Canadian Pizza Magazine

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From the Editor’s Desk: March 2008

12 Wet Monkeys


February 29, 2008
By Cam Wood

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Behavioural science is something that most restaurants know all too well … even if they don’t think they do.

12 Wet Monkeys

Behavioural science is something that most restaurants know all too well … even if they don’t think they do.
When dealing with different generations of employees and an extremely diverse work force, it’s almost a subconscious understanding of the dynamics of how staff members relate to each other, and function as a team.

At a recent conference, I listened to a hilarious story about behaviour, and how it is influenced by a pack mentality. Now the pack mentality part is key. If you’re a QSR, or take-out only, chances are the majority of your staff fall into the generation Y demographic. This group functions more in a pack-mentality mode than most other generational groups.

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In the 1960s, scientists in Arizona explored the idea of how certain environmental conditions can influence behaviour by isolating 12 monkeys in a cage. In the centre of the cage they hung a rope, at the top of which they placed a banana.

Now, as monkeys are apt to do, they set their sights on getting that banana. As the first monkey climbed the rope, the researchers would shower it with a shot of water, soaking all the primates. The study went through all animals until there was nothing but 12 wet monkeys and a banana on the top of the cage.

The researchers then removed one monkey, and replaced it with a new dry monkey. What they discovered was that when this new monkey tried to climb the rope, his 11 soggy peers held him back, protecting him and themselves from the water blast.

For the research, the study was beginning to prove that while the first dozen monkeys learned the truth about consequences for their actions, the new dry monkey was learning of the consequences from a group of peers – not necessarily the truth. Neither that monkey, nor the remaining 11 wet ones, knew if it would get blasted with water.

One by one the researchers removed a wet monkey from the cage (and for animal rights activists, I’m sure they gave him a towel and a nice ripe banana). As they introduced each new monkey to the study, they discovered that each time the pack of the other 11 would hold the new monkey back from the rope.

By the time the banana was finally retrieved from the top of the rope by a monkey, 48 animals had been used. So what do 12 wet monkeys have to do with pizza?

Think about your own operations from the same behavioural patterns. Are things not getting done because the “wet monkeys” are preventing the “dry monkeys” from trying new things … or for that matter, even doing the right things the right way instead of the pack-mentality way?

I’m not suggesting you draw a comparison between your staff and these primates, but consider this perspective: it took the researchers having to “fire” four generations of “employees” before the habit based on perception was broken, as opposed to finding out if the 13th subject would learn the truth for him or herself instead of buying in to what the others believed.

It underscores that old workplace philosophy of “we don’t do it that way around here.”


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