There’s a story we love at Kitchen (actually there are loads).
From digging around on the Interweb it’s not entirely clear whether this is based on a specific real experiment or not. We don’t care to be honest. It’s a great way to think about why things sometimes happen the way they do when we stop asking questions.
Here’s our summary, complete with a little creative license.
Five monkeys were put in a cage (we like to think it was a very luxurious cage, the kind of cage monkeys would be queuing up to get into, not so much cage as boutique apartment).
A ladder was put in the cage with a lovely bunch of ripe bananas at the top.
Naturally within seconds one of the monkeys scaled the ladder and grabbed the bananas. Immediately a very loud and very unpleasant alarm went off and only stopped when the monkey put the bananas back down on the top of the ladder. Cue disappointed monkey.
A few minutes later another monkey decided to try his luck and went up the ladder, grabbed the bananas. Same thing happened. Loud noise, unhappy monkeys.
Then a third monkey started towards the ladder. This time the other monkeys, who’d begun to get a sense of what was going on, stopped her. They stood at the bottom of the ladder to prevent the alarm going off again and disrupting their peace.
The five monkeys collectively decided to stop any attempt to get the bananas, it just wasn’t worth the pain of the alarm going off. From that point on none of monkeys went near the ladder.
Here’s where it starts to get interesting.
One of the original monkeys was taken out and replaced by a new monkey. You can see what’s coming. Yep, the minute new monkey made for the ladder and the bunch of juicy bananas at the top, all the others stopped him. No way they wanted the alarm being set off again. New monkey quickly learned not to go up the ladder in search of bananas.
And here’s where it gets really interesting.
Over time all the original monkeys, one by one, were swapped out for new monkeys. Eventually the cage was full of monkeys all of whom refused to let any new monkey climb the ladder. No bananas.
But they had absolutely no idea why they weren’t allowing themselves to go for the bananas.
It was, to use a phrase and assuming monkeys could talk, ‘just the way we do things around here’.
The point of the story is, of course, fairly obvious but no less powerful for it.
How often do we make decisions because that’s what’s expected of us, without questioning the reason behind them?
Are we working in cultures that encourage us to climb the ladder every once in a while just to see whether the alarm has been turned off? Are we prepared to take risks? Or do we all just accepted ‘the way things are’ even if no-one can give us a good reason why that’s the way we roll?
In business we have to have some level of established norms. We have the ability to learn from our decisions and the experiences we and others have gained over time. Simply to ignore this would be daft. In fact our ability to accumulate knowledge and wisdom through experience and to pass this on to others is possibly one of our great strengths.
But we do need to keep asking the right questions at the right time.
There are moments when it’s important to consider going for the bananas. Moments when a change is required. Businesses and brands can’t afford to stand still – that’s the well-worn received wisdom.
The challenge is reconciling that truth with the fact that’s often safer, easier and more predictable to stick with what we know. Humans are inherently loss averse.
As Einstein famously said ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’
Maybe your business or market is changing, certainly your customers are. New competition, different expectations, managing ever-shifting platforms for engagement. How does your brand keep up? Stay ahead? Ensure it’s relevant and compelling?
You don’t need me to spell out the challenges of building, managing and growing a brand.
Are you making the space to ask new questions? Do you know why you’re making the decisions you’re making for your brand? Are they based on insight or assumption? Have they been tested recently? Are they going to get you where you want to be?
Maybe it’s time to reach for some bananas and see what happens?
Maybe the alarm will go off again and at least you’ll discover for yourself why things are done the way they are. You will have new, timely and relevant evidence and understanding on which to base your decisions.
But maybe, just maybe you’ll discover things have changed.
Perhaps the bananas are there for the taking by those who are willing to be curious, ask questions and take a little risk from time to time.
After all, nothing is more stifling to business and brand growth, innovation and success than a culture that resists change for reasons that are long since lost in the mists of time and accepted as lore and legend rather than fact and reality.