If you’re looking for a study that nicely sums up why business writing is distant, pretentious and ruthlessly disengaging, look no further than 5 Monkeys and a Ladder. This famous urban legend, based on two real sociological experiments, explains the close-minded and anti-growth attitudes that result in the inflated, artless tone content and copywriters so easily slip into.
Five monkeys live in a room with a ladder, a bunch of bananas and a cold water sprinkler. When a monkey goes to the top of the ladder to reach for the bananas, the sprinkler turns on and splashes the others with cold water. The other angry monkeys beat it up, and it eventually learns to stop trying.
The monkeys are replaced one by one, and each new monkey tries to climb the ladder for the bananas but is pulled down and beaten up by the rest of the group. After some time, the last original monkey is replaced with a new one and tries to climb the ladder. Guess what happens… they all try to stop it, without even knowing they’ll get sprayed with water, just because that’s the way things are.
“The most damaging phrase in the language is: ‘It’s always been done that way.’” – Grace Hopper
The Way Boring People Write
Something we should remind ourselves of in times like these is an essay by George Orwell called “Politics and the English Language.” Unlike his other informative essays such as “A Nice Cup of Tea,” this was directed at politicians, those timeless masters of verbal trickery. Orwell was sick of being given watered-down truth cloaked in fancy, meaningless language. In this post, I’ll go through some of the writing mistakes to avoid making, and how it can be applied today.