Monkey policy

Policies are sacrosanct. Every company has them, and when implementing ERP systems policies do come in the way. That’s the way we do it ’round here since forever, is heard rather frequently, but a simple question why can leave a big question mark hang unanswered.

There was an experiment…

Five monkeys were put in a cage. There was a simple contraption: small ladder was fixed to the inside, a banana was hung close to the top of it, and a firehose was placed behind the cage. Slightest touch to the ladder would activate the firehose, which would in turn spray all the monkeys with ice-cold water. When monkeys first noticed the banana, they rushed to the ladder, but as soon as the first one touched it, all of them got a powerful, ice-cold shower. They waited for a few minutes, then one of them dared again. Of course, the moment he got to the ladder, cold shower would remind him, and his fellows, that the ladder, and the banana too, aren’t to be touched. It didn’t take long until monkeys got the point, so not only they didn’t try to grab the banana any more, they would all, in the best teamwork fashion, beat down anyone who dared as much as approach the ladder.

So after a while, monkeys systematically ignored the banana, and life went on. The firehose was removed, so touching the ladder wouldn’t cause anyone to get wet, but monkeys didn’t seem to notice the change.

Fun began when turnover occurred. One monkey was replaced with a fresh fellow. As soon as he spotted the banana, he cheerfully started going for it, only to learn his lesson before even touching the ladder. Once he got beaten for the attempt, another lesson wasn’t even necessary. The banana kept safely hanging.

Then another monkey was replaced, then another. Every single time a new inhabitant arrived, he would exhibit the same behavior. Trying to catch the banana, catching hell from his colleagues instead, taught every single one of them that banana stays there and nobody comes close.

When all of the original five monkeys were gone, and cage contained five completely new ones, the behavior persisted. Even if none of the monkeys really knew why they were beating the new poor fellow who tried to indulge his passion for bananas, they kept doing it over and over. Why?

Because that’s the way they do it ’round there, since forever.


Vjeko has been writing code for living since 1995, and he has shared his knowledge and experience in presentations, articles, blogs, and elsewhere since 2002. Hopelessly curious, passionate about technology, avid language learner no matter human or computer.

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