Sunday, March 13, 2016

5 Monkees, a Banana and Killing Stupid Rules

Have you ever heard the fable about the five trained monkeys and the banana?
A scientist placed five monkeys in a cage and then dangled a banana at the top of a ladder. The monkeys clambered over each other to reach the banana but when one of them got to it, the scientist sprayed all 5 monkeys with cold water. All 5 monkeys got soaked, which translated into five unhappy monkeys. Over and over, whenever one of them went for the banana, all of them got wet. Soon, the group attacked any monkey that started to go after the prize. The scientist then replaced one of the original monkeys with a new monkey and stopped using the cold water spray. Since the newcomer knew nothing about the cold water, he instinctively climbed for the banana—and was promptly beat up by the others. One by one, the scientist replaced the trained monkeys with new monkeys, who were taught by the group that the banana was off-limits. After five days, no original monkeys remained in the cage. Yet every day, they were determined to fight any monkey who dared to reach for the banana. But none of them, of course, knew why.
My favorite analogy to this fable is when a new employee starts at a company. Footloose and fancy-free, ready to conquer the world. Perhaps the new employee just graduated from college, full of idealism and determined to make a difference. Maybe he or she has some new fangled ideas to make things more efficient or faster.
"We tried that a few years ago." "You need to go through the chain of command." "sounds good, but we're ISO." 
What seemed like a simple trip up a ladder for some yummy banana turns into a beat down. The new person learns to conform and play along. No banana. Employees eventually no longer question anything—no matter how shortsighted or inefficient—because management had been historically unreceptive to input or inquiry. "I tried to tell THEM that 3 years ago, THEY don't listen." I just work here. Is it Friday yet?
Bob Chapman, in his book "Everybody Matters" talks about the concept of "killing a stupid rule", and giving people "freedom from" and "freedom to." "Freedom from" is freeing people from excessive hierarchy, burdensome rules, stifling bureaucracy and oppression." "Freedom to" is where people have the freedom to innovate, experiment and fail. To succeed, all you need to do is develop a solid foundation of shared values and a shared vision of the future. Chapman goes on to say that "a handful of shared values is worth more than a 1000 rules."
Bob Chapman, by the way, is Chairman & CEO at Barry-Wehmiller, a $1.8 billion dollar growing business that measures success by the way they touch the lives of others. They've also won the coveted Shingo Prize for operational excellence and launched Barry-Wehmiller University in 2008.
Killing a stupid rule may involve no rule at all. Killing a stupid rule might be uncovering some assumptions and perceptions and killing them!  The uncovering will require some humble inquiry and listening. I always kick off A3 at a new company I am working in by doing an index card event. Ask everyone in the business, "if you owned the company, what is the one change you would make right now to your job?" Whatever they write on the card finds its way onto the A3 board.
The number one response I get after 2 or 3 months? "Finally, they're listening".
Suddenly people stop worrying about getting sprayed with cold water. New people get to hold onto their hopes and dreams. People look forward to coming to work. Employee turnover decreases drastically.
So, ready to kill some stupid rules this week?


  1. "We know what we know"....get's in the way of progress. Good post...Thanks

  2. know"....get's in the way of progress. Good post...Thanks