I heard a story recently about someone who endured a cross-country corporate trip which resulted in her being notified she had been laid off. What a miserable trip home, right? Yet downsizing is a reality and many of us are facing the fears and anxiety of losing our jobs in this economy. “Who Moved My Cheese?” reminds us to stay alert during these changing times, and to accept and treat change as the norm, not as a big surprise.
From the business traveler’s perspective, time in the air is a great time to close your eyes and think about your position. In reality, you aren’t on that plane or train because you love being hurtled through the air or across the earth at great speeds. You can go skiing or sailing for that feeling, and have more fun doing so. Presumably, you enjoy your work and make a decent living. But what if it goes away?
In a nutshell, “Who Moved My Cheese?” is all about the comfort level we reach when there is an adequate supply of, well, whatever makes you happy or keeps you safe and fed. For most of us, that equates to a steady job and income, i.e., the “cheese”. If you are beginning to question the viability of your future, you might be sensing the entry into what Dr. Johnson calls a “cheeseless situation”. The message? Don’t ignore it.
Let’s face it, there's no reason to don the road warrior garb and spend time away from your family and friends if the “cheese” you are earning and experiencing is starting to diminish or stink, as Dr. Johnson so potently describes in his book. Renew your outlook by first asking yourself, which cheese-loving character are you? “Sniff", "Scurry", "Hem", or "Haw”?.
In the book, when the cheese disappears from the cheese station where “Sniff", "Scurry", "Hem", and "Haw” had been going everyday for their source of nourishment, "Sniff” and “Scurry” had no problem jumping back into the maze and searching for a new source. They kept their resources close at hand even when they were satisfied on a daily basis with their cheese, regardless of how steady the cheese-source seemed. That way, when the cheese disappeared, they were ready to jump back into action in search of more and better.
With this cute analogy Dr. Johnson reminds us that when it comes to business, allow yourself to be happy and fulfilled, but never get too comfortable, especially in these changing times. Be ready to adapt and take risks when you sense change coming. Business is business. As many perks as we get from traveling, business travelers technically should be the most adaptable to change. We face daily tests of flexibility via travel woes that can equal BIG problems, such as missing a major family event due to travel delays.
When change is upon us, we know it. Whether we want to admit it or not, we can sense it coming. That’s what the “Haw” character recognized, but he did not act as quickly as “Sniff” or “Scurry”. Dr. Johnson tells us “Noticing small changes early helps you adapt to the bigger changes.” It took “Haw” a while to realize it, but once his cheese disappeared, it was pointless to remain angered and fearful of getting back into the maze to look for more. In fact, once past his fear, the idea of getting back into the maze became exciting.
“Hem” on the other hand, chose to remain frightened of the maze and opted to sit around where his cheese used to be, blaming whoever moved it. He had developed a sense of entitlement to what he thought was "his cheese". But as Dr. Johnson says in the book, “It is safer to search in the maze than to remain in a cheeseless situation.” The moral of the story: Don't Hem. Try not to Haw. Always Sniff, and be ready to Scurry when the cheese changes.
So again, if your mind wanders on your return home and you sense something is not quite right with your employment, don't ignore it. Were the clients fewer than usual this trip? Was there anything different about your trip that might make you think your business will be another victim of this economy? Have you felt for a while that something just isn't right? I highly recommend this book as a quick read on your travels to keep your head in the game, or to start playing a new one.
All quotes contained in this article are from “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, M.D (Penguin 1998, 2001).
Hard copy and audio versions of Dr. Johnson's book “Who Moved My Cheese?” can be purchased by clicking on the links below.