There was the famous experiment on monkeys. You get five of them into a cage with ladder, with banana on top of it. As soon as they enter the cage, monkeys immediately rush to get their beloved food. But reaching for ladder triggers cold shower.

Quickly, monkeys realize that this banana should be left alone.

Then you swap one monkey for a new one. As it, inevitably, rushes for a banana, it gets beating from the others. Few moments later, it knows that it’s not worth it.

Then you swap another one, with the same result. Then the next, and so on. Soon, all the monkeys are swapped and each of them knows that was taught a lesson.

Which is where we play evil scientist and add a new monkey in. Without a doubt, it tries to reach for banana, only to get its beating.

As all its predecessors, it has no idea why it got punished.
Other (swapped) monkeys have no idea why they punish the new one – none of them ever got wet.
Apparently, this is how things are in that specific cage.

The best part of the experiment?
IT WAS NEVER CONDUCTED.

We have no idea if monkeys would act this way.

The scariest part of the experiment? We know, well enough, that regardless of how monkeys would behave, we would act as the way they did. Just the social element of our human nature.

When put in a new environment, we don’t want to be the one to rock the boat. Reaching for banana is challenging the status quo – and nobody likes that. Unless we’re conscious and deliberate about it, we don’t really want to expand our comfort zones.

And without it, we’re becoming obsolete, as someone competing with us will expand theirs.

Remember that as you walk into your monkey cage this morning.

As a kid, I got to live on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. I don’t really remember much of this time, as the fall of communism marked my eighth birthday. Surely, I got to participate in awkward ceremonies praising the revolution, something we now usually associate with the weirder of Koreas. I remember glimpses of the corrupt Western world passing through the censorship, with Disney cartoons, Japanese technological advancements in popular science show and, remarkably, Miss Universe pageants. First are now irrelevant, second are possibly rotten at some scrapyard, so let’s focus on the contest. I remember interviews with the finalists, when they were asked about what’s really important to them. “World peace”. “Protection of the environment”. “Ending world hunger”.

With my tiny understanding of life back then, I was sitting in awe, amazed by what I now called bullshit. Read more

Once you enter a particular workplace, you notice a few things. The way people talk. The way they act. The things they say. While every individual behaves in their own, very specific manner, you’re likely to notice a pattern. They do have something in common, something distinctive. It’s almost like visiting some other country, which you expect to be very similar to yours. Very quickly, you’ll discover that your first impression is wrong. Nations grown upon, say, Greek and Roman heritage, generally behave the same way for any outsider. The quirks and peculiarities emerge rapidly though, making each of them to stand out. And all the companies within such national environment display the same differences to each other. In essence, that’s what we call culture.

But where does it come from? Read more

A few years back, I was asked to work with a team that has worked on an uneasy task for over a year. They were to outsource maintenance and expansion of business-critical software. Interestingly, they took it over from another supplier which, clearly, had no idea how to work on such a product. While developing new functionalities, they were fixing legacy bugs. Being honest, they did create quite a few of their own. It’s just how it is, when you code, there are bugs. On top of it, there was the client’s product owner, struggling to tie lose ends. All the fun you could have, as I thought.

Then one day, there was a face to face meeting. Read more

However mindful and careful might you be when behind the wheel, at some point you will inevitably do something dangerous. Near miss some other car when overtaking. Powering through a corner which turns out to be covered with black ice. Forcing a right of way on the intersection. Just a moment of mindlessness, unseen risk, lack of experience – each of these can be potentially disastrous. Thing is, in huge majority of cases, nothing happens. Somehow you recover, just to burst out with nervous laughter once the adrenaline rush stops. Then, inevitably and possibly subconsciously, you will draw some conclusions. You might become more careful or, oddly, start to care less. The latter one is more likely if your similar experiences from the past ended the same way, with no serious consequences. Some action is potentially deadly – but it always works out, somehow. You might start tolerating it.

And it’s not like the phenomenon is narrowed down to single people. Teams do it. Societies do it. Even large and knowledge based organizations do it. Ever heard of NASA? Read more

I got to see extreme variance of teams. Some could swarm on complex tasks, rapidly decompose them, find the most critical details and provide reply in no time. Some other hid behind an impenetrable firewall of processes. Some felt and behaved like bunch of good friends. Yet other were just a group of people, apparently put together by some random variation of the loom of time. Now, it would be easy to explain this by different organizations these teams originated from. After all, the way people behave is, to a point, reflection of their workplace culture.

Thing is, all these teams were within one company. Ouch. Read more