Are those around you holding themselves up? 

Could we achieve great things otherwise? 

Could it be ‘learnt behaviour’? 

Here, red10‘s Will Sudworth tells his version of the ‘learnt behaviour’ experiment with monkeys, bananas and painful water sprays and asks, “How can we learn a new way to thrive?” 


Monkeys and Tasty Bananas

Stephensen’s experiment had begun.  

Imagine a cage with monkeys; a pole in the middle and appetizing bananas placed on top of the pole.  

Imagine how the monkeys wouldn’t take long before climbing the pole and enjoying the wonderful bananas.  


Change 1: The addition of painful

The monkeys enjoy the bananas for a while, until… 

Imagine a cold-water spray, shooting powerful painful jets of water that painfully knock the monkeys off the pole as they climb up to get the bananas and painfully spray all of the other monkeys as well. 

Imagine how it’s not long before most monkeys give up climbing the pole. 

It’s not long before those same monkeys stop even the bravest from climbing the pole because if one monkey climbs, then they all get painfully sprayed. 


Change 2: Change a monkey, one-by-one.

Imagine one of the monkeys being swapped. Then another. 

It’s not long before the new monkeys try to climb the pole, yet are pulled down by the original monkeys before the spray can hit them. 

They will never find out that the spray has actually been switched off.  


Change 3: All the original monkeys leave, and new monkeys join

Imagine all of the original monkeys have now been replaced by new monkeys. 

No monkey in that cage has ever seen the water spray.  

It’s not long before the new monkeys try to climb the pole for the bananas only to be pulled down by their colleagues.  

Imagine the conversations between the monkeys: “that’s not how we do it here”. 

No monkey will ever reach the bananas. 

Does this sound familiar?

This was a real experiment to understand how organizations learn behaviours that are originally useful yet are held on to longer than is useful.  

How can you unlearn the old behaviours of the past and learn new ones that will help you to thrive in the present? 


Keeping the story going

Keeping the metaphor going, here’s some coaching questions… 

Perhaps you tried climbing and been pulled down by others for reasons even they cannot explain?
How can you show yourself and others that there’s no spray anymore?
How can you all get a taste of the rewards from rising up? 

Perhaps you were there in the early days and are still bruised and soaked by the spray?
What will you do to dry off and heal quickly?
How can you prove to yourself and others that the spray has been turned off? 

Perhaps there is still water painfully spraying and knocking advancement off course?
Are you already soaked through? How about diving in?
What can you do to turn off the water jets, even if it’s one-by-one? 

If we in red10 can help you, your team, or your organization – please let us know. If we can help then we’d like to.