I read this artical a couple of years ago which inspired this photoshop sketch.
The apocryphal thought experiment goes something along these lines. Take several monkeys (but not too many!), a cage, and a banana. You will also need a hosepipe and a substantial supply of very cold water. Place half the monkeys in the cage, along with the banana, but make sure the banana requires some effort for the monkeys to obtain. Some writers suspend it from a string, or put it at the top of some steps. Now the monkey torture begins.
One enterprising monkey will head for the banana. Before he gets it, hose down all the monkeys in the cage with cold water. Shortly afterwards, another monkey will try to get the banana, resulting in yet another thorough dousing for the monkey and all his buddies. It takes only a little of this conditioning for the monkeys to develop a conditioned response. Should another monkey have the nerve to make a move for banana nirvana, his fellows will hammer the crap out of him before he gets a chance.
Before the second part of the experiment begins, it’s worth taking a look inside the cage. Monkeys are social creatures, but the conditioning has produced an inevitable social breakdown. Each monkey will keep himself to himself, whimpering uncontrollably at the thought of the unseen denizen of the hosepipe. Presumably, each monkey is experiencing the long dark teatime of the soul trying to convince himself that, actually, he never really cared much for bananas anyway.
Once deadlock has been reached, with no monkey daring to even contemplate bent yellow fruit, there’s no longer any need for the hosepipe. Instead, our experiment continues by replacing one of the monkeys with the spare ones we left out of the cage, who have been busy entertaining themselves doing the things that monkeys do best. Inevitably, the new monkey makes a beeline for the banana, and gets his reward, a ritualistic beating. The system is now autonomous. When a second replacement monkey is brought in, the last arrival will quite happily join in the ensuing brawl.
From here, it’s easy to continue to the logical conclusion. Continue replacing monkeys, one at a time. At each step, the new monkey receives a beating for his banana lust. Monkey see, monkey do – and our new monkey joins the group of sociopaths. Ultimately we end up with a cage full of monkeys, none of whom have ever been sprayed with water, who will all happily pounce on any monkey with banana ambitions. Why do they do it? Because that’s the way things have always been done, and the inevitable punchline – that’s where company policy comes from.