Stinky "Cheese"


I might have been the last one in the working world to try reading the book “Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life.” My dad gave me a copy a while back and the tiny book sat on my bookshelf, taking up little precious space. It was suggested that we maybe use the book as a “change management” tool.

I couldn't get through more than half of the book before quitting. This is NOT a book I would use during a lean implementation.

The story of the book goes somewhat like this: 2 mice and 2 “little humans” (the book awkwardly calls them something like this to make sure you don't miss the “analogy”) are in a cheese maze and they have a seemingly endless supply of cheese to return to each day. One day, the cheese is gone. The mice run off to find more cheese, being simple creatures (or so the book explains). The humans sit and whine, bitch, and moan about how it's unfair that the cheese is gone and they refuse to go look for more.

That point is belabored for many many pages (taking up little precious time, it's a short, childish book). The clear parallel I saw was that the cheese might represent someone's factory or workplace being closed completely, or at least going through a massive downsizing. The book's advise might be solid in that case — life ain't fair, quit bitching, find a new job.

Is that the message I want coming out during a lean project? Not at all! Especially not during a project where we have promised no layoffs as the result of lean. It seems like the book would only scare people without adding any value.

The book also seems to send a message that if change happens to you, you just have to shut up and deal with it. I can't believe that some people call that “change management.” In our lean efforts, we WANT people to give us input, not to keep their mouths shut. If they don't like a change we are considering or have done, they need to SPEAK UP. We might have made a mistake or maybe we didn't consider something. Shutting up and “dealing with” the change doesn't help. That's not the spirit of kaizen. All change is not “good”. Kaizen means “change for the good.” Some changes might be horrible, stupid decisions. You shouldn't have to “roll with it” no matter what change is thrown at you.

Anyway, my blog post is about to become as long as the book itself. The reviews are pretty polarized. I'm not the only one who viewed the book this way. Many of the reviewers said, basically, if you're given this book by management, you need to hold on or start looking for a new job ASAP.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I’ve had the pleasure of not only the book, but the video too!! If you didn’t like the book I’m sure you would absolutely hate the cartoon video.

    While I agree with most of your comments, especially around not accepting that all change is good, I have found use for the book.

    To me the main message is that the same rewards you are used to (the cheese) cannot be expected to continue indefinitely just by maintaining the status quo. Whether you like it or not, change happens. Change is driven by the market, by competition and from within.

    There is no ‘entitlement’ to the cheese. Just because it is there now doesn’t mean it will be there tomorrow. The book is a reminder that we always need to be watchful, to experiment and try new things and to be on the look out for new opportunities to succeed.

  2. Have you ever read anything by Ken Blanchard?
    I was suckered into reading Gung Ho and Raving Fans, the latter being THE worst book I have read in my life.
    Since then I have avoided most books of this type, until last month, when a someone recommended Andy&Me; not bad at all.

  3. I read it – recognised that the change management process where I was working was not working well and got a new job! Not that I wasn’t thinking of going anyway but perhaps the better thing to have done would have been to been part of the change.

    I do agree. The mice are praised for their unquestioning acceptance. I don’t want brain dead morons working for me. Change is scary and I expect people to react to it.

  4. Would you believe I read this book yesterday, Mark, almost five years after you did?!? I’m definitely behind everyone. I finally picked it up for two reasons: 1) Trying to figure out why people like parables so (I’m still not sure.) and 2) Wanting to know how much of the book revolves around “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” When I heard Admiral Thad Allen speak earlier this year, he said that was the only thing he liked about the book. It’s just a small aspect. I’m still amazed about the book’s popularity.

  5. I liked the book and sometimes, from the point of those upon who change is being imposed, it might help them to just move alon, when possible (I insist on “might” – I’m no psychologist)

    Now, from the other side (that of “changers”), I definitely agree with you: traditional so-called “change management” is more Coercion Management (they share the same initials, which is… practical?)

    Any change where people are not involved since the beginning is dictatorship!


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