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Discover why you don’t see what you should probably see
May 05, 2015

Are you blind?

Scientists believe that our ancestors – tens of thousands of years ago – were not aware about the existence of air. Yet, they had it around them all the time: they couldn’t exist without it.

A somewhat similar phenomenon still happens to us today …

We are not aware about the existence of our own culture. Yet, we have it around us all the time: we couldn't exist without it.

Let me give you an example telling you a story.

Side note: This story has been told by some social scientists – but other social scientists affirm that this story never happened. Anyway, the point of this article is not to argue whether the story is true or not – the point of this article is to help you increase your awareness about your own cultural blindness.

The story goes like this …

“A group of social psychologists performed an experiment with rhesus monkeys. They started with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, they hung a banana on a string with a set of stairs placed under it. Before long, a monkey went to the stairs and started to climb towards the banana. As soon as his foot touched the stairs, the psychologists sprayed all the monkeys – all of them – with ice-cold water. After a while, another monkey made an attempt to obtain the banana.  As soon as his foot touched the stairs, the psychologists – once again – sprayed all the monkeys with ice-cold water. It wasn't long before all monkeys would physically prevent any monkey from climbing the stairs. Once this new behavior was learned – the monkeys physically preventing any monkey from climbing the stairs – the psychologists removed one monkey from the cage and replaced it with a new one. The new monkey saw the banana and started to climb the stairs. To his surprise, all of the other monkeys attacked him.  After another attempt and attack, he discovered that if he tried to climb the stairs, he would be assaulted. Next, they removed another of the original five monkeys and replaced it with a new one. The newcomer went to the stairs and was attacked. The previous newcomer took part in the punishment. Likewise, they replaced a third original monkey with a new one … then a fourth … then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey tried to climb the stairs, he was attacked. The monkeys had no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs and why they were beating any monkey that tried. After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys had ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approached the stairs to try for the banana.”

This group of social psychologists concluded that we – human beings – tend to do the same. We abide by the sentence: “This is the way it has always been done around here.”

Whether this story is true or not – the point is clear: Culture rules.

How does your organization hire new employees? How does your organization solve problems and make decisions? How does your organization run meetings? How does your organization practice performance management? How does your organization make use of feedback? How does your organization build teams? Etc., etc., etc.

Is your organization following best practices and adapting them to your specific needs - or is it performing the way it is because that is the way it has always been done?


Because of this unavoidable cultural blindness – and in order to help you keep your strategic smarts – integrate the following three disciplines in your ongoing leadership practice:

1) Unearth your organization’s assumptions.

2) Question your processes in the light of results.
3) Challenge your company’s well-ingrained habits.

If you do – two things will happen …

First – you will be genuinely surprised.
Second – you will be genuinely glad.

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See you next month!
Joseluis Romero - Publisher
May 5, 2014. Copyright: All rights reserved
I publish "Leader Newsletter" on the first Tuesday of every month
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