Gail Riegelmayer is a close friend and a business coach. She wrote the following metaphor that seeks to explain why we sometimes institutionalize dumb policies and procedures. I hope you read along and enjoy this piece as much as I did.
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, and all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon the 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 friend, is how a company policy begins.
Note: This is not an actual experiment but rather, it is a metaphor for what happens in
business, families and other groups when policies or procedures are not questioned.
What’s important to remember is that some things outlive their relevance, so it’s okay
to ask “Why?”
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