THE MONKEY STORY
There was this cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage there was a set of stairs leading up to a bunch of bananas hung on a string.
Now the monkeys, when they saw banana’s hanging at arm’s length in front of them, tried to run towards it and grab it. However, whenever the monkeys went up the stairs and tried to grabs the banana, chilling ice-cold water was poured on all the other monkeys in the cage.
This happened every time a monkey ran to grab the bananas. Very soon, the monkeys begin to associate touching the banana with being sprayed with ice-cold water on all of them. Thus whenever any of the monkeys tried to go towards the bananas, the others prevented him from trying to get the banana by pulling him back and beating him up.
After some time when one of the monkeys died, he was replaced in the cage with another monkey, who didn’t know anything about the cold water. This new monkey inevitably tried to get the banana, but the other four monkeys attacked him to stop him from doing so. Tired of getting beaten up, he stopped trying to get towards the banana, without bothering to know the real reason.
Sometime later another of the old monkeys died and was replaced with a newcomer; this newcomer also tried to grab the banana. Again all the monkeys including the previous newcomer also gladly took part in beating him in order to prevent him from climbing the stairs to the banana. Neither the previous new comer knew the reason for beating up, nor the new monkey. It just became a custom to beat any monkey who tried grabbing the bananas.
Again, a third old original monkey was replaced with a new one. The new tries going to the stairs and is attacked as well.
Two of the four monkeys that beat 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.
Slowly, all the original old monkeys died and were replaced with new monkeys in this manner
After the cultural prohibition against “going for the banana” had been established the cage owner put away the cold water. He now did not plan to shower the monkeys with cold water to prevent them from grabbing the bananas
But, the cage is now totally filled with monkeys that know nothing about the ice-cold water.
No monkey ever again approaches the bananas. Why Not? Because as far as they know, that’s the way it’s always been around here.
They will all not try to get the banana and continue to attack any monkey that tries to do so.
And that is how a company’s culture is formed: Acceptable and unacceptable behaviors are initially established in response to important external events but, over time, all that remains are strongly-held notions about what is and what isn’t acceptable behavior. The origins of these beliefs vanish with the departure of the members of the group who were present when the patterns and standards were initially established. In a long-lived organization, there might be no members left who know why a given behavior is considered acceptable or unacceptable. Yet all members of the organization are quick to enforce whatever the cultural standards might be.
It is always necessary in any given circumstance to ask the question “why?” before doing or not doing anything.
Don’t be a monkey. Challenge all assumptions.”