Breaking Through The Same Old Stuff

I was having a 1:1 with a new manager… The discussion was a good one – so much so, that I want to share it! The overall topic was on why is it so hard to change behaviors… They always want to do exactly what was done before… I liken this to the Not Invented Here. It reminded me of a story that I heard many years ago from a manager friend of mine (did a quick Google search and found something like it at this link); Monkeys, A Cage, A Banana and A Fire Hose.

You build a nice big room-sized cage, and in one end of it you put five monkeys. In the other end you put a  banana. Then you stand by with the fire hose.  Sooner or later one of the monkeys is going after the banana, and when it does you turn on the fire hose and spray the other monkeys with it. Replace the banana if needed, then repeat the process. Monkeys are pretty smart, so they’ll figure this out pretty quickly: “If anybody goes for the banana, the rest of us get the hose.” Soon they’ll attack any member of their group who tries to go to the banana.

Once this happens, take one monkey out of the cage and bring in a new one. The new monkey will come in, try to make friends, then probably go for the banana. And the other monkeys, knowing what this means, will attack him to stop you from using the hose on them. Eventually the new monkey will get the message, and will even start joining in on the attack if another monkey goes for the banana. Continue to swap new monkeys for the original monkey.

After repeating this a few times, the time will come when none of the monkeys in the cage have ever been sprayed by the fire hose; in fact, they’ll never even have seen the hose. But they’ll attack any monkey who goes to get the banana. If the monkeys could speak, and if you could ask them why they attack anyone who goes for the banana, their answer would almost certainly be: “Well, I don’t really know, but that’s how we’ve always done things around here.”

Not that I am saying that we all are monkey’s – that is not the point. We get conditioned/trained over time and we pass this onto new members. We have to break the cycle. What are some of the ways that you think could help? Let me start the brainstorming –

  • Reposition the problem to give clearer expectations.
  • Keep asking why for better clarity to yourself and the complete group.
  • Set Boundaries that if we have done this before – we have to do something different.. We would not be reworking it again…
  • Reward Behaviors that are breaking the cycle.

Please add your comments below.. To keep the brainstorming going.. Community sharing and all…