Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fads, Trends, and Human Nature

Lately I have seen a tremendous amount of noise about "social hiring," "collaboration," "communities," and what I refer to as "new economy" thinking, and no one cheers all this new thinking on as much as I do, but I cannot help but realize that sometimes the best ideas end up failing because they run into the brick wall of human nature.

Regardless of how far and or how hard one attempts to innovate the reality is that human nature will kick in at some point.  But exactly how do you make a point without sounding too critical?  How does one go about getting people to think, keeping the ball rolling, without lecturing?  Then I came across this article and this story:
Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it.

Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result – all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, turn off the cold water.

Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one.

The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs.

To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one.

The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked.

The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one.

The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well.

Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced.

Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs.

Why not?

Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been around here.

And that’s how company policy begins …
The invisible barriers of human nature.  We can criticize the limitations of hierarchical organizations but teams, groups, and lateral organizational structures can also be as limiting due to the age old concept of peer pressure.    

I have met with a few successful Web 2.0 companies and I marveled at how conformist they were!  Oh, yes, they had replaced a formal dress code with an informal one; if everyone in your operation is wearing t shirts, jeans, and sports nose rings, and tattoos, then you really have not changed anything!

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

On line communities are great, but all communities create their own hierarchy, all communities eventually devise a way to de mark those who can participate and those who cannot; they all internalize a structure for the "paying of dues" as it is known.

We all admire the "change" that the internet has wrought in our lives and then human nature ends up trumping change; we do not explore for example, how Google + can change "me" but rather we attempt to figure out how to conform Google + to "me."  

Retailers view social media and email marketing as just another advertising channel and then complain about dismal results.

There have always been fads and there have always been trends, the difference is one builds upon human nature and the other does not.

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