How Leaders Can Manage Their Creative Monkeys: Interview with G. Michael Maddock

Jun 10, 2013
5 Min Read

Idea MonkeyAre you an idea monkey?

According to G. Michael Maddock, author of “Free the Idea Monkey…to Focus on What Matters Most,” an idea monkey is someone who can produce lots of new thoughts, concepts or ideas on demand and is ready to pour his or her abundant creative energies into working with others.

But while this may make such a person more valuable in the workplace at a time when organizations are craving innovation, it also can make him or her a giant pain in the butt.

That’s probably not news to anyone who has to lead or manage such people. While it may seem great when an idea monkey pops up with “We could do this, this and this!” the manager knows he or she is going to have to figure out a way to harness all that creative energy and mold it into into a workable plan.

In an interview with Anita Bruzzese, Maddock explains how a leader can survive working with such energetic, creative types without losing focus and killing the creative spark of the idea monkey.

AB: How can a leader benefit from working with an idea monkey?

CMM:  Research indicates that as much as 54% of a stock's value is based on ideas you haven't even thought of yet. Idea monkeys can help your company build a balanced innovation portfolio. New products, services and business models create higher margins and happier and more loyal customers.

The greatest leaders play to their strengths. Working with a great idea monkey may liberate you to focus on process, operations or strategy instead of trying to brainstorm what's next for your company.

AB: What are some ways to keep an idea monkey on track without killing their creativity?

CMM: 1) Celebrate their talent. The ability to create dozens of unique ideas on command is a superhero power. Make sure your creative people know it. Telling them how much you respect their ability to be creative – and  maybe even admitting you don't share the same gift – is a great way to show respect and honor their creative genius.

2) Humbly bring them a SPECIFIC challenge. Too many ideas can be distracting, particularly when they have nothing to do with the challenges that are keeping you up at night. So instead of just asking for ideas, try pointing out a challenge that has you stumped and why. By admitting you are stumped and giving them a targeted challenge to solve, you will get better ideas and a grateful teammate.

3) Give credit when it is due. If you propose a challenge and it is solved by a brilliant idea monkey, make sure you let your team know how much the idea and their contributions mean to you and your company.

AB: What are some ways you can keep these people from burning out?

CMM: As long as the challenges are new and interesting and idea monkeys are being celebrated in your organization, they rarely burn out. On the other hand, if you scoff at their ideas, have them work on the same challenge again and again or worse, ignore their thinking, you'll have one disenfranchised idea monkey on your hands.

Coach higher ups to take a humility pill and hand their toughest challenges – with specific objectives and detail – to their creative leaders. Too often, leaders are not sharing their toughest challenges because they believe it is their job to figure them out. Big mistake.

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