I was recently introduced to a new series of short videos clips on YouTube about innovation and change in organizations. Posted by Jef Staes, these describe, in a simple and engaging way, his concept of the Red Monkey®. He uses this as a metaphor for those creative ideas born at the edge of an organization, which he sees as the real source of innovation and change.
Jef, who is a leading authority in Belgium on learning processes and innovative organizations, argues in the first clip in the series (below):
"If you want to change an organization, you will have to like Red Monkeys."
In this video, Jef outlines his concept of the Red Monkey® and argues that innovation starts at the edge of an organization: metaphorically, brown monkeys from the forest, in conversation with red fish from the sea, create a new, innovative conversation - a 'red monkey'.
In a later clip (3/8), Jef talks about the 'ecosystem' needed for red monkeys to survive and thrive. The red monkey "Creators" at the organization's edge ("with one leg in their own organizations and one leg in another") first need the support of enthusiasts ("Pioneers" in Jef's terms) to help nurture and improve the ideas. The mass support of others in the organization ("Followers") can then be progressively engaged, by providing examples and sharing stories that will help people to turn these ideas into practical action 'on the ground'.
This is equivalent to the informal coalitions notion of building active coalitions of support for change around emergent ideas and themes that resonate with people and which cause them to think, talk and act in different ways. By building momentum in this way, the idea or change then becomes sufficiently strong to overcome the actions (or inaction) of those who would seek to undermine or frustrate the new ideas and new ways of working (people that Jef refers to as the "Settlers").
He also cautions against "dropping the Red Monkeys® into the 'centre of the forest'..." without first building this "innovative force" to prevent them becoming "sitting ducks" for the idea-killing actions of the Settlers. In other words, the Red Monkey® strategy unashamedly requires leaders of innovation and change to act politically, as I have argued in Informal Coalitions.
Other snippets that I particularly relate to in the series are:
- Jef's assertion that an organization can't be innovative by following consensus - except, that is, consensus around the notion of maintaining respect for each other's ideas (6/8).
- The idea of first mobilizing people who love the idea since, because they love it, they will make it a success (8/8). The whole political strategy underpinning an informal coalitions approach to change is to 'push at half-open doors', using everyday conversations and interactions to engage people around ideas and themes that resonate with them - or Red Monkeys® that they love, as Jef might say.