The experiment involved putting five monkeys into a cage with bananas hanging from the ceiling. Directly under the bananas was a ladder that the monkeys could climb to get the bananas. The only catch was as soon as a monkey would start to climb the ladder the entire cage would be sprayed with cold water.
Soon the monkeys made the connection between climbing the ladder and being sprayed with cold water. Whenever one of the monkeys would try to get to the bananas the other four monkeys would pull him off the ladder to keep from getting doused.
After this behavior was established the researchers removed one monkey and replaced him with a new monkey that knew nothing about being sprayed with water. Of course, he immediately went to the ladder and begin to go for the bananas. As soon as he would start to climb, the other four monkeys would grab him and pull him off the ladder. Soon the new monkey learned that it was wrong to climb the ladder, although he had no idea why.
One-by-one, all of the original monkeys were replaced with 5 “new” monkeys.
Finally, one of the “new” monkeys was replaced with a “newer” monkey. Sure enough, when the newer monkey would try to climb the ladder to get to the bananas, the monkeys would tackle him and keep him from climbing. The interesting thing is that by now none of the original monkeys were in the cage, so none of them knew about getting sprayed with cold water or why they shouldn’t climb the ladder. All they knew is that it was wrong to try to get the bananas.
So it is with culture. We do the same thing with national culture, company culture, family culture, or one of the other sub-cultures we all are a part of. We do and say things that at one time were very important and had great meaning, but now we just do them out of habit and tradition.
The 5-monkey experiment encourages me to challenge my culture and my automatic actions and responses. It dares me to think through what I’m doing, and more importantly, why I’m doing it.
Maybe I should climb the ladders and eat the bananas; maybe I shouldn’t. But at least I need to understand why or why not eating the bananas is wrong.
Maybe we can learn something from 5 monkeys?
Can you think of any “5-monkey” things you do? Please post your thoughts.