“That’s just not the way things are done around here.”

Ever been in a meeting and brought up what you think is a really good idea? And the minute it leaves your lips, it’s met with tons of blank stares and vigorous head shaking? Then someone pipes up with this doozy, “Geez, I don’t know… that’s just not the way things are done around here.”

What kind of reasoning is that? Just because you’ve never done it that way means it can’t be a good idea? Here’s a little parable that sums it up the reasoning quite nicely:

Five Monkeys and the Ladder

As an experiment, a group of scientists put five monkeys and a ladder in a room. It didn’t take the monkeys long to realize that on the top of the ladder was a bunch of tasty bananas.

Eventually, one of the monkeys headed up the ladder for a banana. When he was about halfway, the scientists sprayed freezing cold water on the other four monkeys. They weren’t particularly happy about that and beat the living daylights out of the one that headed up the ladder. And so it went. Every time one of the monkeys climbed the ladder, the others got a freezing shower. That was followed up with a severe beating of the climber. Soon, all realized that going up the ladder was a really bad idea.

Then one day the scientists swapped one of the original monkeys with a new candidate. Of course, the first thing he did was head for a bananas. Before he even got to the ladder, the others proceeded to beat him up. A couple more attempts followed with the requisite beatings. The new guy quickly got the picture… no more ladder for him!

The scientists then swapped out another of the original monkeys. Even the previous new monkey joined in on the beatings. One at a time, the originals were all swapped with new candidates—each getting a beating by the others when they headed for the ladder.

Think about it. What you have now are five brand new monkeys who have never been sprayed with cold water, yet for some reason nobody dares go near the ladder. Other than for the beatings, they have no idea why. If you could ask, they’d surely reply, “Geez, I don’t know…It’s just not the way things are done around here!”

So next time you’re in a meeting and share a new idea with a bunch of monkeys, just relay this story.


Source: This modern-day fable may never have happened. However, it may have been inspired in part by the experiments of several scientists over the decades. True or not, it does tell a tale that echoes behavior of real-life people in real-life business situations. Over the years, it has endured to form the urban legend as it now stands. Enjoy it for what it’s worth.

jeffaronson“That’s just not the way things are done around here.”