The story of the five monkeys

You may have seen a story called the five monkeys experiment. It’s most likely a fabrication, but it goes like this:

A group of scientists placed five monkeys in a cage, and in the middle, a ladder with bananas on the top. Every time a monkey went up the ladder, the scientists soaked the rest of the monkeys with cold water. After a while, every time a monkey went up the ladder, the others would beat it up.

After some time, none of the monkeys dared go up the ladder regardless of the temptation. The scientists then substituted one of the monkeys with a new one, who’d immediately go for the bananas, only to be beaten up by the others. After several beatings, the new member learned not to climb the ladder even though it never knew why.

A second monkey was substituted and the same occurred. The first monkey participated in beating the second. A third monkey was exchanged and the story repeated. The fourth was substituted and the beating was repeated. Finally the fifth monkey was replaced.

Left was a group of five monkeys who, even though they never received a cold shower, continued to beat up any monkey who attempted to climb the ladder. If it was possible to ask the monkeys why they would beat up all who attempted to go up the ladder, the answer would probably be:

“That’s how we do things here.”

While the story is probably just that: a story, it tells us something about the drag induced by age and experience. If you’ve been in the business for decades, you’ve seen numerous failed attempts at something you yourself tried when you were young. You know that it can’t be done.

Young people don’t know that a thing can’t be done. If they can avoid the monkey-beating, they’ll attempt the impossible.

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