Archive for August, 2010

Years ago I was leading a small team building conference. The leaders were trying to get across the idea of moving from committee models to team models. In retrospect, I fear it was more of a “We’re gonna be a team, darn it, now do what I tell you!” kind of thing. The members wanted to be perceived as sincere when they entered the workplace, and not just as an esoteric group who had attended a seminar and wanted to share their pie in the sky.

At one point, I tried to assure them that if everyone on the team honestly bought in to the new vision, everyone else would follow suit and soon the new behavior would become routinized. I then told them what I call the 100th Monkey Theory. The theory is based on the study of Japanese Macacas in the 50’s, but I can’t recall where I heard it first, but Ken Keys wrote a book on the effect

The theory goes like this:

Imagine a monkey in the jungle looking for food. He eats the same thing day after day. Then one day, he finds a banana or mango in a stream, or perhaps washed clean after a rain. (In the real story, researchers gave the monkeys sand caked sweet potatoes) He realizes he likes clean food better than dirty food just lying on the ground, AND he figures out that if he puts his food in the stream it gets clean. This monkey begins to wash his food on a regular basis.

Soon, another monkey sees this behavior and tries washing his food as well. In time another joins, and soon many of the monkeys wash their food.

Now, at some point, let’s say when the 100th monkey begins to wash his food, if you were to see them washing their food, you would simply say “Yeah, monkeys do that,”  when obviously in the beginning they did not.

Routinized behaviors become the norm.

Then the point I was trying to make took and unexpected and beautiful turn. One of the people at the seminar leaned back and said:

“So what we need is 100 people talking good about our organization.”

I smiled and said “Yes, I suppose so.  Are you willing to be the first?”

He returned the smile and answered “Yeah, I guess I’ll be your first monkey!”

We had a good laugh and a good seminar, but the lesson outlived the session. So let me ask you. If what you need at your school is 100 people talking good about it…

Will YOU be that first monkey?

(To read the original story go to http://www.worldtrans.org/pos/monkey.html )

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