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Choose your five chimps carefully - The Five Chimps Theory

"There's a theory that I call 'the five chimps theory'. In Zoology, you can predict the mood and behavior patterns of any chimp by which five chimps they hang out with the most. Choose your five chimps carefully." - Naval Ravikant

Imagine that you are running your own tech startup. Sometimes it may seem like each day brings new challenges and decisions that shape the future of your business. In this context, it's worthwhile to look at the theory of the five chimps - a sociological concept that can have a significant impact on your development as an entrepreneur.


The Five Chimps Theory


monkeys climbing the ladders

This experiment, although not well documented scientifically, offers a valuable lesson about the influence of social norms on individuals:


  1. In a specially prepared cage, five monkeys were placed. In the center of the cage, there was a ladder with a banana at the top. Whenever a monkey tried to climb the ladder to grab the banana, all monkeys were sprayed with cold water.

  2. Over time, the monkeys stopped climbing the ladder out of fear of the unpleasant experience.

  3. Later, one of the monkeys was replaced with a new one, who had no prior exposure to the cold water. This new monkey tried to grab the banana but was restrained by the remaining monkeys to avoid potential punishment.

  4. As subsequent monkeys were replaced, the new arrivals continued to comply with the norm, even though none of them had experienced the cold water.


Social norms became a persistent element of behavior, even when they no longer had a rational basis.


Reflections of Naval Ravikant


Just like the monkeys in the experiment, we - humans - are also subject to the influence of our surroundings. Naval Ravikant, a renowned entrepreneur and investor, often highlights this dependence in his reflections on personal and professional growth. Although Naval does not directly discuss the theory of the five chimps, his famous statement "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with" perfectly aligns with its message.


Naval emphasizes how our environment, particularly the people we interact with daily, shapes our thoughts, behaviors, and successes. His philosophy encourages surrounding yourself with people who inspire, motivate, and support your aspirations rather than hindering your growth.


For anyone running a startup, choosing the right environment can significantly impact the success of the business. Your partners, advisors, mentors, and employees have the power to shape your reality and determine the direction the company takes.


When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough


entrepreneur environment

Just like the monkeys adhering to a norm without rational reason, entrepreneurs can get stuck in patterns that provide no benefit. Therefore, it is essential to consciously shape your environment and avoid mindlessly adopting assumptions that may not fit the current realities.


As a startup founder, you have a unique opportunity to shape your environment. Choose wisely those you spend the most time with. To build a strong and flourishing tech company, surround yourself with people who are driven by your vision, offer constructive criticism, and motivate you to keep growing. Your environment can become your greatest ally or your most formidable obstacle.


Practical Meaning


Each time you face a significant decision, remember this theory and the wisdom of Naval Ravikant. Consciously choose your influences, invest in relationships that bring value and help achieve your goals. Remember: the future of your business starts with the choices you make today.


Be the average of five exceptional people. Be the one who creates an inspiring environment, attracts talents, and shapes the future of technology. Choose wisely and consciously, and your startup will have a solid foundation for long-term success.

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