Later That Same Day
When Michael finished telling the story, he looked around the room and saw his former classmates smiling at him.
Several thanked him and said they got a good deal out of the story.
Nathan asked the group, “What would you think of getting together later and maybe discussing it?
Most of them said they would like to talk about it, and so they arranged to meet later for a drink before dinner.
That evening, as they gathered in a hotel lounge, they began to kid each other about finding their “Cheese” and seeing themselves in the maze.
Then Angela asked the group good-naturedly, “So, who were you in the story? Sniff, Scurry, Hem or Haw?”
Carlos answered, “Well, I was thinking about that this afternoon. I clearly remember a time before I had my sporting good business, when I had a rough encounter with change.
“I wasn’t Sniff-I didn’t sniff out the situation and see the change early. And I certainly wasn’t Scurry – I didn’t go into action immediately.
“I was more like Hem, who wanted to stay in familiar territory. The truth is, I didn’t want to deal with the change. The truth is, I didn’t want to deal with the change. I didn’t even want to see it.”
Michael, who felt like no time had passed since he and Carlos were close friends in school, asked, “What are we talking about here, buddy?”
Carlos said, “An unexpected change of jobs.”
Michael laughed. “You were fired?”
“Well let’s just say I didn’t want to go out looking for New Cheese. I thought I had a good reason why change shouldn’t happen to me. So, I was pretty upset at the time.
Some of their former classmates who had been quite in the beginning felt more comfortable now and spoke up, including Frank, who had gone into the military.
“Hem reminds me of a friend of mine,” Frank said. “His department was closing down, but he didn’t want to see it. They kept relocating his people. We all tried to talk to him about the many other opportunities that existed in the company for those who wanted to be flexible, but he didn’t think he had to change. He was the only one who was surprised when his department closed. Now he’s having a hard time adjusting to the change he didn’t think should happen.”
Jessica said, “I didn’t think it should happen to me either, but my ‘Cheese’ has been moved more than once.”
Many in the group laughed, except Nathan.
“Maybe that’s the whole point,” Nathan said. “Change happens to all of us.”
He added, “I wish my family had heard the Cheese story before this. Unfortunately we didn’t want to see the changes coming in our business, and now it’s too late – we’re having to close many of our stores.”
That surprised many in the group, because they thought Nathan was lucky to be in a secure business he could depend on, year after year.
“What happened?” Jessica wanted to know.
“Our chain of small stores suddenly became old fashioned when the mega-store came to town with its huge inventory and low prices. We just couldn’t compete with that.
“I can see now that instead of being like Sniff and Scurry, we were like Hem. We stayed where we were and didn’t change. We tried to ignore what was happening and now we are in trouble. We could have taken a lesson or two from Haw.”
Laura, who had become a successful business-woman, had been listening, but had said very little until now. “I thought about the story this afternoon too,” she said. “I wondered how I could be more like Haw and see what I’m doing wrong; laugh at myself; change and do better.”
She said, “I’m curious. How many here are afraid of change?” No one responded, so she suggested, “How about a show of hands?”
Only one hand went up. “Well, it looks like we’ve got one honest person in our group!” she said. And then continued, “Maybe you’ll like this next question better. How many here think other people are afraid of change? Everyone raised their hands. Then they all started laughing.
“What does that tell us?”
“Denial,” Nathan answered.
Michael admitted, “Sometimes we’re not even aware that we’re afraid. I know I wasn’t. When I first heard the story, I loved the question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
Then Jessica added, “Well, what I got from the story is that change is going to happen-whether I’m afraid of it, or whether I like it, or not.
“I remember years ago when our company was selling sets of encyclopedia books. One person tried to tell us that we should put our whole encyclopedia on a single computer disk and sell it for a fraction of the cost. It would cost us so much less to manufacture and so many more people could afford it. But we all resisted.
“Why did you resist?” Nathan asked.
“Because, we believed then that the backbone of our business was our large sales force, who called on people door-to-door. Keeping our sales force depended on the big commissions they earned from the high price of our product. We had been doing this successfully for a long time and thought it would go on forever.”
“It was your “Cheese,” Nathan said.
“Yes, and we wanted to hang on to it.
“When I think back on what happened to us, I see that it’s not just that they ‘moved the Cheese,’ but that the ‘Cheese’ has a life of its own and eventually runs out.
“Anyway, we didn’t change. But a competitor did and our sales fell badly. We’ve been going through a difficult time. Now, another big technological change is happening in the industry and no one at the company seems to want to deal with it. It doesn’t look good. I think I could be out of a job soon.”
“It’s maze time!” Carlos called out. Everyone laughed, including Jessica.
Carlos turned to Jessica and said, “It’s good that you can laugh at yourself.”
Frank offered, “That’s what I got out of the story. I tend to take myself too seriously. I noticed how Haw changed when he could finally laugh at himself and at what he was doing. No wonder he was called Haw.”
Angela asked, “Do you think that Hem ever changed and found New Cheese?”
Elaine said, “I think he did.”
“I don’t,” Cory said. “Some people never change and they pay a price for it. I see people like Hem in my medical practice. They feel entitled to their ‘Cheese’. They feel like victims when it’s taken away and blame others. They get sicker than people who let go and move on.”
Then Nathan said quietly, as though he was talking to himself, “I guess the question is, ‘What do we need to let go of and what do we need to move on to?”
No one said anything for a while.
“I must admit,” Nathan said, “I saw what was happening in other parts of the country, but I hoped it wouldn’t affect us. I guess it’s a lot better to initiate change while you can than it is to try to react and adjust to it. Maybe we should move our own Cheese.”
“What do you mean? Frank asked.
Nathan answered, “I can’t help but wonder where we would be today if we had sold the real estate under all our old stores and built a great modern store to compete with the best of them.”
Laura said, “Maybe that’s what Haw meant when he wrote on the wall ‘Savor the adventure and move with the Cheese.”
Frank said, “I think some things shouldn’t change. For example, I want to hold on to my basic values. But I realize now that I would be better off if I had moved with the ‘Cheese’ a lot sooner in my life.
“Well, Michael, it was a nice little story,” Richard, the class skeptic, said, “but how did you actually put it into use in your company?”
The group didn’t know it yet, but Richard was experiencing some changes himself. Recently separated from his wife, he was now trying to balance his career with raising his teenagers.
Michael replied, “You know, I thought my job was just to manage the daily problems as they came up when I should have been looking ahead and paying attention to where we were going.
“And boy did I manage those problems-twenty-four hours a day. I wasn’t a lot of fun to be around. I was in a rat race and I couldn’t get out.
“However, after I first heard the story of ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ and saw how Haw changed,” Michael continued, “I realized that my job was to paint a picture of ‘New Cheese’. And to do it so clearly and realistically that I and the other people I worked with could all enjoy changing and succeeding together.”
“That’s interesting,” Angela said. “Because, to me, the most powerful part of the story was when Haw ran past his fear and painted a picture in his mind of finding ‘New Cheese’. Running through the maze became less fearful and more enjoyable. And he eventually got a better deal.”
Richard, who had been frowning during the discussion, said, “My manager’s been telling me our company needs to change. I think what she’s really telling me is that I need to, but I haven’t wanted to hear it. I guess I never really knew what the ‘New Cheese’ and imagining yourself enjoying it. It lightens everything up. It lessens the fear and gets you more interested in making the change happen.
“Maybe I could use this at home,” he added. “My children seem to think that nothing in their lives should ever change. They’re angry. I guess they’re afraid of what the future holds. Maybe I haven’t painted a realistic picture of ‘New Cheese’ for them. Probably because I don’t see it myself.”
The group was quite as several people thought about their own family life.
“Well,” Elaine said, “Most people here are talking about jobs, but as I listened to the story, I thought about my personal life. I think my current relationship is ‘Old Cheese’ that has some pretty serious mold on it.”