Chronicles: Got Any Wet Monkeys?


In my previous “corporate life” as a process improvement specialist, we would often introduce the group that would so be affected by the process change by telling a story.

I don’t know where this story originated but it’s a useful analogy of why things happen the way they do.  Here it is…

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all the other monkeys with cold water. After a while another monkey makes the attempt with same result, all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put the cold water away. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not?

Because as far as they know that is the way it has always been done around here.


The Money Machine


How does that resonate with you in your current business?  Sometimes we are forced into doing something a certain way because we don’t know any better, or have no other choice (or at least you don’t see the other choices in front of you).

Our business should work as a [money] machine – consisting of processes, tools, and systems that transform inputs into outputs.  These machine components determine the value delivery stream – how value gets delivered to our customers.

Our job as business owners is to ensure the machine is working as efficiently as possible – and look for opportunities to eliminate bottlenecks and improve the machine.

SIDEBAR:  Definition of Bottleneck – a problem that delays a process or stops it from continuing.

There is an approach to continuous improvement known as Kaizen – which means “Change for better”.  It’s roots come from Toyota – which used such methods to compete and triumph over Detroit automakers to become a dominate force in the automotive industry.

The key to Kaizen is to make small incremental and frequent changes to the machine.  In a nutshell, for Kaizen…

  • The core principle is the self reflection of processes. (Measure)
  • The purpose is the identification, reduction, and elimination of sub-optimal processes. (Control)
  • The emphasis is on incremental, continual steps rather than giant leaps. (Elevate)

So what does this mean for you?

Well as solo-preneurs, we need to question everything we do.

Each time we touch a process, we should be actively looking for a way to make one small change towards improvement.

That may be eliminating an unnecessary step, or introducing a tool or software that speeds up the process.

It may also mean identifying measures in order to understand how well (or how poor) the process is performing – so that you can make the necessary changes towards improvement.


Coaching Process Example


A good example of that here at Plugin Results was in the area of our coaching business.  We have a number of customers that purchase MemberSonic Pro that ask for private coaching to assist them with strategizing and creating a membership site model that is right for them.  We also provide coaching on how to create software products.

This coaching requires a fair amount of email correspondence – that at times were a little out of control (putting it lightly).  So we embarked on a Kaizen project that was tackled in 3 steps.

Step 1 – Measure

The first step was to understand the significance of the volume of questions we receive from clients to ascertain the financial impact to our business (ie. are we making money or bleeding profusely).

Step 2 – Control

Once we understood where we stood, the next step was to introduce controls to ‘throttle’ client needs. This created consistency in daily coaching needs, allowing us to better manage our resources and improve the overall efficiency of the machine.

Step 3 – Elevate

The last step was to remove existing bottlenecks in the system so the we could actually ‘do more’ with existing resources.  This step meant finding a tool (software) that streamlined the value delivery process – how we served our coaching clients.

And as we do with most of our business, if a tool doesn’t exist (or doesn’t exactly meet our needs) we develop it ourselves.  So we created WP Coach Pro, which essentially forms a private one on one portal that logs, tracks, and controls all online coaching correspondence between us and the client.

WP Coach Pro was a paradigm shift for us in terms of how we serviced our clients, requiring a rework of much of the process.  Of course, it was a very positive change as much of the current process was significantly improved (saving us both time and money).

Now step 3 is a little radical for some people, but the point is that you need to find a way to continue to improve the process.

Identify the ‘weakest link’ in the process and fix it.  That’s the single most important area to address right now.

I suggest you take some time and map out what your business machine looks like.  Keep it simple… You might start with 5 to 7 main functions – just to wrap your head around what it looks like.  From there each of those main functions can be further segmented into more detailed process maps.

Being able to visually see a process will allow you to better understand how it works… the success of your business machine depends on it.

Here’s a video from Pete Williams (of Profit Hacks) explaining how he uses process mapping in his online business.

I have no affiliation with Pete or Profit Hacks (although I am a customer). This the most relevant video I could find – short of creating one myself. 🙂


PS.  If you are a coach, feel free to use the Wet Monkey story written above.  It’s a great tool for demonstrating why change – in life or business – is so important.

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