Tackle Your Monkeys First

Written by Tony Lembke

April 21, 2023

Astro Teller is the ‘Captain of Moonshots’ at X, which is owned by Google. Its projects aim for “moonshot” breakthroughs that could have a major positive impact on society. X emphasizes the importance of rapid prototyping, experimentation, and failure.

In Tackle the monkey first, Teller outlines their approach to project development.

Let’s say you’re trying to teach a monkey how to recite Shakespeare while on a pedestal. How should you allocate your time and money between training the monkey and building the pedestal?

Because building a pedestal is easy, and we know what to do, many would start with designing and building a perfect pedestal.

Of course, the real work is training the monkey. If that is not viable, the project will fail.

Astro reminds us Don’t use up all your resources on the easy stuff”

Annie Duke explores this principle in her newsletter

Monkeys and pedestals tells us to attack the hard thing first because if we can’t solve for that there is really no point in doing the rest of the work. In fact, in project presentations at X, you’ll see #MONKEYFIRST all over the decks as a constant reminder to figure out what the bottlenecks are and to solve for those before building a bunch of pedestals.

She notes that this is the opposite of the way many projects are managed. “Let’s tackle the low hanging fruit first.” By adopting a #MONKEYFIRST approach, you can quickly identify when a project is unachievable, before wasting time and resources.

Seth Godin also emphasises the importance of doing the real work.

In Godin’s view, the “real work” is the work that truly matters in making a meaningful impact, and often involves taking risks, making difficult decisions, and pushing beyond your comfort zone. However, many people get sidetracked by details, distractions, or tasks that may be easier or more comfortable, but ultimately do not move them closer to their goals.

For example, you have the Improvement Idea of running a nurse led pain clinic in your practice.

#MONKEYFIRST reminds us to first ensure we have an RN with the time and interest, and patients who are appropriate and would agree to attend, and funding to make it work. Then we can build the pedestal – start collecting resources, develop a curriculum, design the brochure, and decide upon and prepare a room.

  • How do you currently apply a #MONKEYFIRST approach in your practice? What examples of #PEDESTALFIRST have you seen?
  • What ideas do you have for how you could sharpen your #MONKEYFIRST game?

Let us know in the comments.

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