Monkeys, Bananas, Water & Pole
By Adam Chan
In an experiment, four monkeys were placed in an enclosure. In the enclosure, there is a pole. Atop the pole were some juiciest bananas waiting to be grabbed by the monkeys. Indeed, with no hesitation, the monkeys started scaling the pole for their pricy rewards. However during their climb, they were doused with a cold stream of water from the top thus preventing them from getting to the bananas. Monkey likes water slightly more than cats. That how much they would enjoy the splash. In the end, none climb the pole anymore.
In the next stage of the experiment, the scientists removed three monkeys from the enclosure and introduce another three new monkeys that were never splashed. The new monkeys responded to the bananas immediately in the same way which first batch had. The first monkey has seen and felt the cold water; with all his might he prevented the three new ones from climbing the pole. He shouted, growled, pulling legs, jumped up and down, etc. In the end, the three new monkeys even without experiencing the splash of cold water, they did not climb the pole again and they were not soaked.
In the final stage of the experiment, two monkeys were removed and three new ones were introduced. In the enclosure, there were two existing monkeys. One which has seen the water and the other has not. The three new ones responded to the bananas immediately, jumping onto the pole at the first instance. One of the existing monkey that was not splashed previously by water nor has seen the water, bared his teeth, shouted, jumped, growled at the three new monkeys, prevented them from climbing without knowing the reasons behind it. Eventually, no monkey gets to eat the bananas.
What is the connection between the monkeys, bananas, pole and water to corporate culture? Our beliefs are subterranean a.k.a. iceberg beliefs or more commonly known as assumptions. We think of assumptions are the by-products of iceberg beliefs. Most people are familiar with our assumptions but are not discerning about our iceberg beliefs. It takes some willingness and effort to discern its existence and its potent effect it has on our cognitive development. As stated by BF Skinner, humans can be conditioned both positively and negatively. Operant conditioning is the most popular behavioral phenomenon discovered by him in the 60s which set forth the school of behavioral science in the field of psychology.
The monkey story above has demonstrated the definite effects of conditioning coming from external stimulus that has reinforced, changed, altered, transformed, inculcated, influenced, etc the behaviors of the monkeys, to be precise, their beliefs. This can be true for humans too. The facts in the monkey experiment have such uncanny similarity to the works in any organization.
Senior staff members can easily influence the new comers in both the good and the bad manner; this is one parallel aspect between the story and reality.
New comers adapt and live the existing culture with no discernment, following suit for the sake of compliance, in a total blinded manner.
Conditioning is potent as the effect it exercises on us is unobtrusive and subliminal. Conditioning can be premeditated too. Both constructive and destructive results can be achieved by understanding the mechanics of conditioning. Like the movie Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibilities. Leaders, Head of departments, CEOs, Directors have the authority and opportunities to do so. With or without the knowledge of conditioning, they are exercising it daily in both verbal and non-verbal communication occasions. Let’s understand its power use it wisely both at work
The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte, Chapter 12.