The Institute of People Management Blog 16 – Date: w/e 4 December 2015 – Title: Organisational inertia and growth mindsets
Do you know the story of the 5 monkeys in a cage?
Put five monkeys in a cage. In the middle of the cage place a ladder and hang a nice bunch of bananas on a rope through the top of the cage. In hardly any time, one of the monkeys will see the bananas and start to climb the ladder. He would like to eat those delicious bananas. Now spray all the monkeys with cold water. The monkey soon jumps off the ladder. Another monkey will try his luck and after a little while will start climbing the ladder. Spray all the monkeys again. When a third one tries, all the other monkeys will prevent him from climbing the ladder. They don’t want to get cold and wet. Now leave the water, and replace one of the monkeys with a monkey who has never experienced the water and is new to the cage. What does he do? He notices those delicious bananas and tries to climb the ladder. What happens?
As soon as he jumps on the ladder, the others pull him off. Then replace another ‘old’ monkey with a ‘new’ one, and the same thing happens. Slowly even the new ones learn to prevent any monkeys from climbing the ladder, just as their co-monkeys are doing. Gradually replace each and every monkey. You’ll find that five new monkeys who never experienced any cold water now stop each other from climbing that ladder. And none of them knows why he/she is doing it.
Why are we telling this story? This happens in organisations too. We get stuck in patterns and routines ‘because that’s how we do things here’ or ‘it doesn’t work any other way’. But sometimes we don’t know exactly why, and sometimes we are not encouraged or supported to ask. That can produce organisational inertia, and its not good for business in this climate.
They say the future belongs to those who can question the status quo, who can connect the dots and experiment. Those people are innovating, finding better ways of doing things, producing better products and services. Organisations who support innovation genuinely at all levels are likely to out-compete those who keep doing what they have always done, especially if they don’t know why they are doing it.
Jamie Lawrence from HR Zone posted this article about growth mindsets. Growth mindsets are good for business performance, personal satisfaction and long-term confidence. Developing them, and minimising ‘blame’ mentalities encourages innovation. People with a growth mindset tend to believe that their basic abilities:
‘can be developed through persistence and effort and that brains, and talent, are merely a starting point. These people embrace learning and do not fear failure.’
Here are some of the suggestions for activating a growth mindset.
Imagine something doesn’t work out as planned. A manager or co-worker could ask questions like this:
- “What other strategies could we try?”
- “What about developing a Plan B? Plan A isn’t working. What could Plan B look like?”
- “Lets take a step back for a day or two, think about other options, and then tackle this from a different angle?”
Growth mindsets could make a big difference in your organization. Are you activating them?
For more reading on fixed versus growth mindsets, click here.