Five monkeys are sitting in a room. One after another they try to climb a ladder to reach a basket of bananas. But each time a monkey attempts to grab the bananas, they get sprayed with cold water. After several attempts the monkeys give up.
One by one the monkeys are removed from the room and a new monkey enters. The new monkey goes straight for the bananas. The other monkeys pull it back, saving it from being “sprayed by cold water”.
This process continues until there are five “new” monkeys in the room, none of whom has ever been sprayed with cold water. Yet they all continue to stop each new monkey entering the room from climbing the ladder to get the bananas. This is now a learned behavior based on their life experiences.
A new, curious monkey (not George) enters the room. He’s also stopped from climbing the ladder to get the bananas. So he seeks advice from the sage monkeys with years of experience living in the habitat. They happily provide volumes of advice, often waxing poetic and pontificating with superior confidence. But without questioning the underlying assumptions of these learned monkeys, the new monkey is one degree away from the truth and lacks real information needed to make a decision to act or not.
If he’d asked the simple question “why?” the entrenched behaviors and beliefs held by this monkey community could be turned upside down. Maybe the circumstances have changed and they will no longer be sprayed with cold water when attempting to reach the bananas?
Lesson: Always question key assumptions by asking why.