October 12, 2022
One of the neat things about the Gear Expo is seeing people you once worked with. Sometimes though, they remember your interactions in greater detail than you do and it can get a bit embarrassing. This happened to me when a man I did a project with back in 2010 asked me to tell his co-worker a joke I told during a ride to dinner during that two-week assignment seven years ago. The ride, the joke, and most of the project had slipped from my memory so I was a bit of a disappointment. Even the 5-hour ride home did not stir the old grey matter but the Internet came through for me with enough clues to reconstruct the context and the joke. Our ad hoc team had been touring the facilities of a potential acquisition and concerns were raised about the cultural changes needed to bring the individual components of the acquisition into the purchaser’s organization. I told the joke to illustrate the need for sweeping staff changes if such an integration was to be successful. So here is the reconstructed story: Four monkeys are in a tall cage with a bunch of bananas hanging from the top; a ladder is conveniently positioned below it. Immediately a hungry monkey clambers up the ladder but as soon as he touches the bananas, he is knocked down by a fire hose of icy water. So are the other three monkeys. The next day a different monkey is hungry enough to race up the ladder but he, too is doused as are his buddies. The following day a third brave primate starts towards the ladder only to be pummeled into inaction by the other monkeys. Overnight, one of the monkeys is replaced by a newcomer. He does not know about the fire hose and runs to the ladder; the veterans beat him viciously. Each night, one of the originally doused monkeys is replaced but the beatings continue even when the entire group of soaked critters are gone. Supposedly this experiment “proved” the power of institutional memory. Fact checking indicates this is a misrepresentation of an actual, less brutal experiment with only two monkeys. As an amateur novelist [November is, after all, National Novel Writing Month and I am a nine-time participant], I do not believe in letting truth get in the way of a good joke. I have seen this mob mentality at several stops in my career and can vouch for the beating the new guy gets for breaking the unwritten rules. People who never got near that fire hose still shiver in anticipation of the dire consequences of stepping towards the ladder. No amount of logic or experience will budge some of them; they’d rather starve than give up their long-held fears. Don’t be like those monkeys.