ASSOCIATES (2005, July, v. 12, no. 1) -

Guest Editorial


Bessie Mayes
Technical Service Senior Advisor/Cartographic Consultant
SPAWAR Systems Center, Pacific

*Who Moved My Cheese? Or, in my case, Who Covered My Rut!*

The story by Dr. Spencer Johnson of Who Moved My Cheese has become very popular among many people in different occupations. I read the small but powerful book in only 45 minutes. However, the experience left me thinking long and hard about my current employer. “What could be on the horizon for me in for my career,” I wondered? I also began thinking about what a future career would be, since that was the major emphasis of the book: What would happen if I were suddenly and unexpectedly removed from my present areas of responsibility?

To give the premise of the book, the story begins with four characters. Their names (Sniff, Scurry, Hem, and Haw) denote how they eventually relate to a crisis that arises from the removal of their Cheese. I will quote a section of the beginning of the book:

One morning they arrived at Cheese Station C and discovered there was no cheese. They were not surprised. Since Sniff and Scurry had noticed the supply of cheese had been getting smaller every day, they were prepared for the inevitable and knew instinctively what to do. They looked at each other, removed the running shoes they had tied together and hung conveniently around their necks, put them on their feet and laced them up. The mice did not overanalyze things. To the mice, the problem and the answer were both simple. The situation at Cheese Station C had changed. So, Sniff and Scurry decided to change. They both looked out into the maze. Then Sniff lifted his nose, sniffed, and nodded to Scurry, who took off running through the maze, while Sniff followed as fast as he could. They were quickly off in search of New Cheese. Later that same day, Hem and Haw arrived at Cheese Station C. They had not been paying attention to the small changes that had been taking place each day, so they took it for granted their Cheese would be there. They were unprepared for what they found. “What! No Cheese?” Hem yelled. He continued yelling, “No Cheese? No Cheese?” as though if he shouted loud enough someone would put it back. “Who moved my Cheese?” he hollered. Finally, he put his hands on his hips, his face turned red, and he screamed at the top of his voice, “It’s not fair!”

Interesting, isn’t it? I suggest that if you find the opportunity to read the entire book, you will find many more nuggets of interest that can be helpful for issues and challenges you may face at any given time in your life or career. I will not give away the ending however. But one lesson is clear from the excerpt; in life, unexpected changes can come upon us. We can be ready and waiting for them as Sniff and Scurry were by being alert to them, or we may find that they can sneak up on us as Hem and Haw found after the Cheese disappeared.

What happened to the Cheese? That was my first question upon reading this passage in the book. I hung on to that question for quite some time as I read further about how Sniff and Scurry launched into a rather arduous adventure in locating another source of Cheese. I felt so sorry for Hem and Haw, who no longer had their Cheese source. Unfortunately, this sentiment of mine pointed to one of the main problems of Hem and Haw: They had become upset that the Cheese was no longer there. Moreover, so was I! In other words, I was in sympathy with the wrong side of this story, the mice that had become immobilized by the event itself.

I plead guilty! In fact, I recognized myself as Hem and Haw. I did not like admitting this at all. I too had been lolled into a similar state of false security. Unfortunately, where my false sense of security played out was my place of employment.

Now, one might jokingly say that being immobilized is a common occurrence for government employees, and they would be wrong of course. But allow me to explain what your federal government employee has been experiencing lately in the form of “reduction in force.”

Have you ever heard of downsizing, layoff notices, or the even more popular chant by Donald Trump: “You’re fired!” This is what the federal government means when it uses the term “reduction in force” or RIF. The good news for most taxpayers is that the federal government is shrinking, and one of the ways chosen to do that is through a RIF. You have probably heard the term “outsourcing” Well, “outsourcing” is another way the federal government is shrinking the workforce.

Through RIFs, the work you performed, or the department you work in, could be eliminated. This could be due to a mandate from Congress such as the recent Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). RIF could also mean that your Echelon leaders deemed that the work you are doing is no longer necessary to the federal government. Thus, your department might have to be reorganized or you might have to be reassigned. Outsourcing can bring about even more changes. You might be offered severance pay, and your job could be taken over by a contractor who might offer you a position with less pay and benefits. You might have to compete with others for a job you capably performed for 20 years or more.

Now, imagine Hem and Haw under those conditions. Or Sniff and Scurry for that matter. Remember earlier when I said that I operate more like Hem and Haw? Luckily, for me, the federal government does not always operate at Scurry speed. We leave that for our pilots in the Navy and Air Force. But, the fact that I will mark my 20th year with the government, which is considered minor for those who have worked for the government over 40 years, is not necessarily a good thing. Especially since I have not updated my resumé in years! For those familiar with the “Cheese” story, Sniff and Scurry kept their sneakers (updated resume) around their necks in anticipation of change.

Our research laboratory dodged the bullet with BRAC this time. I was worried about what would happen to me in my area of responsibility. Our managers had pretty much “realigned” our institution prior to BRAC, so we will gain more employees than lose employees. BRAC came and went rather uneventfully for the majority of us. Nevertheless, I am still a little worried. After reading the book, I have another sense of concern. I realize now just how complacent I have become in my present job. I am certain that over the years, I have gained much more expertise and have a much broader knowledge base than when I first arrived 20 years ago. I wondered what could I offer an employer or private company if they won the contract? What skills do I have that are marketable in today’s working environment? Have you ever asked yourself similar questions?

In conclusion, I leave you with some gems from the book, shown below. I hope they will inspire you to actually read the book. It is a fascinating study of human nature and how we, as agents reluctant to change, react to change. The book frightened me, it scared me, and more to the point, after 20 years of complacency, it made we want to … CHANGE!

Excerpted from book, Who Moved My Cheese:


Change happens;
               they keep moving the cheese.
Anticipate change;
               get ready for the cheese to move.
Monitor change;
               smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old.
Adapt to change quickly;
               the quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.
               move with the cheese.
Enjoy change;
               savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese.

                         THEY KEEP MOVING THE CHEESE!


Johnson, Spencer. Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life. New York : Putnam, c1998. (ISBN 0399144463)

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