Don’t Make a Monkey Out of Yourself

By Pamela A. Scott

This morning Mark and I were talking about the generation of folks coming out of college and in their 20s. I mentioned some young engineers I talked with at the ACEC/GA conference in June. I was just amazed at their enthusiasm and eagerness to get involved.

Mark repeated what he has said before: We hire them and beat the leadership and enthusiasm out of them over time. We wear them down until they look and act like us.

I would hate to see that happen to the folks I talked with. I would hate to see that happen to ACEC/GA Future Leaders program participants that I get to work with each year.

Our conversation reminded me of this tale.

Subject: Company Policy

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result – all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana
and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth.

Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys has ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana.

Why not?

Because, as far as they know, that’s the way it’s always been done around here.

And that, my friends, is how company policy begins.

The moral of the story: Don’t make a monkey out of yourself or those you work with.


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