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Who Moved My Cheese?

Who Moved My Cheese?, Video, 1999, Spencer Johnson Partners, $495.

Support: discussion guide.

Who Moved My Cheese? is well established as a bestselling training video. It clearly has an appeal to a broad audience in workplaces. When I wrote the original TMR review in 1999, I didn't think the video would have the staying power it has shown.

Now, eight years later, I understand that nothing a critic of the video has to say about it will affect its success. Still, I think it's worth going over some of the issues Cheese poses.

Based on a bestselling self-help book, Who Moved My Cheese? uses a semi-corny (we're trying hard not to say "cheesy") allegory involving two mice named Sniff and Scurry and two "Littlepeople" with the cute names Hem and Haw.

When the book is described with adjectives such as "inspiring" and "motivational," I automatically put up my guard, if only because I have never considered mice to be, in any shape or form, inspirational.

At 13 minutes, the video is at least too brief to allow its potential over-the-top cuteness to wear thin. The producer has made sure the animation is fun and low key. The characters and their story are offered matter of factly, with a certain dryness that lets us know that we're all in on the same joke. Yes, you could just state the key points baldly and amplify them, but it can be more fun to run around them a bit, poking fun at ourselves in the process. This is a story in which mice outsmart the humans.

On the other hand, some audiences may feel the video is condescending. I admit I belong in that audience. I would prefer an explicit exploration of the topic, not an allegory involving mice. I am all for a sense of humor, but I appreciate an adult sense of humor.

By the way, there's only one identifiable gender in this video, and it's male. I am not a gender balance fanatic, but this production could do better-even though one voiceover narrator is male and the other is female. Mark V. Schwier of DHS Training & Development observed on the TRDEV listserv that the loser appears to be older, encouraging the stereotype the old people don't like change.

At the end, the official take-aways are quickly reviewed. Change happens--the cheese keeps getting moved, and there's nothing we can do about it. So you had better anticipate change and be prepared to enjoy it. You also need to be ready to change quickly.

Also, when you move beyond fear (of change), you feel free. These basics are extended to include metaphorical statements such as, Smell the cheese often so you know when it's getting old and thus likely to vanish.

The video says the cheese and the maze in which the animated characters play out the story can represent anything in our personal or work lives. The obvious application, though, and the primary purpose of the training video, is to educate employees that change is certain. It's not a matter of if but when.

In terms of what's actually in the video, there's not a lot to quarrel with. Partly because there's not enough content to start a quarrel. The video is a light repackaging of familiar ideas about change, although the emphasis on avoiding the victim's role is unusual (and worthwhile).

What's bothersome is not so much what is said but what isn't said.

When I watched the video (several times), I wondered about this irresistible force called change. Allegories are blunt instruments; they aren't made for nuance or subtlety. But there are many types of change in the workplace, and the differences make a difference. For instance, change imposed top-down is one thing, and collaborative change is quite another. Is stupid, counterproductive change to be meekly accepted? Is there such a thing as principled resistance to change?

The implied message of the video is that if the cheese is being moved, you move with it. I'm reasonably sure that this is not the message many organizations want to send to their employees.


The effectiveness of Who Moved My Cheese? will depend on several ifs. This program will work

* if your target audience will accept an animated short feature

* if your target audience needs a simple message

* if you're prepared to set certain boundaries on the message

In my mind the video is more trouble than it's worth. But a lot of people disagree.

Review by Bill Ellet
Product Ratings

Who Moved My Cheese?

Overall rating **
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Title Annotation:video
Author:Ellet, Bill
Publication:Training Media Review
Article Type:Video recording review
Date:May 1, 2007
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