By Kim Lindsey published April 12, 2017

A couple years ago, while browsing through business blogs about innovation, I ran across some fantastic content from Jef Staes, a thought leader from Belgium.

His main point was that “continuous improvement” – the results from Six Sigma, Lean, kaizens, etc. – will take you only so far, since those methods are limited to incremental change. True innovation requires creativity to push beyond and for that, Staes said, an organization needs “red monkeys.”

That really caught my attention: Red monkeys? Why red monkeys?

The illustration goes like this:

Imagine a forest. In the forest are monkeys – typical brown monkeys. Outside the forest is a different ecosystem with different animals. In the middle of the forest, all the monkeys will be brown. To find a red monkey, don’t look in the middle: look at the edge where diversity can generate new and unexpected things – the kinds of things that lead to innovation.


Let’s apply this principle as Staes did: in the business arena. The diverse “ecosystems” within a company (i.e., its many departments and/or business units) can create a perfect environment for cross-disciplinary influence and collaboration: the very place that red monkeys come from.

Learning and Development projects thrive when innovators are involved. For example, my own background is in the Hard Sciences, Healthcare, the Humanities, and IT (yes, I’ve walked a winding path). My colleague Chris comes from a hybridized background in English, Video, and Education. Our fresh and varied way of seeing things often takes us in directions neither would have come up with on our own.

So for projects that need a creative approach, be sure to include red monkey innovators on your team, and let me know how it works out!

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