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Go Ahead, Move My Cheese!



So much has already been written about Mid-Career Displacement: Staying-Relevant, Losing-a-Job, Finding-a-Job, Unlearning-Old-Skills, Learning-New-Skills...the list goes on. So for a change, let’s talk about Attitude-and-Response, as well as the importance of Being-Prepared.


As I write this, I’m reminded of the classic business fable: “Who Moved My Cheese?” written 20 years ago in 1998 by Dr Spencer Johnson. In the book, two mice – Sniff and Scurry – and two little people – Hem and Haw – lived in a maze together. While the mice were simple-minded creatures, the little people liked to plan and for everything to be structured and predictable. They all lived off cheese found at Cheese Station C until one day when they discovered that the cheese is no longer there.



Sniff and Scurry quickly moved on – venturing to other parts of the maze and soon found a new source of cheese at Cheese Station N. On the other hand, Hem and Haw, upon discovering that the cheese is gone, were angry and annoyed. They had counted on the cheese supply to be constant and were unprepared for this day.


The story then continues with how Hem and Haw responded differently to the situation. While Hem deliberated, Haw decided that he cannot stay still and soon ventured out into the maze and eventually arrived at Cheese Station N

– learning many lessons along the way. Not forgetting his friend, Haw left a trail for Hem to follow by writing down what he had learnt on walls in the maze. The story has a happy ending with Haw hearing familiar footsteps approaching Cheese Station N one day. Perhaps Hem has also found his way here, finally!


Though simple, this book is profound in its simplicity – and has lessons for many of us as we venture through life.



Face it – the employer-employee relationship is a commercial one. For every dollar the employer pays, the organisation expects no less than a dollar of value. As an employee, it is our job to deliver at least $1.10 of value for every dollar we’re paid. If you’re not doing that – you are at risk.


Someone once told me that anyone who claims to be underpaid is “talking nonsense”. He went on to explain how that is not possible over a period of time. He said this: You can only be underpaid if someone else had offered you a better package (salary, work content, prospects, etc). Then what are you still doing at the current company? If you don’t move, you are silly!


On the other hand, if you’re overpaid, the company will soon find out. So you either take on more responsibility or up your productivity to make up for the pay difference.

If either (or both) of these doesn’t happen – it’ll only be a matter of time before you see the writing on the wall – very different from the helpful messages Haw left for Hem to find his way.


The lesson here: It’s not possible to be underpaid or overpaid for an extended period of time because the employer-employee relationship leans towards equilibrium with a slight bias in the employer’s favour. Therefore, you’ll do well to evaluate your contributions regularly and to check that your cheese (your value) is still there and fresh!




And staying relevant should go beyond just focusing on the work at hand. We live in a world where technology, techniques and desired outcomes are constantly changing. Keeping up is not good enough – do you know what your peers are up to, and what else is happening outside of your domain, company and industry? Are you investing time and effort in continuous learning and upgrading; what about business networking (such as those that SCS organises)? If you’re not actively participating in industry events, getting to know peers in the industry, and even headhunters, then it’s time to change – pronto.


The best stress test however is to ask yourself the tough question: What is your Plan B if something unexpected – like losing your job – happens? Although the natural response would be to find a new job, it is the younger professionals with more general job roles who are likelier to land a new position compared to mature professionals who are much more specialised and usually “more expensive”. So how?


Before that happens, I suggest you do regular checks of your skills inventory and competencies. You’re likely to have gathered lots of good experience (and battle scars!) to be of value to someone, some organisation.


If you can find new employment, congratulations! If you can’t, remember that your cheese has just been moved and there’s new cheese out there...and it’s likely to be different!


See you at Cheese Station N!

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