Message to leaders: let the monkeys get on with it

A while back … was it really last year? … I interviewed Jemima Gibbons about a book that she was researching on leadership, organisations, and the difference that social media is making. With talk of Web 2.0, and World 2.0, Leadership 2.0 seemed a good enough working title. As Jemima said then “… is not about personalities, it’s actually about stepping back and allowing other people to bring themselves forward.”

Last week Jemima and I met up again – appropriately enough at the Tuttle Club, where Lloyd Davis is a strong exponent of letting the members make things up for themselves. We aren’t really members, just whoever turns up on Friday morning. It works, even when the club loses its home, as you can see here. People rally round with new ideas.

Anyway, an invitation to the launch of Jemima’s book, and an associated blog post, alerted me to a change of title, if not a change of direction. During her interviewing and research Jemima picked up on Andrew Keen’s assertion that the Internet, and what he sees as the cult of the amateur, is destroying our culture. The old joke was that if you provide an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters one of them will eventually come up with a masterpiece. Wikipedia has it hereKeen argued that: “Today’s technology hooks all those monkeys up with all those typewriters,” without much hope of many masterpieces. Keen’s views mellowed, as I found at a NESTA event, but the metaphor was too good to waste.

monkeyswithtypewritersJemima has rather turned the argument on its head, pointing out that it is always the case that leaders need followers, and these days the Internet makes the followers a good deal less dependent on traditional leaders for access to knowledge and the means of organising. Clay Shirky took a similar line in Here Comes Everybody, a book about organising without organisations.

In our interview Jemima says that she wants to emphasise the positive side: that while the monkeys may be producing a lot that is worthless, some may be pure gold, so let them get on with it. Don’t try and control too much.  Indeed, it sounds as if the issue of control is  at the heart of the book. That and the personalities and dispositions of leaders. Some people are up for the changes that social media brings, some really don’t like it.

I now foresee shelf loads of books about Managing Monkeys. Meanwhile, Monkeys with Typewriters can be pre-ordered from Triarchy Press, and you will soon be able to read more from Jemima on her new blog. Or it may, of course, be the monkey.


  • November 18, 2009 - 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Hi David,

    Thanks so much for posting this – and following up on my book project after all this time.

    I didn’t mean to imply that much of what the monkeys (we) produce is “worthless” – I think all this sputtering and pontificating and simply talking about what you had for breakfast actually does have worth, because it is all part of a much bigger process, maybe one which we don’t quite realise yet, and that is where the ‘pure gold’ might lie.

    Also, just a couple of corrections to what I said in the interview:

    (1) The book isn’t (as yet) on Amazon but it is, as you kindly point out, available to pre-order from

    (2) The publication date is 9th December (not 1st)

    (3) The German academics who wrote about monkeys with typewriters were Jeanette and Ute Hofmann (the singer Ute Lemper being someone else entirely)

    Thanks again for posting the interview.


  • November 18, 2009 - 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Jemima – thanks so much for entering into the spirit of the medium with a chat at Tuttle rather than some PR speak. Readers of your current blog will know that is cogent and fact-checked as well as spirited and engaging!

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