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There is a story told about five monkeys in a research cage. A banana is suspended in the cage above a set of steps. When one monkey climbs the steps to reach the banana, the others are sprayed with cold water. Soon, any monkey that attempts to climb the steps is attacked by the others, since they do not want to be sprayed. Then, one by one, the monkeys are replaced and the cold water is eliminated. Each new monkey learns to attack any other monkey who tries to climb the steps because that is what it sees the other monkeys doing. Soon, the entire population of monkeys is new, none having ever been sprayed with cold water. They still follow the pattern of punishing any monkey who tries for the banana, since that is what they have learned.
James Lardner and Thomas Repetto have commented on this phenomenon in police departments in their book NYPD: A City and Its Police. Lardner was a member of the Washington, D.C. police department before embarking on a successful career as a journalist and senior writer for U.S. News & World Report. Repetto, the head of the New York Citizens Crime Commission, is a former police commander with a doctorate from Harvard. Regarding the power of institutional memory, they note:
[T]he NYPD has demonstrated time and again—that its appointed leaders are no match for what more prescient observers called its “inner life.” In chronicling the affairs of this remarkable institution, we mean to zero in on that inner life—on the traditions, the fears, the lore, and all the lessons, official and unofficial, spoken and silent, that cops pass along from generation to generation, beginning with that fateful first night on patrol, when the veteran tells the rookie: “Forget everything you learned in the academy, kid.”3
3. A brand is old hat and boring.
Bedbury here notes the significant contributions of Abraham Maslow and his now famous hierarchical need theory. Basically, Maslow contends that basic survival needs are at the bottom of the pyramid, with higher needs becoming more and more psychological in nature. He postulates that as basic needs are satisfied humans tend to seek satisfaction at higher and higher levels. If we accept Maslow’s proposition, how does it relate to what we do?
Bedbury notes that the highly successful Starbucks chain became so because it realized that while coffee was a commodity, much like any other commodity with dozens of choices available, one could sell the coffee experience. To depart from Bedbury for a moment, let us think of a meal. Let us assume it was possible to take a pill that would provide all of the nutritional benefit of a four-course dinner in a fine restaurant. Let us envision the restaurant—soft music, crisp linen, gleam-
ing silverware, flowers, attentive waiters, and candles. Now let us envision the pill—small, round, pink. Are we buying the nutrition or the dining experience?
Think, if you will, about Listerine. The product has been around, largely unchanged, since 1879. That’s 14 years after the end of the Civil War! Owned by Pfizer, it recently underwent a spectacular rebirth, as recounted in an article by Kevin Markey about Pfizer executive Maurice Renshaw:
America’s ceaseless war on bad breath gained a mighty weapon last fall— Listerine PocketPaks. In place of a rinse, the thumbnail-size carrying cases from Pfizer Inc. contain green ultra-thin, celluloid-like strips, which melt on the tongue and pack a familiar Listerine wallop. The new product promises to reinvent oral hygiene by making mouthwash edible, highly portable, and arguably, tasty. It has already had a topsy-turvy effect on domestic breath freshener sales; after a mere four weeks in stores, germ-killing Listerine PowerPaks strips stormed to the top spot.... Pfizer took a venerable brand with great name recognition, applied new technology—dissolvable film—and spun off a thoroughly contemporary product.4
But, we may respond, we are not in the selling business. We are necessary professionals, highly trained, our existence even mandated by law, custom, or policy. That may well be true, but even that which is mandated can be boring. One of the more frequent complaints I hear from forensic and security professionals is that they are viewed by their organizations as a necessary evil that does not add to the bottom line. Perhaps selling is more important than we think.
4. A brand is lifeless.
Even good ideas can run their course and become stale, says Bedbury. Banana Republic started out as a chain with a cute gimmick, a safari atmosphere, and was successful for a while. But, time caught up with it and it was only when the Gap acquired it that it could be reinvented and rejuvenated as a different type of clothing retailer.
In our experience, we have all seen people who seemed to languish in one department or function, then take off in another. So, too, can departments and functions also become reborn by a change in organizational scenery. I have cautioned against change for the sake of change, and I believe the observation is valid; however, sometimes movement can result in a better fit and an increase in productivity and vitality.