Research shows that short term gain trumps long term disadvantage if there is no clearly visible correlation. This means that we tend to do things today that are harmful for our tomorrow, especially if we can’t see why these are bad choices. We play it safe and do what we have always done. And as you can guess, at best, we get the same results. To take risks and dare to make mistakes is necessary and leads to long term success.
I am sure you have heard of the experiment conducted by Gordon R Stephenson at the end of the 1960’s (some claim it is a myth, but never mind that). He placed fives apes in a cage, in that cage there was a ladder and on the far end of the ladder hung a bunch of bananas. Every time one of the apes would climb the ladder, the other apes got a shower of cold water. After a while the apes connected the banas and ladder with a cold shower, so every time one ape tried to climb the ladder to get the fruit, it was stopped by the others. The result was of course that no ape dared to climb the ladder, no matter the temptation.
When Gordon added a new, sixth ape to the group, the first thing it tried was to climb the ladder. Because of this, the new ape would get a good thrashing by the older ones. After a while, the new ape learnt not to climb the ladder, even though it had never experienced the cold shower connected to climbing the ladder.
A seventh ape was added to the group, and it all repeated itself. Even the sixth ape took part in stopping the new comer.
Gordon started replacing the apes one by one with new ones, so after a time none of the original five were left, and none of the apes in the cage had received cold showers. Yet they continued to stop each other from climbing the ladder and reaching the bananas.
If we had had the opportunity to ask the apes why (which probably would not have been possible as they are, after all, apes) they might have answered something along the lines of: “This is the way we do things here. They way it has always been. It is working, so why fix it?”.
Recognize these phrases?
Short term gain trumps long term disadvantage if there is no clearly visible correlation.
To question why we do things a certain way, is one of the most important qualities we can instill in established organisations. Because, in established organisations, old “truths” rule. A way of implementing a positive routine of re-evaluation is to start working with innovation and constant improvement.
Upon hearing innovation and constant improvement you might think suggestion box. For those of you who are a bit younger, born in the 1980’s or 90’s, when suggestion boxes had been the new, modern way of working, a suggestion box was a completely regular mail box in a hallway where anyone could put a hastily written note with his or her idea.
The problem was, no one emptied that box. Unless directly into the bin, that is. You see, reading those ideas took time. Time no one had (not even back then). Sometimes no one was even charged with reading them, so the ideas stayed in the box, the box turned into a rubbish bin, and was taken down. So ideas were never read of feedbacked, and this lead to a company wide feeling of “no one listens to our ideas, or care about what we have to say”.
That is why I am really excited to work with Idea Hunt. To help organisations get that self playing piano tuned in, and see the ideas and solutions discussed and looped among people.
Because if we don’t try new things, we are no better than those apes, right?