Cheesed Off

When a book has sold over 20 million copies, due respect for the opinion of its readers creates an obligation to explain why someone would seek to challenge its central message.

Since its release 12 years ago, Spencer Johnson’s motivational business fable Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal With Change in Your Work and in Your Life has sold more than 20 million copies, spent five years on the New York Times business bestseller list, and been favored by managers the world over for staff distribution. Despite such wild popularity, the book is not without its critics – including Harvard Business School professor (and two-time PCMA Executive Edge speaker) Deepak Malhotra. I Moved Your Cheese: For Those Who Refuse to Live as Mice in Someone Else’s Maze, published late last year, is Malhotra’s own business fable and send-up of the original. He explains what prompted him to write I Moved Your Cheese in the preface, excerpted here.


This book was written – and is meant to be read – as a stand-alone entity. Not surprisingly, however, I’ve been asked whether it was crafted as a rebuttal to Who Moved My Cheese? (WMMC), or as an extension of it. Or, to put it another way: Am I saying that the message of WMMC is incorrect, or simply incomplete? The answer is both.

For those who are having a hard time dealing with big (or even small) changes in life … [t]he book is a useful reminder that we need to accept that change happens, that it may be beyond our control, and that we need to find the strength to move on and adapt. This message is neither incorrect nor trivial. But it is incomplete. Even when adaptation appears to be the only viable option, we should do more than blindly accept – and eagerly adapt to – change. We should seek to understand why the change has been forced on us, how we might exert greater control over our lives in the future, whether the goals we are chasing are the correct ones, and what it would take to escape the kinds of mazes in which we are always subject to the design of others. In other words, effective adaptation is not enough for success or happiness.

Then there are the ways in which the message of WMMC is not simply incomplete, but dangerous. Perhaps we should think twice before telling others that they would be wise to immediately embrace their limitations. Perhaps we should not suggest to would-be innovators, problem solvers, entrepreneurs, and leaders that instead of wasting their time wondering why things are the way they are, they should simply accept their world as given. Perhaps we should stop telling people that they are simply mice, chasing cheese, in someone else’s maze. I know those are not the messages WMMC set out to promote, but to many readers, they are powerfully conveyed.

I Moved Your Cheese aims to help readers question their assumptions about what limitations they really face and to encourage them to take the steps necessary to change not only their behavior but also their circumstances. In the face of longstanding precedent, strong social norms, resource scarcity, and the powerful expectations of others, individuals may underestimate their ability to control their own destiny, to reshape their environment, and to overcome the constraints they face. Success in areas such as career development, innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity, problem solving, and business growth – and also personal growth – often depends on exactly that: the ability to challenge assumptions, reshape the environment, and play by a different set of rules … your own.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher. From I Moved Your Cheese, copyright © 2011 by Deepak Malhotra, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc., San Francisco, Calif. All rights reserved. bkconnection.com

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.