At the core of this book is a parable about change. For those who are visual learners, the below video animates the parable;
Within this story, cheese is used as a cover all for our goals; whether that be money, your version of a comfortable life, success in your field etc. No-ones goals are identical but everyone has something they are aiming for. The maze is used to represent the paths we must all take when navigating through life.
Each of the four characters, all looking for their “cheese”, have different approaches initially however, whether they use a trial and error approach, or a complex analytical approach, each of the characters enters the maze and puts in hard work and long hours to find their initial success.
The differences really show on finding, and then losing, their “cheese” and this is where the moral of the story comes in. Two of the characters remain adaptable and ready for change; they constantly analyse their situation so when it does change they are prepared and move on quickly, this leads to them finding new “cheese” and success much quicker.
The remaining two characters are resistant to the change; they are surprised by it and do not understand it. It takes a significant amount of time but where one character never learns or changes and is left behind, one of these characters eventually overcomes their apprehension and it is through their embracing of the change that we learn the lessons that this story illustrates, quite literally with quotes written on the walls of the maze!
The Writings on the Wall
Having cheese makes you happy
The more important your cheese is to you the more you want to hold on to it
If you do not change, you can become extinct
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old
Movement in a new direction helps you find new cheese
When you stop being afraid, you feel good!
Imagining yourself enjoying your new cheese leads you to it
The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you find new cheese
It is safer to search in the maze than remain in a cheeseless situation
Old beliefs do not lead you to new cheese
When you see that you can find and enjoy new cheese, you change course
Noticing small changes early helps you adapt to the bigger changes that are to come
So what does this teach us in real life?
Change is inevitable
Circumstances and situations will never remain static, therefore if we do remain static we will simply be left behind. Everyone can apply this lesson to their own life, whether it be within employment, relationships or their own belief systems.
What would you do if you were not afraid?
This question really stuck with me when I read the book and played a large part in my going freelance!
If you were not afraid of the worst scenario, would you take a risk? If the answer is yes, how bad is that worst case scenario? Should it be holding you back?
Humans are all capable, and more often notorious, for overthinking decisions and second guessing our gut instincts! Perhaps if we were not afraid we would take more chances and find more success.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.**
One conversation within the parable really stuck out to me
“But what if there is no cheese out there? Or even if there is, what if you don’t find it?”
“Where am I more likely to find cheese – here or in the maze?
You can continue within a situation that no longer brings you success and hope that doing the same thing brings the old success, or you can try something new and look for new success.
Who do you relate to in the story?
A great exercise if you are implementing change within an organisation is to ask each person to identify with a character. If they can see themselves in a character they will be better able to overcome any weaknesses in their approach to change or the organisation will be able to better harness their approach!
Those that relate to “Sniff” in the story are great for seeking changes in the marketplace and ensuring a company stays up to date
Those that relate to “Scurry” are best harnessed by allowing them to seek out new opportunities, encouraged to take actions based on the work of the ‘Sniffs’
“Haws” need greater guidance but if encouraged to embrace the change they become the biggest advocates for it
“Hems” unfortunately are often left behind; it’s important that businesses are not held back by those who cannot embrace change
If you are implementing change within an organisation, it’s important that you paint a realistic picture of this “new cheese” to your employees.
If they cannot envision how life might be better, they will resist the change and make the implementation much harder!
Using a parable like this can make these discussions easier as it gives everyone a common language; instead of focusing on more sales/money which might not be the goal for all, being able to discuss “cheese” as a cover all for any kind of success, allows people to focus on the bigger picture instead of the minutiae of their own goals.
**did you know that this quote has been miss-attributed to Einstein? Apparently he never said it