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Who Moved My Cheese, Stinkier than Limburger? (Spencer Johnson Book Review)

Updated on August 28, 2010

To the author of The One Minute Manager, life is one big, inescapable rat race. More accurately, it’s a maze in which the inhabitants scurry for succulent morsels of cheese. Nothing matters in the maze besides cheese, which is a metaphor for what you want in life, whether it is “a good job, a loving relationship, money, a possession, health or spiritual peace of mind.”

You’d better move quickly too, because if you don’t someone will eat your cheese first. Some cheese-hoarding jerk (like me) might even move it to prevent your success.

No, this “fable” isn’t meant to scare children, it’s meant to scare adults, more specifically those stuck in America’s corporate rate race. Huge, nationally recognized companies are handing out “Who Moved My Cheese?” by the truckload. It’s a selfish gift too, kind of like offering a dude with horrible breath a mint.

Spencer Johnson is some management guru, so the superiors at your place of employment forcing you to read this crap probably worship the guy. Instead of talking down to you themselves, they can use this handy “children’s book” to do it for them. You may even learn to like it.

Like the gruesome highway accident you can’t ignore, the sparse 94-page book keeps your eyes glued to its pages. Given that isn’t much of an accomplishment since you finish it in one sitting during a lunch break. The sheer goofiness of the “story” will have you on the edge of your seat as will the big cliff hanger. Will the main characters Hem and Haw be able to adapt after their cheese was moved from Station C?

To explain the premise in greater detail, there are four characters mentioned in the story. Two characters are your typical mice named “Sniff” and “Scurry”. They are pretty dumb (as they sometimes bump into the walls in search of cheese), but neither are short on work ethic or adaptability. Instead of over thinking matters, if the cheese has run out in a particular spot, the duo is quick to leave in search of new cheese. The two “littlepeople”, “Hem” and “Haw”, have more complex brains (at least the author claims), but are slackers with a sense of entitlement.

Welcome to the Rat Race

WMMC? At times make you madder than a fat man that can't find the deli.
WMMC? At times make you madder than a fat man that can't find the deli.

The littlepeople go to Station C each day, showing up a little later each time, assuming all the limburger and brie they could even want will always be waiting for them. The trouble begins when they fail to notice the supply of cheese isn’t infinite (duh), and one day find that every last crumb has vanished. They are so resistant to change that when their means of survival vanishes, seeking new cheese is seen as a scary, massive undertaking.

Hem puts his hands on his hips and screams: “It’s not fair.”

Hem and Haw become bitter and frustrated after the two come back to Station C, and day after day the cheese is still gone. Finally Haw decides that he must venture on in the maze in search of new cheese. Hem on the other hand is too “old” and settled in his ways to leave and opts to stay, hoping the cheese will return.

Finally, Haw separates from his former associate in search of cheese. Soon he turns to a life of crime and starts vandalizing the maze with graffiti every time he learns some minor lesson. Some are most cringe-worthy than others but to give you some idea of the “captain obvious” conclusions he comes to, here are some examples:

“The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Find New Cheese”

“Old Beliefs Do Not Lead You To New Cheese”

“Movement in a New Direction Helps You Find New Cheese”

Despite a few disappointments, obviously Haw finally comes across another Station with mounds of cheese to plough into his face by the fistful. After all, this is a “self help” book. Hem, on the other hand, could very well have wasted away, paralyzed by fear of the unknown. Haw of course wishes him the best, justifying his graffiti habit by claiming they are hints to help Hem along “the enlightened path”.

Cheesiest Business Book Ever

So, is this book worth buying? That depends. If you are a manager wishing to whip your complaint-prone employees into submission, it’s a great book! Jump on, load up on hundreds of copies then fill the office storage room with boxes of the stuff. When the staff starts whining about pay-cuts and boring tasks, you start tossing books at them. Be sure to do it with a smile, like you are actually trying to “help”.

If you are an employee, it’s win-win for you too. Firstly you get a cheap laugh at upper management who actually thinks you will take the book seriously. Secondly, the little time it takes to read the book is well worth the effort, especially if you conclude that quitting your crappy dead-end job in search of new cheese is a good idea.


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