Monkey see, monkey do

Three wise monkeys

Three wise monkeys

Monkey see, monkey do; another way of saying custom and practice.

Wikipedia says it came out of a folk tale, but it seems to permeate through so many things that we do.

Take law for instance.

There sits a judge, in their wig and robes.  Why?  Because that is what is expected, because that is the way that things have been done for a long time.  The barrister, perhaps also resplendent in their wig and robe, cites a number of cases to lend legitimacy to their line of thought in order to persuade the judge that theirs is the best argument.  The judge carefully considers the barrister’s argument and whether or not the cases which have been cited are appropriate.  The judge makes a decision and writes a long speech about why the decision was made, and cites numerous past cases themselves to lend legitimacy to their reasoning.  They spend many years honing the art of either memorising or being able to lay their hands on past examples and on citing them appropriately in order to do this.

Wigs, robes, past cases, precedent.  Monkey see, monkey do.  It lends legitimacy to the proceedings; monkey saw other monkey do it this way, so monkey will do it this way.  Who could argue with such flawless logic?

Then there’s banking and investing.  You will no doubt be bemused when you hear a news correspondent or read a news article telling you that the market and or investors are jittery.  Why are they jittery?  They watch each other for signs of what to do, that’s why.  If one monkey gets jittery, then there is good reason for the other monkeys to be jittery.  The monkeys make a great deal of fuss and noise in order to warn each other (and also to check for a reaction from the other monkeys, seeking legitimacy for their own jitters) then back off and huddle together quietly until the danger passes.  This affects the whole market.

Business is also affected by this simian behaviour.

Remember the story about the monkeys and the banana?  This could be used as an example to talk about consumers and their actions, peer validation, custom and practice.

For example, when you search, you Google it.  When did Google become a verb?  When the number of consumers using the service for searching reached critical mass.  How did it reach that point?  Word of mouth.  The monkeys told each other; monkey see, monkey do.  It’s how we learn, it’s how we teach, it’s how we train new workers, and it’s in everything that we do.

This behaviour leads to the beliefs that people end up with which result from their interpretation of what they have observed in themselves and others.  Sort of like a scientific law, which is simply a statement of what is most probable, based on an interpretation of what has been observed under controlled circumstances over a given period of time and which has been validated by peers who have tested the interpretation by repeating – monkey see, monkey do – those circumstances to see if the same thing happens again.  Enough monkeys see this, and then they call it a law.

Consumers and companies see and then they repeatedly observe, and then they believe.  This reinforces existing behaviours, and then it solidifies into competitor incumbent inertia as the management believe their own hype.

The way we’re doing this?  Our culture?  Our management practices?  The way we come up with strategies?  The strategies we come up with as a result? What we think the consumers will do?  That is the way it has always been!  The product we use? The service we use?  The way we use it?  What we use it for?  When we use it?  How many times we use it?  The price we pay for it?  Who we get it from?  That is the way it has always been!

Then some bright monkey observes and interprets these patterns of behaviour and spots an opportunity to do something different, and if that monkey acts quickly and efficiently enough then they are the first to enter uncontested market space.  This is called innovation; the proverbial flame of Prometheus.  No sooner has this happened than all the other monkeys want to get in on the act and promptly imitate any product, process, culture, service etc and enter that market space themselves by producing a variation of what that other monkey did; it all comes full circle again.

There is a lesson in there somewhere.  Perhaps if we understand how all the different monkeys are connected to each other, we can affect them and make the world turn a different way without the monkeys realising that they’ve been affected…


About TheImaginator

35 year old sciolist living in Tokyo. I like swing dancing, Twitter word games, writing, using, reading, and watching movies. I write stuff on my blog occasionally.
This entry was posted in Philosophical musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Monkey see, monkey do

  1. Pingback: So you want a revolution? | Blog of the imaginator

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