This Bear fan once winced at the “Cheese-head” moniker. But the Bears are in first, and I've read Who Moved My Cheese.

My reaction was surprisingly favorable, perhaps because its author, Spencer Johnson, MD, is a physician. So I thought some of its lessons might be applicable and interesting. For those who haven't read the book, the tale of how three personality types respond to change in an allegorical maze with cheese in various stations begins in Cheese Station C, which has sustained four occupants for a long time. Suddenly (or perhaps not so suddenly), the cheese runs out.

The two role models detect change early and explore new ways to achieve their goals. The CME analogy may be online vs. terrestrial meetings. Cheese's protagonist initially resists, but later embraces, change, while the antagonist fights it to the bitter end and even beyond, risking destruction.

The dramatic device to impart the principles of embracing change is the protagonist's charitable use of “handwriting on the wall” messages, like breadcrumbs in the forest, to mark the trail for his recalcitrant friend, should he ever decide to brave the maze in search of new cheese.

One of the points of the parable is that fear blinds us to such obvious graffiti. Here, so you can't miss it, is the handwriting on the wall and how it applies to marketing medical meetings.

  • Seduced by the Same Old Cheese
    Don't let a success seduce you into blissfully ignoring your environment, competition, and market. Denying reality won't change it. Response rates to your mailings down? Confront the situation — change it or find new cheese. If what you're doing isn't working, programmatically or promotionally, try something else. Better yet, try something different before the status quo obeys the law of diminishing returns.
  • Smell the Cheese
    Change comes in small increments until it reaches a tipping point (but that's another book), then critical mass precipitates massive transition. The cheese didn't disappear overnight — there were signs. Note and prepare. In CME, online learning may be a good example. It's small now — but may get big fast.
  • Don't Fear Change
    Ask yourself, what would you do if you weren't afraid? Don't fear starting over — believe you can surpass past success. Overcome your fear. Try new things. Use visualization, an oft-used technique in sports. (I must try it in my golf game!)
  • New Cheese Now
    When you're in the proverbial “mature” market, hard work doesn't yield high ROI. In a growth market, half as much effort yields twice the results. Surf the waves of assessed needs instead of trying to breathe more life into yesterday's decrepit stalwart course.
  • Organize Cheese Tastings
    Test new promotional techniques and programs in good times and bad. When the tried and true wear out, you'll have confidence to “find new cheese” based on past successful tests conducted in times of plenty. Test contingency plans constantly. Think about the unthinkable. Analyze past patterns as prologue to predict future changes.


The proliferation of handwriting might merit a human-sized maze, but then we'd be dealing with two very big mice! Seriously, the wealth of good advice in Who Moved My Cheese can be taken in in minutes, yet it provokes hours of thought and may help you become the quick-change artist you need to be.




Terry Nugent has 25 years' experience marketing medical meetings. Since 1989, he has been director of marketing for Medical Marketing Service Inc., an American Medical Association database licensee. Before that, he directed AMA's membership development efforts. Send him your questions or topic ideas at T-Nugent@mmslists.com.