Why shoot monkeys when you can eat them

HARVARD Business Review published a now-famous article back in 1974 by William Oncken Jr and Donald L. Wass entitled: Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?

It was essential reading as part of my recent internment at UNSW for the excellent AGSM Executive Programs five-day course I attended (my review of my fine-dining experience during the program is here). The article tells the story of an overburdened manager who has unwittingly taken on all of his subordinates’ problems (monkeys). The authors’ preach that managers have two choices – either feed or shoot the monkeys. By shooting monkeys you empower someone to deal with their problem, by feeding them you get burdened with the problem (by accepting the monkey the manager has become subordinate to the subordinate). Ideally you want to shoot them but of course there are occasions when some monkeys have to be feed.

I have mixed success when dealing with monkeys and this got me thinking – surely there are other things you can do with monkeys than shooting or feeding? Walking into the office with a gun is a no-no in Australia (it may be ok at Harvard in the good ol’ US of A and protected by the Second Amendment), but in some cultures monkeys are cooked and eaten. Now, I am no management guru but surely by eating monkeys aren’t you turning a problem into a solution?

It seems the Choco Indians of the Darien jungles in Panama are great believers in this management technique and in 1973 (a year before Oncken and Wass published their paper), the Panama Canal Review printed the article below:

Monkey Stew

The flesh of jungle animals and birds, such as tapir, monkey, ibis, peccary, venison, and agouti are common fare in the Darien. The flesh of these is often smoked before cooking. Fresh meat, however, can be boiled, roasted, or barbequed. It is also salted and dried in the sun for several days.

Monkey meat is usually smoked for 24 hours before cooking, but a Darien housewife in a hurry to feed her hungry family may simply boil the meat in salted water until it is tender.

So, Monkey Stew is made by frying salted, smoked monkey lightly in hot oil, adding diced onions, then water and achiote. The stew is cooked until the meat is tender and sauce has thickened.

These meat dishes are often served with rice which has been cooked in coconut juice with the addition of onion and salt, or corn rolls (bollos) made by grinding and boiling green corn which is then formed into balls and wrapped in corn husks and boiled.

Panama Canal Review Special Edition, 1973.

So, if shooting or feeding monkeys isn’t working for you and you decide to take my advice and need to cook your monkeys, do it the Darien way.

You can access the Oncken and Wass article here.

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