Business Communications — 21 June 2012
The recipe for corporate mediocrity

Start with a cage containing five male monkeys.

Then hang a bright yellow banana from the roof of the cage, on a piece of string, with a staircase leading up to it.

In no time one of the monkeys will go to the stairs and start climbing towards the banana. The moment he lays a finger on the bright yellow banana, you spray all the monkeys in ice cold water – including the climbing monkey. After a while another monkey will have a go. Spray them all in ice cold water, as before.

Keep this activity up for several days, until such time as all five of the monkeys have stopped climbing the stairs to reach the banana. Because if one of them so as much as even thinks of climbing the staircase, the other four will attack and drag him back, and prevent him from doing so for fear of being sprayed with ice cold water.

Then remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. Before long the new monkey will try and climb the stairs. To his horror the other four monkeys will attack him as they try to hold him back. He will try again one or two more times. Every time he will be attacked by the other monkeys, and it won’t be long before he too doesn’t climb the staircase.

Next remove another one of the original five monkeys, and replace him with a new one. This new monkey will likewise try and climb the stairs. To his horror the other four monkeys will attack him as they try to hold him back. Likewise, he too will try again one or two more times. And as before, every time he will be attacked by the other monkeys, and it won’t be long before he too doesn’t climb the staircase. He will also be an enthusiastic participant in the punishment of future offending monkeys.

Then repeat this three more times, each time replacing another one of the original five monkeys until all five of the original monkeys in the cage have been replaced with new monkeys.

Then take ten steps backwards, and watch. The banana, you will notice is safe. The staircase, you will notice is untouched. You should also note that no monkey in the cage has ever been sprayed with ice cold water. And yet not one of them as much as even thinks of getting the bright yellow banana.

“Why’s that?” you may ask.

And the answer from one of the five new monkeys in the cage will be, “Because that’s the way it’s always been done around here.”

P.S. This is an actual experiment, and this is exactly what happened.

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(12) Readers Comments

  1. Richard,
    Been there, seen that. Sadly the experiment also works without monkeys.
    It reminded me of the head of an ad agency who had the reputation of not liking ideas he hadn’t seen before.
    Terrific post.
    Johan

  2. David Thorne wants his post back ;)

    • Yeeaaahh – I THOUGHT it sounded familiar. Glad to see you’re all over it, David.

  3. Planet of the apes.

    This totally defines the corporate culture at News Limited in Australia. No wonder the industry is in trouble.

    The revolution will not be digitized.

  4. Scarily the basis of many a business……………………..

  5. Well played indeed … classical conditioning influencing group dynamic at it’s best….

    Great question for the Bannana/Hose holder:.. ” How do my monkeys behave? How do I want my monkeys to behave? How can I get them to behave that way? “How does my behaviour effect my monkeys?”

    Great Question for the monkeys .. Which cage will I be free to get the na-na I need and how do I get there?!

    (It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
    Aristotle Greek critic, philosopher, physicist, & zoologist)

  6. What’s needed is for someone to put a gorilla in that cage.

    Problem solved.

    The lesson being that companies ought to hire more gorillas.

  7. Pingback: 10 ways to avoid corporate mediocrity, Business

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