Jef Staes about The Power Defect
‘Incompetent people in powerful positions are holding back disruptive innovations’
For Jef Staes, founder of the Red Monkey Company, it is crystal clear: the acceleration that is required to solve the major challenges of today is being hindered. “This is due to people who are in power but do not have the competence to solve these challenges. They are holding back disruptive innovations.” According to him, people with passion and the right talents should be empowered to make optimal use of their innovative strengths. We live in a world where information is abundant but we are unable to take advantage of the enormous potential that this offers. His explanation for this paradox: The Power Defect.
Staes’s stories about Red Monkeys and Naked Sheep are reaching an international crowd. His books My Organisation is a Jungle, My Manager is a Hero andI was a Sheep sell like hot cakes. These books form a triptych about the dramatic changes organisations are facing and they express his plea for removing barriers such as diplomas, positions and pensions. “Pensions are a crime against humanity”, he says. With his Red Monkey Company, he guides organisations during their transition to a new organisational culture. The invariable objective of this is to increase the agility and innovative capacity of employees, teams and processes.
Passionless, pension-seeking sheep
According to this Flemish expert, we have become passionless, pension-seeking sheep and organisations are unable to weather the storm of innovation and information. “The fact that organisations have such a hard time embracing innovations that could have a high impact, is due to the power defect”, explains Staes. As long as executives, managers and experts do not empower people who have the right passion and talent – in other words, consider them incompetent – developments will move far too slowly. This applies to climate, health care, logistics, education, you name it. Take the mobility sector, for example: the process of improving its sustainability could move much faster if incompetent people would have the courage to give disruptive ideas a chance. This would require them to surrender their power simply because they are no longer competent in the new era we are now in.”
‘’Organisations that are dealing with the power defect, continuously cling to old power structures’
The 3D era
Staes calls this the 3D era, in which technological developments have caused an abundance of information that is available to anyone. As a result of this, teachers are not necessarily smarter than pupils and employees may have more knowledge than their managers. “We have entered a completely different world”, says Staes. “In the 2D era, things were plain and predictable and not many changes happened. The 3D era, on the other hand, is moving rapidly and characterises itself by continuous disruption, all thanks to the enormous increase of available information. People with passion and talent have unlimited access to information and can, as a result, become extremely competent. This means that the difference between people is strongly increasing, which is thus also happening between managers from the 2D era and their increasingly competent employees. These employees would, as opposed to the managers, be capable of pushing boundaries, if they were given the authority to do so. But what’s happening is that organisations under the yoke of the power defect keep clinging to old power structures. This leaves the power in the hands of the wrong people; those who hold back large-scale innovations.”
Introduction of a guaranteed minimum income
How can we break the stalemate? Staes: “First and foremost, this is nobody’s fault, it’s just that recent evolution requires different competencies. Nevertheless, it is a huge dilemma. People in power who have become incompetent do not want to lose their status, which prevents passionate people with the right talents from being given the opportunity. You can compare it to the actors in the silent films of the old days. When the sound film was introduced, actors with qualities in other areas came to the forefront. You can imagine what effect this had on the ‘silent’ actors: they started to rebel. This is exactly what is happening now. A basic income should be introduced in order to give the ‘old guard’ a new chance. This would allow people who have lost their ‘market value’ to develop a passion for undiscovered talents. But in order to do so, we must first face the existing power imbalance and then make the conscious decision to aim for a disruption in our perception of employment and education.”
What the world needs, according to Jef Staes, is Red Monkeys, and many at that. By Red Monkeys he refers to all ideas that have a disruptive effect and that are created by creative minds. “If you want to survive as an organisation, you need disruptive ideas – or ‘red monkeys’ – to bring things out of balance. In order to create these, you have to surround yourself with people who have the right talents and passion, and give them the authority to start expanding on these disruptive ideas. That takes a lot of guts. But as the saying goes: no guts, no glory. Unfortunately there are a lot of CEOs who don’t understand this concept, while they are the ones with the power to make change happen. We are still far from there.”