Who loves red monkeys? (theory)

In his work on organizational innovation, @JefStaes talks uses the analogy of red monkeys to describe a new idea. These 2 blog posts outline that idea and deliver results of my recent online survey of 71 people to see who loves red monkeys themselves, in their teams and in their organisations…

To read the survey results, follow this link.

For a related blog post on how leaders can help bring change to the organisation, check this link.


The Red Monkey Analogy

Imagine 2 different ecosystems: a forest and an ocean. In the forest, there are brown monkeys. In the ocean, red fish. Suppose a brown monkey were to meet a red fish. Out of their mating (discussion, creation) would come a red monkey. @JefStaes calls red monkeys new ideas and says that they are created where borders and ecosystems collide.


Creating Innovation

If you want to innovate, says @JefStaes, you need two elements: Creativity (the red monkey) and Entrepreneurship (implementation). If you don’t implement things, nothing happens with the new ideas. But what is more interesting is to find the right way to implement new ideas in the organisation. Otherwise, the red monkey will die.

Example: Drop it in the middle of the forest and the brown monkeys will kill it (they don’t like it, they don’t understand it, “it won’t work around here”); drop it in the ocean and it’ll drown (it’s not fit for the environment yet).


Who love red monkeys?

@JefStaes describes 4 change personalities, starting from the edge of the eco-system and moving inwards:

  • Creators: They create new ideas. They cross borders. They love change.
  • Pioneers: They are open to change. They will take a new idea and test it to see if and how it can work. They can help you to create examples, which you need for the…
  • Followers: They wouldn’t necessarily like to change, but if they can see that the red monkey (new idea, change) is in their favour, they’ll do it.
  • Settlers: Don’t want to change. You need settlers in an eco-system to keep it safe and secure. But they don’t like doing things differently. I compare this to organisational functions like “financial controller” and “compliance”.  Without them, you have no stability. But they don’t like change. They have to be forced to change. Or, like the dinosaurs, they will die when everything around them eventually changes.


With these personalities in mind, you can imagine what happens if a Creator brings his red monkey to one of the other people:

  • C –> Creator: They enthusiastically brainstorm, creating lots of wonderful new ideas that may or may not work. When they are done brainstorming that idea, they will move on to others. Not the best people to actually get things implemented…
  • C –> Pioneer: The Creator has found an ally. The Pioneer has willingness, time and resources to check out the new idea. He will test it, shape it and if the idea is feasible, find good strong working examples of how it can benefit the organisation.
  • C –> Follower: If the idea is not proven, the Follower will not follow.
  • C+P –> Follower: If the Creator tests his ideas with the Pioneer first, now the Follower will accept. He can see how it is useful, he understands the benefits. Its proven, so he accepts.
  • C + P + F –> Settler: Overwhelmed by the force of Creators, Pioneers and Followers, the Settler will give in. Or be forced to change. Or move out. Or die.

Don’t forget: Drop your red monkey into the Settlers and they will kill it. They don’t like it, they don’t understand it, “it won’t work around here” or it’ll drown (it’s not fit for the environment yet). In my experience, the Settlers even sometimes try to kill the idea before it can be taken any further. They will lobby against it, either openly or behind the back of the Creators. In this way, the Settler can be the enemy of red monkeys.


With my online survey, I asked people to choose from 4 sets of phrases describing either Creators, Pioneers, Follower and Settlers. Which ones did they think best described them, their teams and their companies? You can see the results by following this link.


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Published by Dan Steer

For the last 17 years, I have been helping businesses and individuals to achieve their goals through delivery of tailor-made learning and development initiatives. Most of the time, I deliver training, coach individuals, facilitate brainstorming sessions, round-table meetings and workshops. As a consultant, I help my clients to promote and profit from the infinite learning opportunities within and without their own organisation, drawing on my L+D management experience, strategic approach and creativity, As a speaker, I inspire through story, humour and pertinent little bits of theory. I believe that the world would be a better place if people were happily working on their mission with competence and alignment to personal values. As a freelance worker since 2008, I have helped more than 11000 individuals to improve their presentation, communication, commercial, leadership and negotiation skills. I confront people with their own behaviour and convictions, facilitating and giving pertinent feedback and clear ideas on where to continue good work and improve. I seek to satisfy my clients with creative and to-the-point solutions… …and I make music, but no-one pays me much for it yet :-) First single here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0ShlY95X4E

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