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Your old cheese stinks. Look for new cheese.

It only took 17 years, but I finally got around to reading Who Moved My Cheese? the other day.

One of the best-known business books ever written, the 1999 best-seller by Dr. Spencer Johnson is a parable for how to cope with personal and professional change. Right up my alley, in other words.

So what took me so long?

Beats me. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’m not crazy about parables. All I know is that one day recently I told my wife how I had never read this book, and two days later a thought leader gave me a copy of it at a conference in Chicago.

At that point, it seemed obvious that someone wanted me to read it, so I figured, “What the hell?” and gave it a whirl.

And you know what? I should have read it 17 years ago.

For the uninitiated, here’s a quick summary:

Four central figures — two mice and two “Littlepeople” — find cheese in the same spot in a maze each day. They go to this spot each day and enjoy their cheese. One day, the cheese is gone. Confusion abounds. Then, the two mice go off in search of new cheese. The two Littlepeople, meanwhile, stay where they are and hope their old cheese returns. Finally, one of the Littlepeople recognizes the hopelessness of his situation and leaves his colleague in search of new cheese … and learns a few lessons along the way. Among them:

  1. Change happens. Your cheese will keep moving.
  2. Anticipate change. Be ready for your cheese to move.
  3. Monitor change. Smell your cheese often so you know when it is getting old. (I know, this sounds gross … but you get the point.)
  4. Adapt to change quickly. The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.
  5. Change. Move with the cheese.
  6. Enjoy change. Savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese.
  7. Be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again and again … because your cheese will keep moving.

At this point, I’m really ready to stop using the word “cheese” in this post, so allow me to use a different word instead:

“Anticipation.”

Who Moved My Cheese? is an early, insightful version of Dan Burrus’s Anticipatory Organization.

Think about it: It’s all about anticipating what’s about to happen and position our organizations to take advantage of those changes when they arrive. It’s about spotting the hard trends — the things you know are going to happen — and adapting quickly so that you can (a) enjoy the new cheese, and (b) be ready to go hunting again, knowing that your cheese will keep moving.

I like Dan’s version way better than the one about the mice and the cheese, but you get the picture.

Change is the new constant. If you’re counting on doing the same, old, tired stuff you’ve done for years, you’ll lose. Quit clinging to your current competitive advantage. The future belongs to those who are constantly searching for their next competitive advantage.

That old cheese stinks, folks. Keep looking for your new cheese.

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