It’s been many years since Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson was published and I read it. Back in 1998 it stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 5 years. At the time Max and I used its principles to teach practice management doctrines about embracing change. This month we’re going to take a little trip back in time. This book has never been more relevant than it is today. There is not a week that goes by that I don’t receive a call from a dentist who just can’t understand why their systems, staff, and overall practice direction no longer works. Whether it’s the economy, demographics, competition, or inflexibility, change has been a constant for my last 36years in dentistry. What follows is a synopsis of the book and characters after which we will give it a dental twist for application.
When Change Happens
One of the constant things in life is CHANGE. Each day brings a different set of circumstances and a different experience for each of us. But our daily routine, from the time we wake up until the time we lay down, creates a cycle that leads us to comfort and routine habits. Such comfort creates neglect and negligence in our character that makes us forget that life is constantly changing. Then when realize that change has occurred, we stress out, react, complain, etc.
Even if it’s hard to admit it, in school, at home and in the community we live in, we were taught to believe in following rules and sets of standards. Being curious and creating change is not SOP. Being obedient, doing what we’re told, and what is “right” is the key to success and happiness in life. The attitude of resistance to change is a limiting belief that will create a slow death spiral to your practice. That’s why it is hard for the vast majority of people to handle and accept change.
Upon experiencing change, our initial reaction is to resist it because we are afraid to lose the comfort and normalcy of what we currently have. This is commonly called “the fear of the unknown”.
The Fable of Change
The book Who Moved My Cheese is a fable that teaches an amazing way to deal with change in your personal and professional life.
Below is a short synopsis of the fable:
There were four characters; two mice named “Sniff” and “Scurry,” and two little people named “Hem” and “Haw.” The four characters live in a maze (which represents your practice in your town) and their activity is to look for cheese (which represents your practice profitability, new patients, systems, and staff).
Each morning, Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw wear their most comfortable shoes to run and search the maze to find cheese (there was a time when all of us did whatever it takes to succeed). They search each day until they find Cheese Station “C”. The four were so happy and glad to have found Station “C” which is filled with cheese (sounds like the 90’s when the economy was still building). Hem and Haw, human as they were, become comfortable having found Station “C”. They thought that the Cheese in Station “C” was more than enough to sustain their needs for a lifetime (big mistake — things change). Hem and Haw lazily get up every morning and walk to station “C” without their running shoes on (they start to stop doing what it takes to succeed). On the other hand, the two mice “Sniff” and “Scurry” still eagerly run to Station “C” to search and find their cheese.
Then one morning, as Hem and Haw lazily walk shoeless to station “C”, they arrive and find it empty. Hem and Haw become furious and angry. Unprepared, the humans have counted on the cheese supply to be constant. They rant at the unfairness of the situation and are mad at those who stole their cheese (this is the Mentality of Entitlement I find in many dentists). They wanted justice. They wanted the cheese to come back but they went home hungry (but not hungry enough to change). On the other hand, when Sniff and Scurry found that Station “C” was empty, they are not surprised. They noticed the cheese supply was decreasing. They had mentally prepared beforehand for the tough but foreseeable task of finding new cheese. They easily accepted it and moved on to search for new cheese.
The next day, Hem and Haw still walk to Station “C” hoping to find their cheese. They were still hoping that things were the same as in the past. The cheese was still gone and was not coming back. Haw is beginning to realize that the cheese-less situation is not going away, proposes to search for new cheese. But Hem was dead set in his closed mindset and rejected the proposal. Meanwhile, Sniff and Scurry have found Cheese Station “N”, a new supply of cheese.
Hem and Haw still have no cheese and blame everything but their aversion to change. Wanting to change, Haw once again suggested searching for new cheese, but Hem rejected it again. He didn’t want to change, he was already comfortable with his old cheese and he was afraid of the unknown, the new cheese. He just wants the old cheese to come back and he’ll be happy again. After many days in denial, Hem and Haw remained without cheese.
One day, having discovered his weakening fears, Haw begins to laugh at the situation and stopped taking himself so seriously. Haw realized that he should simply move on and enter the maze to find a new cheese. While walking down the maze in search of new cheese, Haw took time to write on the walls the experiences and lessons he learned in his search for change, and the new cheese. Haw did this to create a guide for his friend, just in case he finally accepts to move on and find new cheese. First he wrote, “If You Do Not Change, You Can Become Extinct”. Still fearful of his new quest, Haw wrote “What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?” In his journey he realized and wrote down “When you move beyond your fear, you feel free.” Then one day, Haw finally found Cheese Station “N” and realized it was better and tastier than Cheese Station “C”. Wanting to remember everything he had learned, he wrote on the largest wall in Cheese Station “N” the following Six (6) Important Lessons on Change:
1. Change Happens. They Keep Moving The Cheese
2. Anticipate Change. Get Ready For The Cheese To Move
3. Monitor Change. Smell the Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old.
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
Are You Like Hem?
Even we don’t admit it, we act like Hem. When change happens in our lives, we get angry, we blame others, and we lose hope and resist change.
1. Change Happens. After 36 years of dentistry, I can attest that change is the only constant. If you think about it, when you’re done with change, you’re done. In life there are no guarantees and sure things. Enjoy the journey because it is not about the destination.
2. Anticipate Change. Are you a thermometer or a thermostat? 95% of dentists I speak with are thermometers because they only measure change. They seldom anticipate or create the environment that would let them be successful. The minority are thermostats because they are constantly adjusting what they do: They control their circumstances.
3. Monitor Change. Over and over Max and I stress running your business by the numbers. It is so disappointing when the doctor can’t give me a current P&L, tell me the number of new patients, or doesn’t know the production and overhead numbers. Without monitoring your conditions you cannot anticipate change and eliminate those blows to your progress.
4. Adapt to Change Quickly. Success goes to the quick, not the plodding. Paralysis through analysis is rampant in our profession. Rarely will everything be perfect before you act. You need to adapt the attitude of “ready, fire, aim”. There is no time like NOW to take an action step to correct or improve your momentum.
5. Change. Act. You can’t just do what you are currently doing and expect to go to the next level. If you want to take it to another level you have to do something different first. You have the habits of whatever size practice you currently have. To take it up a notch, you have to change everything. Failure to grow is failure to meet your patient’s needs. There is no other reason for lack of growth. You have to put on your big girl panties and deal with it. You are not doing the right thing. If you were, you would be growing.
6. Enjoy Change. Because change is a constant, you must embrace it and enjoy it. You cannot expect to go thru life successfully if you don’t enjoy the journey. Change is going to happen. Someone will steal or move your cheese. You have to enthusiastically seek a new way, a better system, to stay on top.
If you’re looking to find a new source of cheese, email me and let me introduce you to a way to consistently be in the right place at the right time, every time. We averaged a 15% growth every year for 33 years. Slowing down, losing market share, and experiencing decreasing profits is not something out of your control. Email me or give me a call and let me show you how.
Michael Abernathy, DDS