Go Ahead — Eat that banana!

Here’s a story from ThinkerToys by Michael Michalko. Imagine a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage there is a banana on a string. Before long a monkey walks over and reaches for the banana. As soon as he touches the banana, all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water. After a while another monkey makes an attempt to grab the banana — with the same result. All the monkeys are instantly sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to reach for the banana, the other monkeys will try to stop him.

Now forget the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and obviously goes over and starts to grab it. But to his surprise, all of the other monkeys attack him to prevent him from touching the banana.

Next, remove another of the original monkeys and replace it with a new one. Now all of the monkeys currently in the cage stop the new one from getting to the banana. Replace the third, fourth and fifth monkeys with new ones. Each one becomes a willing opponent to allowing anyone to touch that banana.

Now, none of the monkeys in the cage at this point were every sprayed with cold water. But they continue to prevent each other from grabbing that banana — the one food that they should all naturally love. None of these monkeys ever approaches the banana again. They have no idea why it’s off limits — But that’s just the way things have always been done around here.

Sound familiar? If you walked in to your work, church, marriage or neighborhood as an unbiased outsider, what would you question about the “normal” activities there? Are you accepting old traditions that defy the intelligence or spiritual insight you have today?

Do you still kiss your spouse when you arrive home or have you gradually become accustomed to just doing what most people do when they’ve been married 10 years?

Are you looking for meager salary guarantees and benefit packages — and depriving yourself of the rich opportunities for free-lance work?  Are you convinced no one is hiring because of what you’re seeing in the newspaper? 

Does your company require you to be at the office each day because you could not do the same work from home, or just because it’s always been done that way?

Does your church sit in pews, sing 3 songs and have a 30 minute sermon because that’s the best way to complete God’s work here, or just because that’s become a cultural tradition?

Are you continuing to stick with something that isn’t working simply because you’ve bought into the lie that “Winners never quit and quitters never win”?

This is the first day of a brand New Year.  Take the next 7 days to challenge all your daily assumptions. You may be surprised how you can uncover some readily available fresh, tasty bananas right within your reach!

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16 Responses to “Go Ahead — Eat that banana!”

  1. JoshSamBob Says:

    Hey Dan –

    Great post! This really made me think.

    Thanks for starting my 2009 off with interesting thoughts.

    – Josh

  2. Katherine Laine Says:

    Thanks for the reminder that sometimes a barrel of monkeys isn’t much fun!

    Very uplifting!


  3. Edwin Crozier Says:

    Great! Starting the year off with a huge challenge.

  4. Ava Warner Says:

    This is a great post Dan, and quite appropriate today. Thanks for the reminder!

    In His Service,
    Ava Warner

  5. Larissa Says:

    Thank you for an interesting post. I’ll be pondering if there are things I prevent others from doing or if others prevent me from doing things, just because that’s the way it always has been…
    Hope I get some sleep tonight!!! 🙂

  6. Abigail Dougherty Says:

    Wow! Every business ought to post this in their lunchrooms. Many of us never think about what is stopping our progress.

  7. Jared Matthew Kessler Says:


    It is unfortunate that out of the 30 or so “Survival Jobs” I took to fund my business, people purposely try to hold you back because they feel threatened by the job you do. I STILL don’t understand that. Purposely taking “Entry Level” jobs because I never wanted the added responsibility of making others rich, I see this more often than not. It is unfortunate why people in the business/corporate world can’t be behind hard working and honest employees and give them their own wings to fly instead of sabotaging those same people. In the end, though, I think we are seeing a GREAT case of “What goes around comes around.”

    I hope more things change in the future, but I honestly don’t see the difference between those monkeys and what people are doing in most corporations nowadays. However, we NEED TO EACH take full responsibility for staying OR leaving a situation that prevents us each from getting that banana and living the life we know we FULLY deserve.

    Jared Matthew Kessler
    (Author of “The Poet and the Billionaire: A Personal Journey of Conversation)

  8. frank Says:

    Great post!

  9. Bob Boyan Says:

    Thanks Dan,

    Such a funny post. I worked in a monkey cage for a year and a half (actually a church). I kept urging all the other monkeys to get sprayed with water though. I was trying to make a swimming pool.

    Now I’m in search of something better and more fullfilling. Thanks to you and other inspirational leaders, I think I’m on the right track.

    Thanks again,
    Bob Boyan

  10. poor boomer Says:

    Okay, I’m thinking outside the box and have a really weird question:

    What happens if, after all of the ‘original’ monkeys have been replaced, and therefore none of the monkeys now inside the cage were ever sprayed with cold water…the ‘newest’ monkey in the cage reaches for the banana, the others (as expected) intervene, and then the intervenors get sprayed with cold water?

    Specifically, what happens the NEXT time a newly-introduced monkey reaches for the banana? Do the other monkeys ‘unlearn’ their blocking behavior?

  11. GaryD Says:

    Wow, this one really got me thinking… Great post!

  12. Karen Cooper Says:

    Dan – What a wonderfully thought-provoking post. I’m eating the banana and the heck with what everyone else is saying. Happy New Year!

  13. monicahamburg Says:

    Love it! Reminds me of the “Grandma cutting the ends off ham” story.

    It’s funny how people often do things in one way because it’s tradition, even if the tradition no longer makes any sense.

  14. Pat Says:

    Don’t throw the baby out with the cold bathwater. Some traditions add structure, value and richness to our lives. The key is to learn the difference and act accordingly.

  15. Camilla Says:

    I feel like I must be a monkey. I have always thought outside the box and instead of being accepted for who I am, I feel like I get scolded. I can be strong willed, but sometimes it seems as though just the smallest idea of doing things differently on a job, at church, or at home brings out such disciplinary actions from those around me. I get speeches on how nothing is perfect and that I have to be realistic. But I still feel like there is more that I can do. And even though I have been knocked down and have even fallen down. I know I have to keep getting up and drying myself off. I’m going to have my banana and once I do, there isn’t going to be enough cold water or anything else to make me give it up.

  16. Carrie Says:

    I can identify with this. If you find yourself wanting to improve things around you, and no one else is interested, pretty soon, you slide into apathy. Then a new person comes in with a desire to improve things and you secretly resent them for trying to change the status quo. That’s the real danger here. Apathy. When you start feeling that, it’s time to wake up and see what’s happening before your fire dies inside you.

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