Five monkeys are in a cage. A banana hangs from a string above a set of stairs. Monkey#1 starts to climb the stairs for the banana and all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Then Monkey #2, 3 & 4 does the same thing and they collectively understand: You go for the banana, we get a punishment. As #5 starts for the banana, 1-4 beat him into submission before the punishment begins.
Replace one monkey with a new one and put the cold water away. #6 goes for the banana and is beat by the other four even though there isn’t a punishment.
Replace one more, let it play out again.
Do this until each of the original monkeys are replaced with a new one. We find that the behavior continues even though the five new monkeys don’t understand why they are doing the beating and have never been punished for it.
You have seen this in your company, as I have seen some version of this in every company I have worked with.
When you ask, “Why?” The answer will be one of two things:
- “Because that is how we have always done it.”
- The other will be an explanation that doesn’t work any more.
If we want to develop new ways of working, we must be willing to ask WHY.
When we are given the answer, ask WHY again. And again. And again.
What you are saying without saying it is, “The way you have always done it isn’t the best way any more, and there isn’t a good reason to continue doing it.” Instead, by asking WHY, you let them come up with that answer.
To approach the future of work, we must challenge just about every aspect of why we are working and how we do it. The answers will astound you!
This Week’s Challenge
Take a process or policy that is outdated and start asking WHY. To be honest, it will seem a bit scary that you are pushing the limits – because you are. I have found that one of three scenarios will happen (these have all happened to me):
- You are told to stop asking (basically, shut up and keep coloring).
- You bring some enlightenment, but nothing changes because of external forces. That’s OK! At least you helped shed some light on a business practice that refuses to die.
- You will be the instigator of your future of work. Well done!