An Amazing Way to Deal With Change in Your Work and Life.

Jim Rohn once quipped that ‘the book you don’t read won’t help.’ If you’re going to read one quick, uplifting and unforgettable business or personal development book I recommend ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ by Spencer  Johnson. First published in 1998 this beloved classic, which is only 80 short pages long, has gone on to sell over 28 million copies worldwide. Dr. Johnson was also the author of ‘The Present,’ ‘Yes or No’ and co-author of ‘The One Minute Manager.’ 

The parable features four imaginary characters – two mice called Sniff and Scurry, and two Littlepeople called Hem and Haw – who are all confronted with sudden change when their beloved ‘Cheese’ disappears. 

The two mice respond smartly by sniffing out change early and intuitively scurrying into action. The Littlepeople on the other hand are a tad more complex. Haw learns to adapt quickly and successfully by setting off in search of new ‘Cheese’ whereas Hem struggles to change his thinking and remains stuck. 

‘Cheese’ is a metaphor for anything you want in life be that vibrant health, a loving relationship, a cracking business or simply peace of mind. ‘The Maze’ is a metaphor for whatever challenging or difficult situation is keeping you from finding and savoring your ‘Cheese.’ 

By times, whatever parts of us we choose to use, we all share something in common: a need to find our way in the Maze and succeed in changing times.

The sequence of the parable begins with the four characters enjoying almost infinite abundance in Cheese Station C. To begin with, all four characters were alert and present to the largesse of riches they’d stumbled upon. But by degrees, the Littlepeople became complacent about the existence of such riches and began to take them for granted. They had no idea where the cheese came from, or who put it there. They just assumed it would be the there forever. 

And with this confidence came increased arrogance. In no time at all they became oblivious to their surroundings. 

Not so the mice however. They continued to arrive early each morning and sniffed and scratched and scurried around to see if anything had changed from the day before. One morning they arrived at Cheese Station C and discovered there was no ‘Cheese.’

The mice did not overanalyse things. To the mice, the problem and the answer were both simple. The situation at Cheese Station C had changed inexorably. So, Sniff and Scurry too decided to change. They got out into the Maze in search of new Cheese.

Not so Hem. ‘Who moved my Cheese’ he hollered pathetically! ‘It’s not fair.’  He became enraged with the apparent injustice of it all. Whilst Sniff and Scurry quickly moved on Hem and Haw continued to hem and haw and effectively did nothing.

Belatedly, it occurred to Haw that in order to find new Cheese they needed to go out and search for it in the Maze. 

‘No,’ Hem quickly responded. ‘I like it here. It’s comfortable. It’s what I know. Besides it’s dangerous out there.’ His fear of failure was all consuming and with that his hopes of finding new Cheese also.

The rest of the story concerns Haws adventure or journey in the Maze where from time to time he would scribble on a wall his findings and learnings. Here’s some of ‘The Handwriting on the Wall.’


‘Change Happens. They Keep Moving the Cheese. If You Do Not Change, You Become Extinct.’

‘Anticipate Change. Get Ready for the Cheese to Move.’

‘Monitor Change. Smell the Cheese Often So You Know When It’s Getting Old.’

‘Move with the Cheese. Movement in a New Direction Helps You Find New Cheese.’

‘When You Stop Being Afraid You Feel Good. It is Safer to Search in the Maze, than Remain in a Cheese-Less Situation.’

‘Be Ready to Change Quickly and Enjoy it Again and Again. They Keep Moving the Cheese.’


  • The four characters in the story represent the various parts of ourselves. The power of the parable resides in its ability to provoke us to question what part we are currently playing. The positive news is that irrespective of what role we are currently playing we always have the power of choice. With awareness comes the wisdom that we can choose to either Hem or Haw or Sniff or Scurry.
  • By the same token you are likely to have the same characters in your organisation and team. You want Sniffers to sniff out change in the marketplace and precipitate change. Equally you want Scurriers and Haws who are action oriented, get things done and are doers. Crucially, you need to identify the Hems in your organisation. These will be the people who are either too comfortable or too afraid to change. They are anchors or brakes that will stifle and slow your progress.
  • Cheese represents your goals and desires and passions as an individual or business. Equally Cheese could represent behaviors and habits that need changing. The questions therefore are what are the old, outdated and obsolete goals and habits and behaviors that you need to let go of and what are the new ones that you need to search for. Interestingly Cheese could also refer to relationships that you may either need to move on from or other new ones that would be worth cultivating and developing.
  • The Maze is a metaphor for the challenges and issues and problems you will inevitably experience in business and life. Like it, or like it not, life is a series of problems. You can either choose to be defeated by that mindset or energised by it. What is unquestionable is that your Cheese will be moved and in order to locate new Cheese you need to constantly get into the Maze in search of New Cheese.

                             TRUE GRIT.

                  Are You a Quitter, a Camper or a Climber?


It’s no bigger than a decent sized bedroom, and is situated six miles high towards the heavens. Above the jet stream itself and higher again than most aircraft ever fly lies the summit of Mount Everest. 

Perhaps it’s her proximity to the stars or maybe it’s the enormity of the challenge but few areas on earth ooze the allure and challenge and calling of this rugged outcrop of rock. Because of the severity of conditions here fewer than one out of seven who attempt to summit ever do so. Above 18000 feet, cuts rarely heal, the body constantly deteriorates, and the air is so dry a cough can literally crack a rib. As Paul G. Stoltz says in his wonderful book ‘Adversity Quotient. ‘To climb through such adverse conditions is the ultimate test of a human being.’

On Friday, May 10th, 31 climbers reached the summit. Without warning a ferocious storm assailed the area and within hours 8 people would lose their lives. Amongst them was a postal worker from Washington called Doug Hanson. In his attempts to survive the conditions he elected to lie down and brazen it out. It’s widely known amongst summiteers that it’s dangerous in the extreme to lie down as few ever get up.

Another who lay down unconscious was a pathologist from Texas called Beck Weathers. A rescue team including a cardiologist stumbled upon him but declined to rescue him. It was too dark, the trail too treacherous and Weathers was simply too far gone.

And somehow he revived temporarily and assessed the situation. In an interview with Newsweek he later revealed that ‘I was on my back on the ice. It was colder than anything you can believe. My right glove was gone, my hand looked it was made of molded plastic………. I could see the faces of my wife and children pretty clearly. I figured I had about three or four hours to live, so I started walking.’ And some hours later he stumbled upon his teams tent.

As Stoltz states so powerfully in his book. ‘Weathers had every reason to give up. He had taken on the mountain and lost. He lacked supplies, his team, shelter, and any probability of survival. But confronted with his end, Weathers somehow triggered the inner resolve to take on a mountain bigger than he’d ever climbed before. Frozen, exhausted, alone, and barely alive. Weathers would have to somehow stand, move, and navigate the treacherous journey back to Base Camp, a speck in a wilderness of white.’


Life resembles mountain climbing greatly. Fulfillment is achieved by relentless dedication to the ascent, sometimes slow, painful step, by slow, painful step. Success can be defined as the degree to which one moves forward and upward, progressing in Ione lifelong mission, despite all obstacles or other forms of adversity.

Stoltz argues that you’ll encounter three types of people on the mountain of life. Quitters. Campers. Climbers. Wonder what you are?


Quitters abandon the climb. They resolutely refuse the opportunity the  mountain presents. They ignore, mask or desert their core human drive to ‘Ascend’ and with it much of what life offers. Quitters, by definition, lead compromise lives. They have abandoned their dreams and they have opted for what they perceive as a flatter, easier path. The irony, of course, is that as life unfolds the Quitter suffers far greater pain than than that which they attempted to avoid by not climbing. 

Frequently, Quitters tend to be bitter, depressed cynical and emotionally numb.  


Campers on the other hand are that cohort who actually begin the ascent but, becoming weary, they relinquish their dreams and settle for a smooth, comfortable plateau on which they can hide away from adversity. And there, they resort to sitting out their remaining years of unfulfilled mediocrity.

Similar to Quitters, Campers lead compromised lives. They create ‘comfortable prisons’ – places too cushy to risk leaving. Corporate life is awash with Campers. Stoltz describes them as having ‘decent jobs with good pay and benefits. However, their days of excitement, learning, growth, and creative energy are long gone. Campers are ‘satis-ficers.’ They are satisfied with sufficing rather than thriving. As a result, Campers become strongly motivated by comfort and fear. They fear losing ground, and they seek the comfort of their cozy little campground.’ 

And unfortunately when one camps in the same space for too long atrophy sets in. Campers begin to lose their edge, get slower and weaker, showing progressive decreases in performance. 


Climbers are those who progressively continue to ascend irrespective of circumstances or adversity. Of the three types of people Climbers are the only ones who live life fully. They experience a deep sense of pride and passion and purpose in what they do. Like Beck Weathers they are persistent, tenacious and resilient. They value the journey in equal measure to the destination.

Occasionally you can find them hanging out with Campers. They too get fearful and doubtful and lonely. The difference is that the Climber is there to rejuvenate, refuel, reenergise for the Climb ahead, whilst the Camper is there to stay.  To Climbers, the campsite is a base camp. To Campers, it’s home.


It’s not just in the corporate world that Quitters, Campers and Climbers co-exist. Relationships are at the core of who we are and what we become and determine more than any other factor the quality of our lives. 

In Conamara it’s said that ‘aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile’- ‘one beetle recognizes another beetle’ or as is less eloquently said in the English vernacular ‘birds of a feather flock together.’ This underpins massively the identity, ambition and energy of the people we associate with. And remember what Jim Rohn said! ‘You are the average of the five people you are surrounded by most of the time.’ The notion of Quitters, Campers and Climbers explains so perfectly the nature of the people we most associate with.

As Mr. Stoltz points out. ‘Quitters are not necessarily lonely people, for they have little difficulty finding others who are more than happy to share wasted time or commiserate about the climb that might have been. Together they nurture their helplessness or build deep cynicism about ‘the system’ and the world that is passing them by.’

‘Quitters also tend to shy away from the deep challenges of true commitments. Their lives may be filled with acquaintances, with few if any genuine friendships, except those built around a shared resentment of the mountain and all it represents. 

‘In an effort to be satisfied, Campers sacrifice their individual potential, even in relationships. They tend to seek and successfully interact with other Camping buddies. They may have ventured into commitments that resulted in unbearable pain. Because of their scars and accumulated wisdom, Campers learn to pick satisfaction at the price of fulfillment. Their marriages are likely to reflect the years of playing it safe, offering little room for the discomfort and risk of growing the relationship into increasingly new and more enriching dimensions. They will go only so far, and in so doing, lose a lot.

‘Climbers, on the other hand, are not afraid to explore the boundless frontier of potential that exists between two people. They welcome meaningful commitments with potential climbing partners. They recognise the power and rewards of a true marriage of souls. Climbers understand and embrace the raw risk that ultimate vulnerability represents. As a result, Climbers may experience the lowest of lows that comes with the ending of a relationship in which both parties have deeply invested. However, they may also enjoy the highest of highs of the unbridled ecstasy and deep fulfillment that accompany the highest forms of love.


‘Quitters lack faith and vision in the future. As a result, they see little reason to invest the time, money and heartache required to improve themselves. Quitters therefore deliver little; they make minimal contributions. 

‘Take note: Quitters are not always found in the bowels of society, buying cheap bottles of booze. They can be found in most walks of life – in our schools, organisations, families and in our streets.

‘Campers do not breath the rarified air of ultimate achievement and contribution. Whilst they probably have racked up some significant accomplishments and recognition – plaques, awards, and maybe even the gold watch – Campers, by definition, do not reach their full potential. The same can be said for their contributions. Campers stop short in their learning, growing, and achieving. 

‘Of the three types of people identified, Climbers contribute the most. Climbers will take the risks, withstand the challenges, overcome the fear, maintain their vision, take the lead, and tough it out until the job is finished. 


Years ago it was argued that if you had a low IQ, or Intellectual Quotient, your future prospects were irretrievably doomed. As a student in 2C in Roscrea I can recall vividly the Mother of one of my friends hysterically beseeching the Dean of Studies as to ‘whatever is going to happen my poor son and him in the C class and he having such a low IQ?’ 

Fr. Emmanuel Curtis O. Cist. was revered for his genius, his wisdom but most of all for his cryptic Dublin wit. ‘My experience Mrs Murphy is that the fellas in the C class inexorably end up giving the fellas in the A class their jobs.’

The accuracy of his response was only validated in the mid 1980s by Daniel Goldman when he discovered that not all CEOs of America’s leading companies necessarily had high IQ but 97% of them had high EQ or Emotional Quotient. It revealed why many with a high IQ flounder whilst many with modest EQs flourish.

Research conducted by Dr. Paul G. Stoltz however has concluded that even more important than EQ is your AQ or Adversity Quotient. I leave the final words with him.

‘AQ is what separates Climbers from Campers and Quitters. When the going gets tough, Quitters give up and Campers entrench, while Climbers dig in and ascend.’


Pádraic recently gave this speech at the Awards for the IBYE (Business Young Entrepreneur of the Year) organised by the Local Enterprise Office Donegal. He made the point that all those who had the guts to participate in the competition could be regarded as Climbers. And those of them that we will continue to hear about over the next few years will be the ones with high AQ. Congratulations to all on digging in and enjoying climbing the mountain.