Friday, August 29, 2008

COMMENTARY >> How two mice taught me to adapt to change

By Lt. Col. John Vaughn
314th Operational Support Squadron
director of operations

A few years ago, a small book titled “Who Moved My Cheese?” made its way through the business community. It’s a rather simple book…easy to read, fairly short and even humorous at times. But for all its simplicity, that book has had a more meaningful and lasting impact on the way I deal with change than anything else in my life.

The book centers around four main characters: Sniff and Scurry, two mice, and Hem and Haw, two little people “the size of mice.” Each day, our characters must put on their running shoes and travel through a maze in order to find cheese. This cheese not only feeds them but also serves as their personal measure of success. The mice, having simple brains, always keep their running shoes ready, because they never know when they’ll need to put them on again and search for new cheese. But Hem and Haw, as people often do, grow complacent and take the cheese for granted. Eventually, they lose track of their running shoes altogether.

As the title would suggest, one day someone moves the cheese. Ever-prepared Sniff and Scurry sniff around a little bit and decide the cheese has moved. They quickly put on their running shoes and head back into the maze to find new cheese.
Unfortunately, Hem and Haw do not deal with the change so well. Their response, typical of all our responses when dealing with change, runs the gamut from fear and anger to frustration and worry. I’ll let you read the book for yourself to see how the story ends…but the ending does involve some new cheese.

What made this book so meaningful to me was that I saw myself in it. I saw my resistance to change in the way Hem and Haw dealt with their lack of cheese. Change is inevitable for all of us. We must learn to deal with it constructively, or risk getting left behind.

The Air Force has certainly gone through its fair share of change over the last few years: more deployments, fewer people, more with less, unmanned aircraft, Airman Battle Uniforms, another new service dress, combining Air Force enlisted career fields, 365-day TDYs, the potential obsolescence of manned fighter aircraft, Cyber Command, Africa Command, permanent change of station budget shortfalls, selective early retirement boards, reduction-in-force, voluntary separation pay and our very own 19th Airlift Wing.

Yet with all these changes, Air Force men and women get up each day and “search for new cheese.” We look for the opportunities in the changes because we have to. Our nation depends on us. Our nation depends on you. Let me take this opportunity to offer you a simple, but very heartfelt, “thanks.” You don’t hear it enough, and you need to know that your leadership is grateful for your service.

Whether you stay in the military or leave for “greener pastures” elsewhere, I can assure you change will always be a part of your life. You must learn to deal with it or risk getting left behind. With that, I’ll offer this final piece of advice: keep your running shoes ready.


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