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The Monkeys and the Firehose

There is an old consultant's story which bears repeating. It relates to hidden obstacles to change, and goes something like this .....

"Six monkeys are in a cage, with a bunch of bananas hanging from the roof and a stepladder beneath. One monkey climbs up to get a banana and is immediately soaked with a fire hose, along with the other 5 monkeys. Another monkey tries, with the same result, and eventually any monkey approaching the ladder is pre-emptively attacked by his peers, leaving the bananas undisturbed.

Next a new monkey is introduced to replace one of the originals. He eventually tries to climb the ladder and is attacked. He adapts. Other monkeys are substituted until no original member remains, yet the group, who have never actually been "hosed", continues to prevent the new arrivals from climbing the ladder. The man with the hose is long gone yet the monkey community do not challenge the status quo."

So, what is the takeaway here?

There are two things we can learn from this. Firstly, that we may have unrecognized institutional baggage that is preventing us from reaching rewards that are actually within our grasp. Secondly, that we may have to look outside for the person who can tell us that the fire hose (threat) is gone, or that perhaps we should risk another attempt at the bananas.

What can you do? - Take a look at your own organization. Ask yourself is there concealed intellectual or cultural "baggage" which needs to be challenged? And if there was, who are the people in your team who would step up and take another run at the bananas, and who would be attacking them?

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