The Danger of Blind Allegiance to Organizational Culture

Below is a parable about monkeys and how learned behavior is passed down.  It demonstrates how easy the “we have always done it this way” mentality becomes part of the culture of an organization.  When we accept organizational knowledge without understanding why this is the way things are done, we run the risk of missing out on new opportunities.  When you hear someone say “we’ve always done it this way” ask them why and what other things have been done that failed.  What opportunities are you missing due to blind allegiance to your organizational culture. 

All the discoveries that have been made are because someone challenged the cultural norm.   Christopher Columbus did not accept that the world was flat.  Galileo persisted on saying that the sun was the center of our universe in spite of being persecuted for challenging the accepted notion that Earth was the center.  Will you take a chance and ask why or why not?  We would not be where we are today as a society if no one pushed the boundaries of cultural norms.  There is a risk to you in raising that question and there is a risk in doing nothing.  Challenge status quo to get new and greater results for your team.

Hope you enjoy the story.

The Parable of the Monkeys

It happened that there were three monkeys in a cage. Suspended at the top if the cage was a bunch of bananas. There was a ladder from the floor of the cage up to the bananas. One of the monkeys, who was both clever and agile and also liked bananas, decided to head up the ladder to grab a banana.

Imagine his surprise (not to mention that of the other two monkeys) when suddenly a fire hose washed down the cage, blasting all three monkeys over to one side. Cold and shivering, the three monkeys regrouped and thought about what had happened.

Monkeys don’t have a real long memory and, after awhile, a second monkey thought again about the bananas and headed up the ladder. Same thing—a fire hose washed all three monkeys over to the side of the cage. They picked themselves up, shook themselves off and hoped the sun would come out to warm them up.

After another couple of hours, the third monkey couldn’t resist and he went for it. Sure enough, same result—fire hose and cold, wet, miserable monkeys.

Finally, all three monkeys became convinced that going for the bananas was a bad idea, and went on with the rest of their lives.

Then the zookeeper drafted one of the monkeys for another exhibit and replaced him with a new monkey. The new monkey arrived, looked up at the bananas, looked over at the ladder and couldn’t figure out why the other monkeys hadn’t gone for the bananas. He headed for the ladder and got about 1 rung up when the remaining “experienced” monkeys tackled him, dragged him to the floor and pummeled him into submission. He quickly concluded that climbing the ladder wasn’t a good idea.

A week later, the zookeeper replaced the second monkey. Monkeys are somewhat single-minded. The new monkey spied the bananas, headed for the ladder, and the remaining two monkeys tackled him and pummeled him into submission.

Finally the third monkey was replaced and, you guessed it, the same thing happened. So life went on among the monkeys and after some time the first of the “new” monkeys was replaced with yet another monkey. Sure enough, the new guy saw the bananas, went for the ladder and his two peers then tackled him and beat him into submission.

Why was that? None of these monkeys knew anything about the fire hose. None of them had ever gotten wet for having climbed the ladder in the quest for bananas. Yet the monkeys had been fully culturalized to know that it was a bad idea. And you could likely go on individually replacing monkeys one at a time forever and expect the same result.


Filed under Change Management, Team Building

3 responses to “The Danger of Blind Allegiance to Organizational Culture

  1. Yes, it is the risk takers who move things ahead. Pretty interesting story about the monkeys. Have a wonderful weekend!

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