Who Moved My Cheese?

Spencer Johnson

Book cover

Assigned for class. The message of this book is basically that change is inevitable, and the best way to deal with it is to roll with the punches without letting your emotional responses get in the way. In a certain sense I see this as reasonable advice, a kind of “Stoicism for Dummies.” In another way, though, I see this book as dangerous, or at least as an instantiation of a dangerous trend. Becoming a “management bible,” it acted as part of the neoliberal push to make “precarity” the new norm for working conditions. The conditions of the allegorical story in this book are telling. First, the characters live in a maze, an environment that is Kafkaesque in its complete lack of intelligibility. They must, every day, search for cheese, which is arbitrarily placed and removed by forces unknown, while fearing certain unspecified dangers. The concept of “justice” in such a world is obviously meaningless. The arbitrariness of their existence seems to me like an unintentionally apt characterization of the world of alienated labor. Second, the characters in the story who behave “better” (in the authors’ view) are two mice. When the cheese is moved, they don’t “waste time” wondering why or feeling upset–they simply scurry off into the maze to look for more cheese. Again, this seems like an unintentional parody of the bond’s-eye view of the ideal labor force–unhindered by emotion and completely controllable through well-placed incentives. If only our workers were more mouse-like!

Although the title of the book is “Who Moved My Cheese?”, the story makes it implicitly clear that that is a question that we must never ask.

My Goodreads rating: 2 stars