A great book was introduced years ago to all workers of a gear manufacturer. This book was a mandatory read for all employees nationwide, both factory and sales people. ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ by Spencer Johnson has been on the best seller lists since published in 1998. The idea behind everyone reading the book was because the company had sensed change was imminent and they wanted everyone to be on board when it happened.
‘Cheese’ is a short read, about 45-60 minutes. It details four living beings; two mice and two littlepeople, small mortals similar to us living in a ‘maze’ who encounter unexpected change when they discover that their ‘cheese’ has disappeared. All four adapt differently as they discover how previous behavior either prepares them for change or catches them off-guard. As suspected, the two mice that had seen change coming were much better prepared than the other two. As the story unfolds, the littlepeople are torn between staying and hoping that the ‘cheese’ returns, or going and trying to catch up to the mice, who by now, had found the ‘New Cheese’ and have adapted well to their new surroundings.
One of the littlepeople decides after much debate to go and search for the ‘New Cheese’. Along the way, he encounters challenges and problems but forges ahead by knowing that the future will be much better when he gets to the ‘New Cheese’. He learns along the way that change is natural and will always occur, whether planned or not. He also realizes that the only way change surprises anyone is when they don’t expect it and are not looking for it.
The book leaves it up to the reader as to the fate of the fourth littleperson. It leaves us with the hope that he eventually ventured out in search of the ‘New Cheese’ and didn’t get left behind. The story is a metaphor for anything in one’s life. We resist change because we’re afraid of the unknown. The ‘Maze’ can be our work, families, etc., and the ‘Cheese’ represents anything that that affects us, e.g. career, relationships, wealth, etc. When change is approaching, we need to decide whether to stick our heads in the sand, or embrace it. Change is constant, whether welcomed or not. It could be a new computer system (there’s the collective gasp from the reading audience), it could be a move to a new location, or even as dramatic as the way a company goes to market.
The gear company gave everyone three days to read the book as there was to have company meetings in all offices in the country. There was a group discussion; a sort of a motivation rally held on that day. The business was introducing new products, had mandated more training for all salespeople and were about to announce a consolidation of duties. This 1) allowed time for everyone to be on board when it happened, 2) to accept that change was coming, and 3) be prepared for the inevitable, or be left behind. As always, some fought the changes. Some came around; but others didn’t and could never catch up. Those that accepted the changes enjoyed
less stress and more success as they learned to deal with the situation. The parallels between the employees and the mice and littlepeople were astounding.
The goal of the company through having everyone read the book was to get everyone to realize that change could lead to something better; and that change was going to happen whether or not they were prepared for it. It was a huge success and the cost was nominal based upon the results. The changes came and, for those who welcomed it, it was a smooth transition.
This company had foreseen the future and actually announced the change. Unfortunately, most people won’t have this luxury. It will be (and has been) a shock to most. The fortunate ones saw change coming; they read the ‘Handwriting on the Wall’ (also from the book) and placed themselves into roles that prepared them for today.
Companies that employ people who embrace and accept change will be ready for the future. If we can take away a few lessons from the book, they are: 1) to acknowledge that change happens, 2) to anticipate change, 3) monitor change, 4) adapt quickly, 5) change your habits, 6) enjoy the change, and 7) get ready to change again!