Michael Michalko
Michael Michalko : The Tale of 5 Monkeys

Creative Thinking

The Tale of 5 Monkeys

We don't question that with which we are most familiar.

By Michael Michalko | Updated 9/8/15

Coke is a beverage that is well known everywhere in the world. Many drink it by habit, without thinking. Their advertising campaigns have been among the most successful campaigns in the history of advertising. Their beverage name and logo is recognized by just about every consumer of soft drinks. In fact, you probably don't know anyone who does not recognize the name.

Coca-Coca LogoAll this about Coke is well known, but none of it as anything to do with the illustration you see here. If you read it letter by letter, you will find it reads Coca Coca. You didn't question or read it carefully, because it looked like something that always looked like the logo for Coca Cola always looked.

We don't question that with which we are most familiar. In corporations people do the same thing over and over without questioning the policy or system. How many times have you heard, "Because that's the way it has always done around here." Employees who lack curiosity about why they do what they do at work remind me of an experiment you can do with five monkeys.

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stair, spray all the monkeys with ice cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result-all the monkeys are sprayed with ice cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, turn off the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and will want to climb the stairs. To his surprise, 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.

Next, remove another of the original monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third monkey with a new one. The new one goes to the stairs and is attacked. Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth monkeys with new ones, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs. Why not? Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been around here. •

©2008 Michael Michalko. All rights reserved.

Michael MichalkoMichael Michalko is one of the most highly-acclaimed creativity experts in the world and author of the best-seller Thinkertoys. More »
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