Because We’ve Always Done It That Way

Today’s post will be uncomfortable for some of you because human nature is such that we like the familiar, almost to the point that we’d rather keep doing the same things in the same way even though our head tells us a) it’s not working well b) there are other ways to accomplish the same task and c) there is sport science which indicates that the likelihood of success doing it differently is high.

For some of you out there, the past has been frustrating to say the least. You have a team that’s underachieving and all members of the team know it. As a group you’re willing to do whatever is necessary to perform better and that includes some out-of-season examination of the ways in which the team attempted to accomplish its tasks. If that’s the case, I believe you’ll find today’s blog enlightening. Enjoy!

Because We’ve Always Done it This Way

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 other monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result, and all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon the monkeys will try to prevent it.

>Now, put away 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! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth.

Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating 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 all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been done around here.”

The Lesson

What you have just read is a classic experiment that has been replicated on many occasions. The lesson is clear and jumps off the page, especially the last line, “…that’s the way we’ve always done it around here“.

In my professional careers of educator and coach, thankfully, in large measure, I’ve been blessed being around people who don’t think this way! People who know me well avoid, as a reason to persist with anything when questioned about it by me, “We’ve always done it this way!” Make no mistake. The tried and true methods of yesterday/year may indeed still be the best way to accomplish a task. I recognize that. My point is the unwillingness or the out-and-out defiance to even explore other, perhaps much better ways of accomplishing the task.

At high performance camps we make statements like; “If you want something you’ve never had before, you’d better be prepared to some things you’ve never done before” and “If you do what you’ve always done, chances are you’ll get what you’ve always got” and “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right” and the classic definition of INSANITY (doing things the same way but expecting different results). These statements are not originals and I don’t want to take credit for any of them. Henry Ford penned one and Albert Einstein another.

Curling teams that perform well on a consistent basis are open to new ideas. Are you a team or just a bunch of monkeys?

The next step of course is to get the help you need and for that you need to contact your provincial/territorial association. All are positioned to provide counselling in the area(s) in which you’re most interested. If you have any difficulties, I’m at the end of a telephone line (250-656-9933) or email (