons from Haw (as he moved through the maze to find new cheese) that you can apply to improve your ability to deal with change and ensure your personal and professional success:
- Change happens – they keep moving with the cheese. In other words, change is everywhere.
- Anticipate change – Get ready for the cheese to move. This reminds us to be aware of what is happening in our environment and never get complacent with our cheese or where we are.
- Monitor change – Smell the cheese often so you know it is getting old. Since nothing stays the same keep assessing how you and your cheese are doing . Are things getting better or worse?
- Adapt to change quickly – the quicker you let go of old change the sooner you can enjoy new cheese. Holding onto the past and the familiar will never move you forward. So, keep learning.
- Change – Move with the cheese. Don’t get stuck in negative emotions. Stay flexible and open.
- Enjoy the change – Savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese. Change is good.
- Be ready to quickly change again and again – They keep moving with the cheese. Be willing to adjust and adapt repeatedly and stay ready.
So over to you, how is your cheese doing? Are you monitoring your cheese to see if it has moved lately? Are you moving with the cheese or are you stuck? Whether we accept it or not, change will happen to us. Never be afraid to step back into the maze. The quicker we adapt to change, the happier and less stressful our lives will be. Afterall, we do not grow in places of comfort. Embrace change and grow. Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!
What would you do it you weren’t afraid?”Spencer Johnson