Q: “Why is it done this way?”
A: “Because that’s the way it’s always been done!”

We see this all the time in the finance industry – why do you invest this way? Why do you favour shares over real estate? Or, why do you leave your tax planning just before lodgement date?

To demonstrate humans following the status quo, we like to use animal behaviour as examples. Here I’ll talk about the Monkey Ladder Experiment and Lemmings, two classic examples of status quo, but what we find when we challenge these two stories is quite surprising.

From Facts to Fiction: The ‘Monkey Ladder Experiment’


Look familiar? No doubt you’ve experienced this in a personal setting, at work or as a result of business or government regulations. Supposedly it all originates from proper scientific experimentation. In any case, it sounded right and the outcome matched my experiences in life (confirmation bias anyone?).
But is this experiment, in fact, true?
Whilst the above diagram supports this notion of challenging the status quo, it turns out that the monkey and ladder experiment wasn’t an experiment at all. In fact it was an oversimplified version of facts. The original ‘experiment’ was conducted by Stephenson G. R. in 1967.

Here is a quote about the actual experiment

“Stephenson (1967) trained adult male and female rhesus monkeys to avoid manipulating an object and then placed individual naïve animals in a cage with a trained individual of the same age and sex and the object in question. In one case, a trained male actually pulled his naïve partner away from the previously punished manipulandum during their period of interaction, whereas the other two trained males exhibited what were described as “threat facial expressions while in a fear posture” when a naïve animal approached the manipulandum. When placed alone in the cage with the novel object, naïve males that had been paired with trained males showed greatly reduced manipulation of the training object in comparison with controls. Unfortunately, training and testing were not carried out using a discrimination procedure so the nature of the transmitted information cannot be determined, but the data are of considerable interest.”

– Stephenson, G. R. (1967). Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys. In: Starek, D., Schneider, R., and Kuhn, H. J. (eds.), Progress in Primatology, Stuttgart: Fischer, pp. 279-288.

 If you weren’t able to digest that, basically it’s a bit of a stretch from the previous the monkey comic strip earlier!

2. Lemmings – another example of challenging the status quo

Lemming: A member of a crowd with no originality or voice of his own

The use of the word lemmings, originally comes from the belief that lemmings commit mass suicide when they migrate (i.e. following each other jumping off cliffs because the lemming in front of them did so). It was popularised by a few publications: ‘Return of the Pied Piper’ by Lederer, Muriel, an Uncle Scrooge comic titled ‘The Lemming with the Locket’, and most famously, the 1958 Disney film ‘White Wilderness

Since this time, people use this term to describe someone who will follow any direction given to them.

But is this myth true?

While very similar to the Monkey Ladder experiment this term matches a great deal of human behaviour however, the story isn’t true. Lemmings don’t commit mass suicide. It is true that they mass migrate when their population density becomes too great, but they don’t commit mass suicide. The main reason ‘we’ believe lemmings do jump off cliffs is because of the film White Wilderness. What actually happened in the film is one of the crew members ‘encouraged’ them off the edge.

Probably one of the easiest to identify with is share trading. Traders speculate on buying and selling shares based on news and what other traders are doing. (Why else would shares dive one day, only to rally just as hard the next?)


It’s quite funny how I began writing this post. The monkey ladder experiment was my original source of inspiration for challenging the status quo. Turns out that it was also not entirely true, and the same with lemmings – I’ve heard about it many times, and even used it myself.

I understand it’s almost impossible to know the absolute answer on everything, but with the right questions and decision making process, it should make it a lot easier to come to the right answer. Maybe you don’t have the time to think about and research to the fundamentals. That’s fine. The easiest, quickest and best way to master anything is simply to find someone who has already done so and replicate their behaviour.

Here’s some that we’ve found: Michael Gerber for business, Warren Buffet for investing (note: not “share trading”), Jim Rohn or Tony Robbins for life education/ motivation and so on (and of course Complete Wealth for wealth advice). 🙂

That’s exactly what Complete Wealth does.  Of course through our various networks, alliances and associations we have access to the best, most up to date information and resources in the finance industry.  We also regularly travel around the country and even the globe to further our knowledge and understanding.  We also read and study widely from word renowned experts in behavioural finance, business, investing and more general life education and personal development and motivation.

Whilst all this is good valuable stuff, the most significant source of practical knowledge, ‘been there, done that’ (undeniable success) comes from our own clients.  They cover almost the full spectrum from small business owners to successful professionals, doctors, lawyers, academics right through to farmer and plumbers. More importantly they range from 18 to 80+ so there’s not much they haven’t seen and done.  It’s their stories and experiences we use to help guide our clients decision making – we know it works, we’ve “mastered it” – because we’ve seen hundreds of people do it right. This is a major factor in how we help overcome old myths and the “status quo”.

Maybe you work in an industry or have a passion where you see and experience rules constantly being followed and no one has challenged the original assumptions? Happy to hear your experience in challenging the status quo in the comments below.

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Christopher Sutherland

Christopher Sutherland

System Development Manager

I have high expectations. Not just because I’m snobby or have a sense of entitlement attitude, but because the power of a great experience is just fun and can really make your day. Call me fussy, or crazy, but I want a life full of great experiences and don’t want to settle for just good, when great really isn’t any harder.

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