School Culture and 5 Gorillas

A friend told me about some research that says something about the importance of school culture.

Scientists put 5 gorillas in a cage along with a ladder that led to a bunch of bananas. When the first gorilla climbed the ladder, scientists turned a fire hose on him, and he hopped off the ladder. Several other gorillas did the same thing with similar results.

After a while, scientists replaced each of the gorillas, one at a time. When each new gorilla arrived, he or she tried to climb the ladder, but before scientists went to the water hose, the other gorillas made sure the “newbie” got off the ladder.

What’s interesting is that, eventually, none of the gorillas in the cage had ever experienced or even seen anyone experience the water hose, but there was something in the culture that kept the gorillas from trying to get those bananas.

Since hearing this, I find myself walking through our school, wondering about our own ladders and hoses, and wondering, too, about what keeps us from going after those bananas?

All of this reminds me of Roger Martin’s line that “Culture eats strategy for lunch. Every day.”


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