Monkey Business: It’s Just How It’s Done


Amazing as it may sound, not every organizational policy or rule makes sense.  I know, shocking!

So, how do you respond?  On the surface, the policy doesn’t seem to make sense, but maybe you don’t understand it.  So, you begin poking around, talking with others.  Yet, no one else knows why that policy exists, and everyone is similarly in agreement as to its pointlessness.  And still, the policy’s there, sure as day…there’s no going around it, right?

A while ago, in some of my reading, I ran across the following story about when this happens….(Note: It’s not my story, but honestly, I can’t figure out the original source.):

Start with 5 monkeys locked in a cage.

Hang a banana from the roof on a string and place a set of stairs under it.

Before long the monkeys will go to the stairs and start to climb toward the banana.

As soon as the first monkey touches the stairs, hose the other monkeys with cold water.

After a while another monkey makes an attempt with the same result. All the other 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 goes 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.

120916-rhesus-monkeysAfter 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 company policy begins.

One thought on “Monkey Business: It’s Just How It’s Done

  1. I have always like that story Trevor. My boss tells a similar one about a Christmas has. I think at one time there was a reason for the policy, but now there is not. We have come across issues like this in our medical practice policies were set because of the times and way things were done and now with advanced technology these policies are obsolete. Have a great Wednesday 🙂

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