They say that the most expensive words in the English Language are: “That’s the way we’ve always done it”. Most of us recognize that past success is no guarantee for the future, especially when the only constant is change. We find comfort in consistency and tradition, humans are creatures of habit after all. However, just because you have always done it certain way, doesn’t mean it still works or even that it ever worked.
Have you ever heard of the 5 monkey’s experiment? It’s based on a research project by G.R. Stephenson performed in the 1960s. The story has been told many times and it goes something like this:
Researchers placed five monkeys in a room with a ladder and some bananas at the top of it. It didn’t take long before one of the monkeys saw the bananas and decided to climb the ladder.
As soon as the monkey reached the banana, all five monkeys were showered with cold water.
This frustrated the monkeys, but shortly after the showering ended a second monkey braved climbing the ladder once again.
Again, all five monkeys were showered with cold water. The monkeys were starting to see a pattern. So, the researchers decided to change the scenario. This time they would take out the water and replace one of the monkeys with a new one.
The new monkey comes into the room and notices the banana sitting safely on the ladder. He sees an easy snack and approaches the ladder.
As soon as he starts to climb the other four monkeys attack him. The new monkey doesn’t understand what he did wrong but no longer approaches the ladder.
The researchers continue the new pattern by replacing another monkey. This new monkey sees the banana and does the same thing as the last monkey to enter the room. Upon climbing the ladder, the original three monkeys attack once again, as well as the first new monkey.
A third, fourth, and eventually fifth monkey is replaced. By now all the new monkeys are attacking each new monkey that tries to get the banana. They’ve never been sprayed for attempting to get the banana but choose to attack each monkey that tries anyways.
Still, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs, but no one really knows why. All the original monkeys who experienced being sprayed with water have been replaced. What is left is 5 monkeys who know that they can’t touch the banana but don’t really know why… because that’s the way its been done around here.
Obviously, this story is supposed to be a metaphor for humans. In various cases, we justified our decisions with “that’s the way we have always done it”. Moral of this story is…don’t fear the ladder… don’t scare others from taking the ladder. Remember change is inevitable and growth is optional.