Courage and being a rogue monkey | Courageous Workplaces
Skip to content

I was ‘reminded’ of the story of the rogue monkey recently and although it is probably not true (it is however based on research by G.R. Stephenson in 1967), thought it very appropriate for explaining workplace courage.

The story goes that half a dozen monkeys were put together in a large cage with a bunch of bananas hanging from the roof and a set of steps leading to the fruit.

However, as soon as one monkey touched the steps, they were electrocuted and jets of cold water drenched all the monkeys.  The monkeys quickly learned that the steps and bananas were out of bounds and acted together to prevent any individual monkey getting too close.

Once these social rules were created, a monkey was removed from the cage and replaced with a new one.  Before the new monkey could get close to the steps and therefore the bananas, the rest of the group jumped on him, forcibly stopping him.  Despite never getting wet or electrocuted, the new monkey learned the “rules” and when another new monkey was introduced, joined in the policing of the rules.

Over time all of the original monkeys were replaced but the social rule continued to be taught, despite the punishments being turned off.

However, once in a while a newcomer would turn ‘rogue’, resist the efforts of the others and leap on the steps and eat the bananas.  While initially fearful, after a while all the other monkeys would begin to test the steps and the old social rule was forever changed and they exhibited new behaviours.

The rogue monkey showed courage by challenging the social pressures (remember that the actual punishments no longer existed) of their group to achieve a desirable goal.  They took a risk to be different.  Their benefit were the bananas while the group’s benefit was to be shown that they could have access to the steps and therefore potentially future bananas.

I am a rogue monkey.

Are you?