The Five Monkeys Experiment & Its Lessons for Your Organization
If you haven’t heard about the Five Monkeys Experiment, it goes a little something like this:
A researcher puts five monkeys in a cage. There’s a bunch of bananas hanging from a string, with a ladder leading to the bananas. When the first monkey goes for the bananas, the researcher sprays all five monkeys with freezing water for five minutes. Some time later, when a second monkey inevitably tries to go for the bananas, the researcher once again sprays all five monkeys with the cold water for five minutes. The researcher then puts the hose away and never touches it again. But, when a third monkey tries to go for the bananas, the other four attack him to prevent him from climbing that ladder. They are afraid of the punishment that may come.
Then, the researcher replaces one of the monkeys with a new monkey who wasn’t part of the original experiment and was never sprayed with water. And, as soon as he touches the ladder to go for the bananas, the other four monkeys attack him to keep him from doing so. If he tries again, they attack him again. Thus, the new monkey learns not to go after the bananas because he’ll get attacked if he does.
The researcher replaces a second monkey with another new monkey. When this monkey goes for the bananas, the other four attack him, including the new monkey who was never sprayed with water. The researcher then continues to replace all the monkeys one at a time, until all five of the original monkeys are removed from the cage. Each time the newcomer goes for the bananas, the others attack, even when they, as new monkeys, have never received punishment for going after the bananas. And thus, the new monkeys, who have never been sprayed with cold water, learn not to go after the temptation of the bananas.
The researchers hypothesize that, if they were to ask the monkeys why they don’t go for the bananas, they’d answer “because that’s the way it’s always been done”.
What can the Five Monkeys Experiment Teach Us?
There’s controversy over whether the five monkeys experiment even happened, but as business owners and CEOs, there’s a lot to learn from this, even if it’s only viewed as an analogy. The five monkeys experiment says a lot about the pervasiveness of traditions within an organization.
Traditions are a part of every organization, especially if the majority of the workforce has been around for some time. But, those traditions can be detrimental to progress within your workplace, especially when new employees are stopped from pursuing new ideas. By focusing on doing something the way it’s always been done because it’s tradition to do it that way, organizations are often rendered blind to new ways that they can get the “banana” (the prize they’re going after).
The five monkeys experiment, therefore, teaches us that we need to be constantly challenging ourselves to look at things from a new light, to question things that don’t always feel right, and to avoid using the excuse of “we’ve always done it this way” to avoid trying new things and branching out in new directions. In other words, if we want that “banana”, there are times that we’re going to need to get creative, or let those new employees try new things.
So, how can you make sure that you’re building a culture that doesn’t douse creativity, ingenuity, or innovation, and instead encourages experimental problem-solving? In the next section, we’ll take a look at two critical questions you should consider asking yourself about your work environment.
Questions to Consider To Avoid Five Monkeys Experiment “Syndrome”:
There’s no denying the fact that digital and Cloud transformation is constantly and rapidly changing the way that employees are communicating and working with each other. Which means that an attitude of “we’ve always done it this way” will no longer be a viable way to run your organization.
Here are two important questions you need to consider that will help you to avoid the five monkeys experiment “syndrome” in your organization:
Does your organization’s culture encourage open dialogue and collaboration?
Giving your employees the chance to engage in open dialogue and collaborate with one another on various projects and initiatives is, in this day and age, necessary to maintain their interest in working for you. Today’s workforce is all about collaboration – when you look at the technology that’s available, it’s clear that collaboration is not only encouraged, but employees are demanding it! By using Cloud-based programs like Office 365, Skype for Business, Workplace by Facebook, Slack, and others, you can show your employees that you value their input and you’re open to exploring options that may challenge the status quo – completely the opposite of the results from the five monkeys experiment.
Does your organization reward and recognize innovative thinkers?
How do you recognize those employees that go above and beyond to come up with innovative solutions? Do you recognize employees that take risks and try new and innovative ideas? To avoid five monkeys syndrome in your organization, it’s important to encourage your employees to seek out those new ways to get the “banana” and recognize the employees who do so, even if their ideas fail spectacularly. In this case, failure is not something that should be condemned, because it can be a great learning experience for the employee, the team, and the organization as a whole. Just ask Elon Musk.
Is Your Organization Stuck in a Five Monkeys Experiment Pattern?
The lessons that we can get from the five monkeys experiment are clear – we need to stop dousing our creativity with cold water, allow all of our employees the chance to take risks (and to fail, if it comes to that), and really foster and promote a culture of innovation within our workplace.
Easier said than done? The good news is, a lot of the technology that’s out there can help! Why not talk to our experts to see how implementing the right technology can be a good first step in your journey? Let us help you get started in changing your corporate culture today!