Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Monkey See, Monkey Do, Human Too

From my e-mail:

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result, all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth.

Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been done around here.

And that, my friends, is how a company policy begins.

It reads like a joke, but it's actually quite true.

I'm in the middle of reading a book by Richard Conniff, called The Ape In The Corner Office -- Understanding The Workplace Beast In All Of Us. It's a wonderfully witty look at the corporate structure, how it got that way, and why it will probably stay that way unless someone gets smart about it.

But that smart someone, in order to change the corporate structure, would have to change it not only from the inside, but from the top. And once one gets to the top of something, what's the motivation for changing the structure that helped one get there in the first place?

I highly recommend the book. Whether you're one of the top managers/owners or one of the entry-level clerks, this book can not only give you an insight on your business-day world, but it can help you survive it with understanding.


Blogger DazzlinDino said...

That's pretty cool dude, relates well to where I work....

Tuesday, April 04, 2006 1:50:00 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

"And once one gets to the top of something, what's the motivation for changing the structure that helped one get there in the first place?"

Ray Anderson of Interface (Interforce?) had himself an epiphany. Not too many monkeys named Ray, I'm guessing.

Really interesting post.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006 7:27:00 PM  
Blogger Balbulican said...

I like that image.

A friend of mine remembered the opening of his father's Chinese restaurant in Sudbury years before. One of his aunts sent a huge jade plant in a vase as her present to mark the occasion. In the bustle of opening day, there was only one free spot to put it - in an open patch of floor just outside the kitchen door.

And for nine years, my friend, and his dad, and everyone else who ever worked in that restaurant, would leave the kitchen carrying plates of food...and dodge around the giant plant. It was nine years before a new waiter, a summer student, tentatively suggested that maybe they could move the plant out of the way.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006 4:32:00 AM  
Blogger Howlin' Hobbit said...

Great story, great post.

But it's not just corporations that think that way, it's gov't bureaucracies too, at all levels. That's what gives me the willies.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006 2:03:00 PM  
Blogger DazzlinDino said...

OK, I just tried it with mu kids, worked with them too. Much better experiment than my last one, the middle kid was scared of the electrodes.....

Wednesday, April 05, 2006 7:46:00 PM  

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