The Monkey Parable

My friend Andrew told me what I now call “the monkey parable” several years ago, and it’s stuck with me ever since.

There are five monkeys, locked in a cage. There’s a banana hanging from the ceiling and a ladder set up on the floor.

Predictably, one of the monkeys immediately starts to climb the ladder in an attempt to get the banana, at which point *FOOOSH* the monkey gets sprayed with icy-cold water from a hose. This repeats as the other monkeys try climbing the ladder, only to each get sprayed. The monkeys give up, resigning themselves to the fact that the banana is unobtainable.

Next, one of the monkeys in the cage gets replaced. The new monkey sees the banana and the ladder and starts to climb. Right away the other four monkeys, familiar with the consequences grab the new guy, pull him off the ladder and beat him. New guy gets the message – the banana is off-limits.

This process then repeats as, over time, each of the monkeys gets replaced. Each new monkey’s first instinct is to reach for the banana, at which point he’s immediately grabbed and pulled away by his peers.

Eventually, none of the original monkeys are left. There are still five monkeys in the cage, but none of them have ever been sprayed by the hose, and none of them are attempting to get the banana hanging from the ceiling.

When another new monkey is introduced to the cage and is prevented from attempting to reach the banana he’s confused, and he asks the existing monkeys why they beat him when he tries. The other four monkeys shrug their shoulders.

“Don’t know, but that’s the way we do things around here.”

You may be able to draw parallels between this and process improvement initiatives you’ve attempted to run. I certainly can. This parable illustrates one of what I believe are the two most poisonous BPR dangers, and I’ll be writing more about them both in the not too distant future.

Watch this space!

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