Four monkeys

Does your organisation have a process or a behaviour which you cannot explain? When updating your IT systems, do you insist on replicating those processes within the new solution, even though there is no benefit to your business? Do you continue to do things the same way because “it has always been done this way“?

Imagine a room which houses four monkeys. Let  us call these four monkeys “Group A”. In the middle of the room, inside a glass booth, is a banana. The booth has room for only one monkey.

As soon as one of the monkeys goes into the booth, the other three are hosed down with cold water. There is no punishment for the monkey who goes into the booth, even if he eats the banana.

Eventually, the monkeys start beating up any one of them that goes near the black-spider-monkey-bbooth. Once they all learn that going near the booth earns them a beating, we replace one of the Group A monkeys with a new monkey, from Group B, who doesn’t know the rules.  Now we stop applying the jets of cold water and we rely on the three original Group A monkeys to train the new one. He also learns not to go near the banana in order to avoid a beating. Once he learns that, we replace another of the Group A monkeys with a new Group B monkey.

As each Group B monkey learns not to approach the glass booth, even though it contains a delicious banana, we keep replacing the original Group A monkeys until there are none left.

Now we only have Group B monkeys in the room, none of whom have ever been hosed down with cold water, all of whom have learned not to touch the banana, but none of whom can explain why. What is worse, the original cause of the behaviour is no longer there.


  • Analysts, always seek to understand how each process benefits the business (or even whether it does)
  • Customers, ask yourselves why you do things the way you do them – insist that your analysts challenge the way things are done

Kind regards,

Declan Chellar

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