Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Ladder Leading to the Prize

As a sociological experiment, 10 hungry 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 10 hungry 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. While 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.

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.

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 one of the 10 hungry monkeys?

This is a remarkable 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, must survive by developing what he thinks is the process. Over time and generations of employees, the original “standard” morphs into something vastly different than the original “process.”


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 person’s ear and that person in turn whispers what they think is the phrase into the next person’s ear. The last person in line then states the phrase out loud. In most cases, the phrase will be very different from the original phrase the first person whispered into the second person’s 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 share the story in the comments below.

Free Online White Belt Course - 10 hungry monkeys
FREE Online White Belt Certification Course!

About Six Sigma Development Solutions, Inc.

Six Sigma Development Solutions, Inc. offers onsitepublic, and virtual Lean Six Sigma certification training. We are an Accredited Training Organization by the IASSC (International Association of Six Sigma Certification). We offer Lean Six Sigma Green BeltBlack Belt, and Yellow Belt, as well as LEAN certifications.

Book a Call and Let us know how we can help meet your training needs.