Landmark Education and the Landmark Forum

May 30, 2008

100 Monkeys

Filed under: inspiration — Tags: , , , — landmarkeducationinaustralia @ 1:35 am

The 100 monkeys story is perhaps the most famous tale of how a new paradigm takes hold.

Back in 1952, scientists on the island of Koshimo dropped sweet potatoes in the sand for the monkeys native to the island to eat. The monkeys liked the potatoes, but they didn’t always like the taste of sand and dirt. Then one young monkey got the idea of washing a potato in a nearby stream before eating it. Over the next six years, more and more of the monkeys on the island learned to wash their potatoes before eating them.

Then, the legend goes, when about the 100th monkey began washing its potatoes before eating them, monkeys on an entirely different island were observed washing potatoes. The idea was supposed to be that when a certain tipping point was reached, an idea would almost magically catch on.

The 100th monkey story was controversial–Some people argued for it; others dismissed it as magical thinking. From what I’ve read, the truth of the 100 monkeys is neither the magic that its proponents claim, nor the myth that its skeptics insist upon. Instead, the truth is both more realistic and more interesting.

The evidence is apparently unclear as to whether monkeys on other islands began washing their food at the same time many monkeys were doing so on Koshimo. What is clear is that the idea began to take off on Koshimo, and that the young monkeys in particular almost entirely adopted the practice–Some older ones did; many did not. However, them young monkeys taught their offspring, so that the next generation was very strongly a generation of potato washers.

What is far more interesting to me, and rarely talked about in the 100th monkey story, is that after washing most of the monkeys had been washing their potatoes, they began washing their wheat; then they began bathing and swimming; then they began finding other food in the water. In short, using the water to wash potatoes led them to a whole paradigm shift where water become an important resource for the monkeys.

Whether the ideas caught on through a collective unconscious phenomenon or whether they were simply learned from watching other monkeys is not the point. The point is that an ideological breakthrough took place, and it caused other breakthroughs and new possibilities for the monkeys that no one predicted. The effects of a paradigm shift, which to me is what Landmark Education and the Landmark Forum are in large part about–shifting one’s paradigm to see new possibilities hidden from one’s view–Can be enormous, yet invisible at the time the shift is taking place.

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