Sheep, Monkeys and the Third Dimension

We all know that a good education leads to good employment prospects, and that a diploma or bachelor’s degree will help you on your path to career success and fulfilment. Or do we? At this year’s ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN Jef Staes will be investigating the relationship between schooling, certificates and business innovation in his provocatively named session, You Are a Sheep!


By Alicia Mitchell


As a speaker, writer and innovator, Staes provides international businesses with a fresh perspective on how to reinvigorate their structures and release the talents and passions of their staff. Staes is an inspiring speaker with a unique style; whether or not they agree with his often radical ideas, his audience is sure to be entertained by his rapid-fire storytelling and use of unusual props.


Drawing on the ideas he has explored in his Red Monkey Innovation Management book trilogy (My Organisation is a Jungle, translated into English, My Manager is a Hero and I was a Sheep), Jef Staes takes his audience on a journey of images and metaphors to clarify the new challenges of the information age. Ahead of his session You Are a Sheep! as well as his keynote speech in the annual ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN debate, the ONLINE EDUCA news service spoke to Staes to learn more about his work and theories.


So, our first question was, of course, what are ‘red monkeys’? Staes sees red monkeys as confrontational ideas, born of interaction between two people or organisations from different backgrounds. Red Monkeys are so creative that they tend to “disturb the balance”. Upper Management is often incapable of cherishing Red Monkeys, especially if they are suggested by the wider workforce. Yet today we see a shift and also a necessity to look for new ideas everywhere to achieve innovations.


Staes locates the need for this shift in the democratisation of information that the Internet and new communication technologies have facilitated. “Many of our organisational, political, educational and financial structures were created in an era of information scarcity. Knowledge was the privilege of insiders, the rich, the smart, the powerful. This knowledge reinforced their status within society and within these structures. With the proliferation of information, these foundations are slowly crumbling.” He labels this transformation as an inevitable movement from ‘2D’ to ‘3D’.


Staes concerns himself with how innovation can spring forth from these global changes and how organisations can encourage the proliferation of red monkeys, transitioning smoothly into the ‘3D’ organisational landscape


In his books, Jef Staes outlines three stages in successfully embracing ‘3D’ thinking: abolish constrictive work functions, abolish compulsory retirement and, perhaps most pertinently for the attendees of OEB 2012, abolish degrees and diplomas.


In place of work functions, Staes suggests we ought to embrace more flexible ‘roles’ that would enable individuals to work to their strengths and pursue goals, rather than work within the confines of allocated tasks, which they may never exceed or change.


This new approach to human resources management is all very well, but what about his thoughts on retirement? In his books, Staes calls retirement a ‘crime against humanity’: strong words indeed. “Passion and retirement do not mix. Forcing people to work longer in a job they are not passionate about: that is a crime. And forcing passionate people to stop? That is a crime as well.”


But what about the third component of his plan? Staes envisions a world where learning is liberated from the systems of certification and institutions and becomes a lifelong process. On one hand, this total upheaval of tradition is somewhat alarming to educators and pupils alike. How can somebody prove his or her skills and knowledge without a standardised qualification? If everyone only pursued the subjects they find the most appealing, from a young age, would the result be such a wide variety of professional expertise?


However, Staes also points to the ongoing development of e-learning tools and ideas as a driving force in the democratisation of knowledge. With the eradication of old-school institutions, opportunities for innovation arise. If the previous style of ‘2D’ education is no longer suitable in this information age, teachers, professors and developers have the chance to re-imagine how learning can be done.


“In Belgium,” Staes notes, “the debate about smartphones in classrooms is only now finding its way into the media. But it is all going too slow. We need a revolution, not an evolution, if we do not want to risk the alienation of another generation of students.”


Following his session You Are a Sheep! on Thursday 29th November, Staes will be teaming up with Donald Clark of the University of Industry, UK, to argue in favour of the motion that “a ban on diplomas and degrees awarded by schools and universities would have a positive impact on competence development and lifelong learning”. Staes’ and Clark’s opponents will be Sue Martin, SAP, Germany, and Philip Ellaway, City & Guilds, UK.


In addition, OEB 2012 attendees may also have a chance to speak to Staes one-on-one. When we asked him what he is most looking forward to at this year’s conference, he told us that he often ends up in deep discussion with other ‘OEBers’ in the hallways.



To find out more about Staes’s books and get a taste of his style, a video of one of his previous keynotes is available on his website.


If you are still unsure about how to get the red monkeys to work for you, be sure not to miss Jef Staes’s session You Are a Sheep! on Thursday, November 29th, 14:30 – 16:00, as well as the plenary debate on the same day, 17:45 – 19:00.

2 Responses

  1. Sophie Touzé

    Fun provocative and brilliant all the elements of a great conference ! Thanks Jef Staes we need people telling truth we are no more sheeps !


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