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That’s the Way We Do Things Around Here

The Monkey, Banana and Water Spray Experiment
5 monkeys are locked in a cage, a banana was hung from the ceiling and a ladder was placed right underneath it. As you would expect, one of the monkeys immediately raced towards the ladder to grab the banana. However, as soon as he started to climb, the researcher sprayed the monkey with ice-cold water. As an integral part of the experiment, the researcher would also spray the other four monkeys. The consequence of the one monkey’s action was doled to all.

It didn’t take long before another monkey tried to climb the ladder. The researcher again promptly sprayed the monkey with ice-cold water and the other four monkeys were sprayed as well. This was repeated again and again until all the monkeys learned the very simple lesson: If any monkey tries to get the banana, all the monkeys gets sprayed with ice-cold water.

Now that the action and consequence was ingrained in the group, the researcher replaced one of the monkeys with a new inexperienced monkey. As one would expect, it didn’t take long before the new monkey spotted the banana and tried to climb the ladder. The other four monkeys, aware of the consequences, pounced on the new monkey before he could reach the ladder and promptly give him a beating. The new monkey doesn’t know why he’s getting beat up but after a few drills he now understands that if you try to get the banana you get beaten. Keep in mind the new monkey has never been sprayed with water.

The researchers repeat this scenario 3 more times replacing one of the original water-sprayed monkeys with a new monkey. Each new monkey goes through the process of trying to get the banana and getting beaten by the other monkeys. Furthermore, each of the monkeys that had never been sprayed with water readily joins in on beating up the new monkey.

Finally, the last “original” monkey is removed from the cage and replaced with a new monkey. The new monkey goes for the banana and is promptly beaten by the four other monkeys. During the beating, the new monkey asks the other four monkeys why he wasn’t allowed to get the banana. The other four monkeys stopped and looked quizzically at each other; they had never been sprayed with water and really didn’t know why. They quickly settled on the answer: Because that’s the way we do things around here, and then resumed the beating.

Process Improvement
I’m a process improvement junkie. There, I’ve said it! I love going to customers’ sites to help implement Auction Flex. During these visits I am often afforded the opportunity to improve processes too. When I encounter a procedure that is ripe for improvement, nearly without fault, the reason they do a task a certain way is because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”. Once upon a time there was a good reason for that process, but nobody can remember what it was or why they still do it like that.

By no means am I suggesting that Auction Flex is absolved from this scrutiny. We continuously self-evaluate and whenever we find an out-of-date process we immediately write it on a whiteboard for discussion during the next company meeting. (Yes, we have a low-tech whiteboard hanging on an office wall!)

In the end, every successful company will end up with legacy processes that no longer make sense. The key here is to constantly be on the lookout for them. If you find any, that’s just proof that you’ve been in business long enough to have accrued them, but now it’s time to trim the waste! If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind. In business, there is no standing still.

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  1. March 3rd, 2013 at 08:24 | #1

    Applying story telling through the monkey analogy is a strong indication of the importance of assessing process, making relevant changes and achieving continuous improvement. This blog is a keeper! I’m a new flexer and appreciate the AF blog entries.

  2. March 6th, 2013 at 18:42 | #2

    I am also new to Auction Flex and am glad to hear that changes are readily considered. Do you take suggestions for changes? I have a few that would seem to make this a more efficient program.

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