Commentary by Lt. Col. Mitch Katosic
20th Space Control Squadron commander
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — A scientist was performing a behavioral experiment on monkeys to determine how they would react to negative stimuli. In a large cage, the scientist put a ladder leading up to a banana hanging from the top. He then placed five monkeys in the cage together. Immediately, and not surprisingly, one of the monkeys went straight for the banana. Before he reached the top, the scientist hosed down all the other monkeys with cold water.
A short while later, another one of the monkeys decided to go after the banana. As soon as he got to the ladder, the scientist again soaked the remaining monkeys with cold water. As another monkey went toward the ladder, the remaining four stopped him and beat him up before they would be doused by the cold water. No other monkey went for the banana after that.
At this point, the scientist replaced one of the monkeys. As expected, the first thing the new monkey did was head for the ladder to get the banana. As before, the remaining four monkeys, who had all experienced the cold water bath, beat up the new monkey before he could go up the ladder. The new monkey had no idea why he was attacked, but he didn’t go after the banana again.
The scientist then replaced another one of the other original monkeys with a new one. This monkey followed the same pattern as the first and went straight for the ladder where he experienced the same beating as the others. This time, however, the first monkey that was replaced (who never experienced the cold water bath) joined in on the beating. This happened repeatedly as the scientist eventually replaced all the monkeys. In the end, none of the monkeys in the cage ever received the cold water bath but still beat up a new monkey going after the banana. If you could ask the monkeys why they were beating up the new monkey, what would they say?
While there is no conclusive evidence that this exact experiment ever took place, it does illustrate the point of my commentary. Why are you doing things the way you do? Because that’s how you were taught? Because that’s the way it’s always been? After a recent event at my squadron, we began looking deeper into why we do things the way we do. In several instances, we found that there was no clear reason, other than that’s how they were taught to do it and that’s how it’s always been done.
While that may be acceptable in an unchanging world, our business is everything but unchanging. Not only is the space environment continuing to grow more congested and more contested, our radar continues to age, the experience level of the crew continues to change, there are fewer people in the squadron and there is less funding than ever. We cannot afford to not change.
I challenge each of you to understand why you are accomplishing your job the way you do. Are you following specific and documented guidance or just going by word of mouth? Does it make sense to do it that way? Or, are you just doing it because that’s how it’s always been done? It is critical in this time of severe fiscal austerity to make the most effective and efficient use of our limited resources. In addition, part of being innovative is to examine the status quo. Whether it is a line in a checklist, a maintenance procedure or how you train new personnel, learn why you are doing what you do and take the initiative to affect change if there is a smarter way.