Out of the box

A scientist set up an experiment with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, he hung a banana on a string and placed a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey started to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touched the stairs, the scientist sprayed all of the other monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey tries with the same result - all the other monkeys were sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, the monkeys have been conditioned to prevent any other monkeys from attempting it.

Then a monkey is removed from the cage and replaced 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.

Then another of the original five monkeys is removed and replaced with a new one. The newcomer is attacked as soon as he attempts to climb the stairs. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm!

One-by-one, all the original monkeys are all replaced, till none are left. None of the new monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water, but they still participate in the beating of the newest monkey.

Eventually no monkey will approach the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because it isn’t safe, and as far as they know that's the way it's always been done….

This is one of those social studies that you might have heard of. It does capture very neatly the power of social programming and the dangers of ‘Group Think’. Every team, every company and every business has a set of preconceptions that they don’t challenge, and a group of norms by which they judge each other and each others’ ideas.

This does perform a useful purpose (which is why it is perpetuated), it saves us having to evaluate everything from first principles. However, from time-to-time it is important to do just that…. Go back to first principles.

We need to ask ourselves, collectively and individually:-

Whether it is a company strategy, or a midlife crisis, or even just time to review things, it is vital that periodically we take stock and ensure that we are headed the right way, and using the best means to do so.

How many of us just pitch up to the office on Monday morning, and are confronted with hundreds of emails awaiting our attention, a pile of post, a diary that is crammed with meetings, and all of this to be got through before we can really start work? Friday night arrives and we leave (often late) having waded through all this ‘stuff’, having fielded a few crucial ‘catches’, prevented the wheels from falling off on a variety of occasions, but how much time have we spent leading? Making decisions that are important (as opposed to just urgent)?

It is hard to do all this for ourselves. We are all, and always too busy, and even when we aren’t we are too close to the problems. This when the value of a coach (for individuals) or a facilitator (for teams) proves their value. They can challenge assumptions, ask ‘dumb’ questions, check that what we are doing fits with our values.

Companies, like individuals have values, but too often these are forgotten, and relegated to a page in the corporate literature. If they aren’t helping you to make good decisions, to prioritise, to decide which is the better course of action then they aren’t worth a thing.

I’d be a wealthy man if I had a pound for every businessman who told me that his family was most important thing and then got home late & tired most nights.

Is it time for a bit of out-of-the-box thinking, to challenge a few habits and assumptions, to make sure that as a business and a human being you are on the right track?

If you were to discover that you only had 12 months to live would you still do the same things? Alternatively, if you were going to have to live forever with the consequences of what you are doing, would you still?

Take time to stop, challenge and reflect. Better still; get someone to help you do so on a regular basis.

“Some men see things as they are and say, "Why?" I dream of things that never were and say, "Why not?"”
George Bernard Shaw

"The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
M.Scott Peck

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