Are we smarter than monkeys?

Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re probably right.
Henry Ford
1863 – 1947

The following is an interesting story based on the research of G. R. Stephenson–though it’s probably been embellished a bit.

Five monkeys were placed in a cage. There was a ladder in the cage, and at the top of the ladder was a bunch of bananas. There was also a fire hose.

The first monkey to spot the bananas started up the ladder, eager to indulge its appetite. The fire hose spewed ice cold water on all the monkeys.

A few minutes later, another monkey decided to brave the ladder–with the same result. It wasn’t long before the monkeys realized that going up the ladder would cause all of them to be sprayed with freezing water.

One monkey was removed from the cage and a new monkey was added. When the new monkey started toward the ladder, the others attacked it to prevent it from unwittingly setting off the hose. This process continued, replacing monkeys one by one until all of the original animals had been removed from the cage. Each new occupant was actively discouraged from climbing the ladder.

Eventually, the fire hose was removed. None of the monkeys in the cage at that time had ever been sprayed with cold water. But they had all been discouraged by others when they showed interest in climbing the ladder, so none of them attempted to get the bananas. This phenomenon is what psychologists call the social transmission of an acquired behavior.

You might be thinking that people are smarter than monkeys. But people act in similar ways all the time. We let the limiting beliefs of others control what we’re willing to attempt. We accept the way things are without questioning the underlying assumptions. We assume we’ll get sprayed with ice water even though the fire hose isn’t present.

We don’t climb the ladder because someone else tells us that it’s too dangerous; we’ll not only fail, but we’ll make things worse for others. So we stay away from the ladder, and the status quo reigns.

Take a good look at your self-limiting beliefs. Where do they come from? Are they real, or have you accepted someone else’s experiences as gospel? Just because others do things a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do things. It’s only when you challenge the established routine that innovation and improvement become possible.

There is no sadder or more frequent obituary on the pages of time than “We have always done it this way.”

Copyright © 2014 John Chancellor

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