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Do you have what it takes to be a ‘new monkey’?

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Brian Stives
  • Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs
My boss sometimes calls me the new monkey.

I hope that sentence has you asking, "What in the world does that mean?" If it does, I can't think of a better time to explain it, so here's the story.

Some scientists put three monkeys in a big cage. The monkeys are placed on one side of the cage without food, while some savory monkey snacks are placed on the other side. I'm assuming those snacks were chocolate, since it's a scientific fact that every living being on our planet loves chocolate, but that's beside the point.

Anyway, the three monkeys play around for a while, but then they get hungry and decide to jet over to the other side of the cage to grab some snacks. However, as soon as they start going that direction, the scientists douse them with roughly 35 million gallons of water.

Dripping wet and slightly confused, the monkeys momentarily forget about the food and stay put. Not much longer, their stomachs start growling and they decide to go after the snacks again, only to be doused once more. After a few more attempts, the monkeys decide they can't take the chance of ruining perfectly good chocolate with all the water in the cage, so they give up. Just kidding. Actually, they decide they dislike the blasts of water more than the pain in their stomachs and give up their quest.

The scientists then decide put a fourth monkey in the cage. Sure enough, Monkey #4 decides the snacks would be better off in his stomach, so he begins walking toward the other side of the cage. After a few steps, the three monkeys who'd already given up on the snacks get another unwelcome wash from the scientists. Monkey #4 is slightly confused by what's going on behind him, but he continues heading for the snacks on the other side of the cage, until the other monkeys sack him like a quarterback.

Now, Monkey #4 is lying on the ground, whimpering ever so slightly and somewhat puzzled by his friends unexpected lesson in slam dancing, but still hears the snacks calling his name. So being a tough monkey, he gets up and makes another attempt. By now, you know the story. Water. Whipping. Whimpering. Again and again, until the fourth monkey gets the point.

Then the scientists add a new twist: they pull out one of the old monkeys, put a new monkey in, and try the experiment without water. Sure enough, Mr. New Monkey goes after the food, only to be assaulted by the other monkeys until he also gets the point and gives up. Now, all the monkeys are doing what they've been trained to do, without stopping to ask themselves, "Why are we doing this?"

My point is simple: I take the "you're the new monkey" comment as a compliment. I know I've been guilty of being the "old monkey" who just falls in line and does what everyone else in my office is doing because "that's the way it's always been done," but I think we all have a responsibility to be the "new monkey" every now and then.

That doesn't mean we should see our more experienced leaders as "old monkeys" and ignore their directions; nor does it mean we should be "boat rockers" who just cause trouble all the time. What it does mean is that sometimes we need to ask ourselves, "Why are we doing this?" or, "Why are we doing this a certain way?"

Sometimes those questions are easily answered by Air Force instructions or by orders from our leaders, but at other times, the answers aren't so clear.

Simply put, if you're knowledgeable in a task and can see a flaw in the process, don't just ignore it because someone says, "That's the way we've always done it." Our commanders, especially here within Air Force Global Strike Command, set excellent examples for us in that area. When someone assumes command of a unit, their goal usually isn't to leave it the way they found it, but to leave it better than when they took command.

In broader terms, our Air Force isn't the best in the world because we're doing everything the same way we've done it for the last half century; I believe it's the best in the world because we continue building on the foundation the first Airmen laid more than 60 years ago.

To sum it up, here's my advice: take a chance at being the "new monkey" - sometimes. Like me, you'll probably make mistakes and learn some lessons the hard way. You may even get "whipped" every now and then, but just remember your reward is chocolate, and that is so worth the effort.