There was this forward that did the rounds about 8 years back, about how businesses are run. It involved 8 monkeys, bananas and a ladder. I’m going to repeat it here for the benefit of those not familiar with it. Those who know it already, skip and read the rest please.
Put eight monkeys in a room. In the middle of the room is a ladder, leading to a bunch of bananas hanging from a hook on the ceiling. Each time a monkey tries to climb the ladder, all the monkeys are sprayed with ice water, which makes them miserable. Sooner enough, whenever a monkey attempts to climb the ladder, all of the other monkeys, not wanting to be sprayed, set upon him and beat him up. Soon, none of the eight monkeys ever attempts to climb the ladder.
One of the original monkeys is then removed, and a new monkey is put in the room. Seeing the bananas and the ladder, he wonders why none of the other monkeys are doing the obvious, but, undaunted, he immediately begins to climb the ladder. All the other monkeys fall upon him and beat him silly. He has no idea why. However, he no longer attempts to climb the ladder.
A second original monkey is removed and replaced. The newcomer again attempts to climb the ladder, but all the other monkeys hammer the crap out of him. This includes the previous new monkey, who, grateful that he’s not on the receiving end this time, participates in the beating because all the other monkeys are doing it. However, he has no idea why he’s attacking the new monkey.
One by one, all the original monkeys are replaced. Eight new monkeys are now in the room. None of them have ever been sprayed by ice water. None of them attempt to climb the ladder. All of them will enthusiastically beat up any new monkey who tries, without having any idea why. And that’s how any company’s policies get established.
What reminded me of this? Tom Fishburne’s recent post on ‘low interest’ categories, in which he talks about how “marketers often limit ourselves by the conventional rules of a particular category”. The induction and experiences thereafter changes us from, to use Seth Godin’s words, insurgents to incumbents.
In these times of “hit the ground running”, is it too much to ask of companies to allow new hires to just give their perspectives on the brand and organisational processes in the first month? I too believe that for the brand team, these perspectives are a great representation of the end consumer. With all the money spent on data mining and consumer research, this ‘free’ sample is given a pass, perhaps because, just like the industries itself, even businesses internally fear disruption.
Over a period of time, the brand’s custodians tend to lose their objectivity and processes unfortunately have a way of becoming the ends rather than the means. And that’s where ‘culture’ can make a difference. Know any companies who foster this?
until next time, this is the way things are undone