Why Learning Designers Should Empathise with Mice

Louise Cox Uncategorised

learning designer, where's my cheese, e-learning, kiln, kiln e-learning, nottingham e-learningOh – There’s my Cheese!

When I started my career as a project and operational manager for an e-learning company, I was given a book called “Who moved my cheese?” by Dr Spencer Johnson. I was told to read it as it had some good messages about management in it… I really enjoyed it, and applied some of what I learnt from it to my career.


20 years later I’ve picked it up again, (well downloaded it onto my Kindle – how times have changed!) and I read it again. It’s amazing how the focus of the book changes depending on where you are in life and work!


The book revolves around two mice and two small people who apply different skills to complete the same task. When reading it again, I started to look which character best represented me.


  • Sniff the innovator – He responds to changes happening in the environment, using his ability to sense quickly when things are changing. Passionate about creating new things, he wants to take you with him on new adventures.
  • Scurry the Producer – He gets things done, having the ability to run, run, run until the job is completed and works early till late. If obstacles are placed in his way, he will look for away round them.
  • Haw the Unifier – He has an amazing ability to empathise and connect with others (a necessary skill if you are considering a career as a learning designer). Haw is the one who notices that Sniff and Scurry have moved on, but he still continues to be concerned about Hem, so leaves writing on the wall for Hem to follow.
  • Hem the Stabilizer – Hem is the one who gets left behind in the story, as change is a big threat to him. Yet he has the ability to control and keep stability. Not a bad skill to have, as control and a systematic approach are beneficial to any company. You never actually know whether he gets reunited with Haw.

Being a Learning Designer and empathising with mice…

When I first read the book I empathised with Scurry the most. I kept going day and night, and would run with a project until it was done. Today I like to think smarter about how I work, so now I definitely think I identify mostly with Haw, but I’d like to think I have some characteristics of Hem too – good e-learning development needs time management, quality processes and control.

My experiences in the e-learning industry have lead me to where I am today, but it’s not until re-reading this book that I realised how much I have changed and adapted. Being able to empathise with others is a huge part of my job as a learning designer. I’m always asking who the learning is for and what they should take away from it. If I was in their shoes would I truly find value in this learning? Being able to ask questions like these and adapt the learning based on my answers comes with time and experience.
While stories often have a profound effect on us due to emotional content, recent research also shows that our brains are actually hard-wired to seek out a coherent narrative structure in the stories we hear and tell. This structure helps us absorb the information in a story, and connect it with our own experiences in the world. I’ll be discussing more on storytelling in my next blog.

What we can learn

We can learn a lot from the characters of Sniff and Scurry, who don’t over complicate or over think things. Many of us have experienced paralysis by analysis, where we over think something so much we never actually make a decision. Knowing when to stop thinking and actually start doing can be a hard thing for many of us. Sometimes we just have to trust ourselves.

Many people are fearful of change because they don’t believe they have any control over how or when it happens. Since change happens either to the individual or by the individual, in this book Dr Spencer Johnson shows us that what matters most is the attitude we have about change.


If you’ve not read the book, then do.. If you have read the book, then read it again. It’s amazing how the perspective changes, depending where you are in life’s journey.

Now where’s that cheese? Before someone moves it again!



Louise Cox, e-learning, Learning Designer, Kiln, Kiln design, consultancy, teamwork, gomo workshop, kiln design, kiln nottingham, nottingham e-learningAbout the author

Louise Cox is a Project Manager and Learning Designer with over twenty years’ experience. She has worked on award winning learning projects. If you want to speak to Louise personally about an e-learning project then call her on 07973 638014 or email louise@kilndesign.co.uk.