How Paradigms are Created?

“That’s how things are done around here!” Does this sound familiar to you? But you never dared to ask “why are the things always done like that?” If so, read on. This post is for you.

In my last post I talked about the paradigm shift appearing in the horizon for traditional marketing, and how it would affect the advertising industry, and the people involved in advertising. When doing a bit of research on “Paradigms” (As a part of my MBA studies), I stumbled upon with this great story about “How Paradigms are Created?” on

This is how the story goes on..

A group of scientists placed five monkeys in a cage, and in the middle of the cage a ladder with bananas on the top. Every time a monkey went up the ladder, the scientists soaked the rest of the monkeys with cold water. After a while, every time a monkey went up the ladder, the other monkeys beat up the one on the ladder. After some time, no monkey dare to go up the ladder regardless of the temptation. Scientists then decided to substitute one of the monkeys. The first thing this new monkey did was to go up the ladder, to collect the bananas. Immediately the other monkeys beat him up. After several beatings, the new member learned not to climb the ladder even though never knew why. A second monkey was substituted and the same thing occurred. Surprisingly, the first replacement monkey, participated on the beating of the second replacement monkey. A third monkey was changed, and the same thing happened! More beating, and the first and the second replacement monkeys joined the rest of the original monkeys to beat the third replacement!
The fourth monkey was replaced, and the beating ritual continued, and finally the fifth monkey was replaced. Now, what is left with is a group of five monkeys, that even though never received a cold water treatment, continued to beat up any monkey who attempted to climb the ladder to get the bananas. If it was possible to ask these monkeys, why they would beat up all those who attempted to go up the ladder, the answer most probably would be “I don’t know! That’s how things are done around here!”

Now, forget the monkey business and look around yourself. How many times you heard the phrase “That’s how things are done around here!” in your life? How many times you’ve told that line to somebody else?

Members of many organizations and work places are all like the monkeys in this story. They blindly carry forward totally senseless work practices and organizational structures, just for the sake of doing it or having it (Add to that, the immense amount of auto generated email alerts and routinely circulated reports, which goes directly into the trash folder of most of the receivers). If you look at some of the systems and procedures you follow in your work place, you’d realize how senseless most of them are. Every time a new member joins such an organization, they see this pathetic situation, and question the existing ways of doing things and suggest alternatives. But they earn nothing but a denial and rejection (May be followed up with a stupid explanation of “why we are doing it this way”). When they ask “why?”; the answer they usually get is “That’s how things are done around here!” And they are forced to think within the “mental frameworks” created by such senseless rituals. The new comer either adapts to that response, or he leaves the organization. If he decides to adapt to that, the next day he becomes that first or second replacement monkey, and give the same answer to another new comer who try to challenge the existing ways of doing things. (Believe, me I’ve done that so many times in my life!)
After sometime, these senseless work practices and procedures creates a rigid wall around the organization, making it impossible for the organization to quickly respond to the market needs and competitive stances (Loss of corporate agility).

We all are prisoners of such blind paradigms. And these blind paradigms hold individuals and organizations so backward, without letting them thrive towards a better status quo. All the great success stories begin with a paradigm shift. Dell Computers, Japanese approach to Total Quality Management, (Who ever thought of quality levels of “one mistake in a million occurrences”? In Sri Lanka, people still believes 1% failure is acceptable. A false quality paradigm) Ceylinco On the spot insurance, Kerry Packer’s Day & Night Cricket; everything! But Every time we are face with a paradigm shift decision, most of us opt for the easiest choice. That is to hold tight on to the paradigm we already believe in. That’s what exactly the monkeys in that story did. Are you asking me why? I don’t know! That’s how things are done around here!

1 comment:

  1. interesting post!

    we are all stuck within paradigms in our life and not only in our workplaces, they are extremely manifest in our culture, social lives, mannerisms etc. so how do we break out of them?

    should we question every single action we do and analyze if they are justifiably rational before we perform them?

    That will involve a vast amount of mental effort in order to be performed on a consistent basis and also we will have to constantly battle fears of failure by completely breaking away from known norms.

    its all very well to implement strategic efforts at destroying existing paradigms from a senior management level, but as human beings, are we mentally capable of even identifying all such phenomena that surround us?

    or is it an inbuilt trait within the psychology of any species that protects us from psychological overload? sort of a social mechnism for us to learn from the experiences of our predecessors and the inhabitants of our environment?

    admitted, it might not always be rational, but perhaps its long term insticticve goal may ne the protection of the species.


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