“10 Hungry Monkeys,” A Story of Cultural Training

Ladder Leading to the Prize

As a sociological experiment, 10 monkeys were placed in a large cage. High up at the top of the cage, beyond the reach of the monkeys, were a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas was a ladder leading to the bananas.

The Shock before the Prize

The monkeys hadn’t been fed for 12 hours and were extremely hungry. The monkeys immediately spot the bananas and the strongest begins to climb the ladder. As he does, however, a slight electric shock keeps him from ascending the ladder. At the same time that the monkey climbing the ladder gets a shock, the other monkeys on the floor are sprayed with water. The monkey on the ladder scrambles off and all 10 hungry monkeys sit for a time on the floor.

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If  you fail, try again

Soon, the temptation of the bananas is too great and another monkey begins to climb the ladder. Again, the monkey is met with a slight electric shock as well as the other monkeys being sprayed. Over time, the monkeys learn not to go up the ladder.

The new Monkey is introduced

Now one monkey is removed and a new monkey is introduced to the cage. Spotting the bananas, he heads towards the ladder. The other monkeys, knowing his intention, cut him off and beat him. A second monkey is removed; he is one of the original 10 monkeys and is replaced with a new monkey. Again, the new monkey heads towards the ladder and, again, the other monkeys cut him off and beat him – including the monkey who had never been up the ladder.

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Why don’t the monkeys climb the ladder?

By the end of the experiment, none of the original monkeys were left. Despite none of them ever experiencing the slight shock, they had all learned not to climb up the ladder for the bananas.

Are we the Monkeys?

 This is a great story to show the impact of what we call “Cultural Training.” Often, a new employee is trained by another “experienced” employee; but not from a Known Standard, SOP, or Work Instruction. Usually the “Experienced” employee is expected to mentor and pass off years of experience in a short amount of time (usually days or even hours). The new employee is taught what the previous employee defined as “the standard.” The new employee, not remembering everything he is taught after the experienced employee leaves, has to survive by developing what he thinks is the process. Over time and generations of employees, the original “standard” morphs into something very different than the original “process.”

Conclusion

Cultural Training is also called On the Job Training (OJT). This type of transference of skills leads to the original process morphing over time. If you have ever played the game “The Grapevine” or “Telephone” where one person whispers a phrase into another persons ear and that person in turn whispers what they think is the phrase into the next persons ear. This goes on for 10-20 people. The last person in line then states the phrase out loud. In most cases, the phrase will be very different the original phrase the 1st person whispered into the second persons ear. This is what happens when employees train from experience instead of from a standard.

Do you have any interesting stories of “Cultural Training” in your organization? If you do, please add the story to the comments below.