Note: before you panic…no, this is not about the CGIAR moving into logistics and dairy products

If you travel through any airport these days and spend time in any bookstore there, you cannot fail to bump into this book by Spencer Johnson. I had seen the book many times before yesterday, but never really stopped to look at it. The title did not appeal to me, it seemed a desperate attempt to attract the attention of casual gazers, but belittling business principles trying to do so. But yesterday I had seven hours to kill in Chennai airport. My overzealous packing meant I had put all my books in the suitcase, so I was looking for something to read. It had to be short, as I have very little ability to concentrate in airports or on airplanes for that matter. So this time, encountering the book for the nth time,  I picked it up together with “a captivating story that teaches as it delights” as Paul Coelho puts it. But back to “Who moved the cheese?”.

It only takes one hour to read its 94 pages (the fonts are large), but an hour well spent if you are seriously thinking about change and doing something about it. After all the readers of the 21 millions copies sold must have found something interesting in this “parable that reveals profound truths” as one of the reviewers puts it.

“Fear of change” is a syndrome that affects us all (at least those who are honest enough to admit it), but as change is an exorable and repetitive event, both in our work and in our personal life, I think we should be
smart enough to learn how to deal with it. I told you before the CGIAR is going through an extensive change .

As the book reads: Change happens <they keep moving the cheese>, Anticipate Change <Get ready for the cheese to move>, Monitor change< smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old> Adapt to change quickly <the quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese> Change <move with the cheese> Enjoy Change! <Savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese!> Be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again & again <they keep moving the cheese>

In the book four imaginary characters take us through a journey to learn to adapt to change.

As I apply the lessons to the CGIAR, I can see all the 4 characters in action: I see the “sniffs” who sniff out
change early, the “scurries” who scurry into action, the “Hems” who deny and resist change, and the “Haws” who learn to adapt in time when they see changing can lead to something better. I am glad to see our organization being led by sniffs and scurries, as a renewed CGIAR is taking shape.

And all of the “Hems” out there may be interested to read what happens to them in the story!
The world is changing, and for us to stay relevant and deliver the state-of-the-art research so badly needed, we need to change!

My personal take home message: adapting to change is good, but being change, where you move the cheese yourself, rather than waiting for “them” to move the cheese sounds like an even better idea!