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|BOOK FROM MY SHELF
|Year : 2019 | Volume
| Issue : 6 | Page : 1575-1576
“Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson
Department of Neurosurgery, Devadoss Hospital, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India
|Date of Web Publication||20-Dec-2019|
Department of Neurosurgery, Devadoss Hospital, Madurai, Tamil Nadu
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|How to cite this article:|
Muthukumar N. “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson. Neurol India 2019;67:1575-6
Author : Spencer Johnson
Edition : 1998
Publisher : GP Putnam's Sons
It is not often that one is asked to write a review for a book published 21 years ago. I was surprised when such a request came from the Editor. However, having read this book more than a decade and a half earlier, I took this opportunity to reread it. Interestingly, the passage of time provides one with knowledge and experience to view the same book in a different context than what was perceived during the first reading several years ago.
This book “Who moved my Cheese?” written by Dr. Spencer Johnson, M.D., was an international bestseller for a long time. Intriguingly, Dr. Johnson was a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. However, his writings have become more famous among business circles than in the medical world even though much of what Dr. Johnson had written in this wonderful book is very apt to the medical profession; especially in the ever-changing field of neurosciences. A brief summary of the story is given below followed by some of the lessons learnt from this book by this reviewer. Wiser members of our fraternity might find more meaning in this book than this reviewer.
Dr. Spencer Johnson uses a parable to convey his message. In this parable he uses four characters, two mice – scum and scurry- and two little people – Hem and Haw. Cheese is used as a metaphor for what we want in life, viz, professional excellence, wealth, spiritual attainment, peace, and so on. Herein, I will summarize the parable and then discuss the message conveyed through this parable. In summary, this story consists of two mice (sniff and scurry) and two little people (Hem and Haw) who live in a maze. One day they find a large cheese station. From then on, every day, the two mice and the two little people go to the cheese station and eat to their heart's content. Suddenly, the cheese disappears one day, the cheese disappears. As soon as they find that the cheese has disappeared, the two mice; the two mice quickly realize what has happened and go searching for new cheese. However, the two little people, Hem and Haw, are aghast that “their” cheese has been moved and feel betrayed. Every day they go back to the same cheese station hoping to find the cheese again, only to find the station empty. This makes them angry and frustrated. However, after some time, Haw realizes that the only way to find new cheese is to go into different parts of the maze and find some. Hem disagrees and chooses to avoid venturing into the unknown, believing himself to be entitled to his cheese. The story revolves around the experience of Haw in finding new cheese.
Lesson # 1: Sometimes things change and they are never the same again. This parable makes us realize that if we do not change, we might become irrelevant. This is in line with the Darwinian concept of adaptability which states that “ it is not the strongest or the most intelligent of the species that survives but the one that is most adaptable to change”. As Haw realizes during his quest for new cheese, “it is natural for change to continually occur, whether you expect it or not”. The change would surprise you only if you were not expecting it. In his best-selling book, 21 lessons for the 21st century, historian, Yuval Noah Harari tells us that how until the 20th century, life consisted of two parts: (1) a period of learning, and (2) a period of working. During the second period, the skills accumulated during the first period were used to create wealth, newer inventions, etc., However, according to Harari, in the 21st century, the rapidly accelerating changes coupled with longer lifespans will make this traditional model obsolete. This change is likely to involve immense levels of stress as after a certain age, people do not like to change. However, to stay relevant both socially and economically, one will need to reinvent oneself continuously. Unfortunately, such resilience cannot be learned by reading a book or by listening to a lecture. Every individual should undergo this unique experience by themselves.
Lesson # 2: Resistance to change is often due to fear of the unknown. In this parable, Haw is fearful before he ventures into the maze to find new cheese. After finding new cheese, he realizes that sometimes fear can be good. When we are afraid that things are going to get worse if we don't do something, it can prompt us into action. However, too much fear can paralyze us and prevent us from venturing into the unknown. As Haw realizes during his quest for new cheese, many new paths often end in blind alleys and this worsens his fear. He asks himself “What would I do if I was not afraid?”. Soon he realizes that he had been held captive by his fear and moving in a new direction had freed him from his fear. He also realizes that some fear should be respected as it keeps us out of real danger. What does this concept of “letting go of the fear” mean for neurosurgeons? As many experienced surgeons have no doubt realized during their careers, ”our greatest limitations as surgeons are NOT in our hands but in our minds”. Changing our mindset and beliefs will lead to a change in our actions which, in turn, will result in a different, and possibly more productive outcome.
Lesson # 3: Professional biases hinder progress. When Hem and Haw find their cheese missing, they are frustrated because they feel they are entitled to the cheese and someone has unfairly moved them. This stems from both complacency and bias. Professionals, including, medical professionals, are not immune to biases. In their book “The Future of the Professions”, Richard and Daniel Susskind  refer to three kinds of biases that are common among professionals. The first one is “status-quo bias” where there is a preference for continuing to do things as they are done today. A professional will claim that a new technique or technology cannot solve problem x or y which may be extreme examples of a problem, in particular, not applicable to the whole. The second bias is known as “irrational rejectionism” where a professional or group of professionals irrationally reject a concept or system without any personal experience of the same. The third bias is known as “technological myopia” where there is a tendency to underestimate or sometimes overestimate the potential of new and emerging technologies.
Lesson # 4: Is change always good? While the fans of the book extol the virtues of this parable, the critics complain (rightly so) that all changes need not necessarily be good, and one need not mindlessly conform to unnecessary changes imposed by others. Even though Spencer Johnson does not imply that all changes are good, it is ultimately left to the interpretation and wisdom of the reader. The message of the book can be summarized as follows “Change is inevitable–anticipate and adapt to change”.
| » References|| |
Harari YN. 21 Lessons for the 21st
Century. UK: Penguin Random House; 2018.
Susskind R, Susskind D. The Future of the Professions. Oxford University Press; 2017.