Encouraging Innovation & The Story of the 5 Monkeys

This post is from 2011.  No monkeying around here.


I think we’ve all heard someone say it at one time or another.  Or, we may even have said it ourselves.  It goes something like this.  Someone asks the question, “why?” and the response is “Because that’s just the way it’s done.  We’ve always done it that way”

A statement like that can put the lid on things pretty quickly can’t it?  And often, those who are brave enough to explore further by asking, “Yes, but why has it always been done that way?” never receive a satisfactory answer because the truth is that nobody really knows why.

You’re nodding your head aren’t you?  I’m not surprised.  It is, after all, a fairly common occurrence especially in long established organizations.

It reminds me of the Story of the 5 monkeys.  If you aren’t familiar with the story here it is.

Of course, as human beings we like to think that we have evolved a little more than the monkeys in the story; that we are not so easily manipulated.  But, the story illustrates how we can fall into patterns of behaviour without really understanding why.  In organizations, we can also become so deeply entrenched in our way of doing things, attempts to effect change are often greeted with a metaphorical dousing of cold water almost every time.

I think we all know that in today’s economy, our ability to be flexible, creative and innovative is key to our present and future success. The question is, as leaders, how do we invite innovation and creative thinking into our workplaces?  Well, I’ve been having a bit of a think about that and I have some suggestions for your consideration, just to get you started.

Conduct a review of what you value

We tend to talk a lot about organizational values, sometimes without a second thought.  Taking the time to consider what we value and why we value it provides an opportunity to re-affirm organizational beliefs and also to challenge some that may no longer fit with our current reality.  Sometimes too, our actions and attitudes can get out of sync with what we say we value so looking in the mirror once in a while is not a bad idea.

Invite Challenge

This seems like a simple thing to do but sometimes we can allow our egos to get in the way.  For example, if you are a new leader it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you must have all of the answers. You don’t.  And you won’t.

Allowing others to challenge our thinking does not demean the role of the leader.  Instead, it enhances the possibility of a fresher, more creative and progressive outcome and that kind of leadership places emphasis where it belongs, on the work and the people who do it.

Look at failure as part of the process

Nobody likes to fail.  The thing is there are lessons to be learned from it and while we don’t try new things with the idea of failing, sometimes we have to try, and fail, until we discover what works.  Whether we like it or not, clinging to the familiar or doing things the way we have always done them will eventually lead us to failure anyway.

Acknowledge and Reward Creative thinking

Organizations that value stability over innovation will tend to discourage what they consider to be interference with the way things are and discount the ideas of those who think outside the scope of conventional wisdom.

Finding ways to bring out fresh ideas, no matter how bizarre they may sound, and acknowledging those eager to put them forward, demonstrates a willingness to accept the necessity for ongoing change in a time when change is the only thing we can count on.

In today’s world those of us who value stability must learn to live in environments where the apple cart is constantly being upset. To me, this means we will not always be able to know the “why” of everything but we can also no longer afford to accept things because that’s the way we’ve always done them.

That’s what I think, anyway.  What do you think?


Filed under Change Management, Leadership, Leadership Development, Organizational Effectiveness

4 responses to “Encouraging Innovation & The Story of the 5 Monkeys

  1. Gwyn, excellent post – having recently had to deal with ‘just because’ issues recently, I thought it was very timely!
    Best regards,

  2. Pingback: Encouraging Innovation & The Story of the 5 Monkeys | You’re Not the Boss of Me | A Dangerous Thing

  3. Pingback: Monkeys and bananas | Management Views

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s