Great CEOs cherish their wild ducks, the employees that see the world differently and challenge the status quo. But fostering them in a corporate environment is as tricky as… well, as tricky as keeping a flock of wild ducks in your house. It’s a matter of balance, especially when it comes to power and influence.
Wild ducks are often best when they have no institutional power. They don’t need it. They can get things done by sheer force of will. Provide too much protection and you can turn a wild duck into a boring domesticated duck in no time.
But if you provide no protection, something much worse can happen. When some wild ducks get fired upon too often, when they are hunted for sport inside a culture that seems designed to eliminate the species, they can go rogue. Rather than use their creative energy to outmaneuver the slow-witted duck hunters, these wild ducks become aggressive — they shoot back.
It’s cathartic to see the wild duck with a gun, taking down the corporate drone who is standing in the way of a new idea just to get home early. The powerless fighting back; who doesn’t love that story!
But sometimes, usually long after he has run out of creative energy and is left only with a pervasive sense of aggression, the rogue wild duck acquires institutional power. Hurray! you say. Now he’ll really be able to stand up for innovation and send the drones running for the exits.
But that’s not what happens. Instead, the fearful, angry old duck becomes a menace to his own species. He sees new ideas as a threat to his own. He drowns out other voices, appropriates others’ ideas without giving credit, and ironically creates a culture more hostile to fresh innovators than a field full of corporate duck-hunting drones ever could.
The rogue duck becomes the perfect hunter of wild ducks. It’s a kind of corporate Darth Vader story, a cautionary tale for those who have spent years taking fire for new ideas and are now beginning to acquire a little bit of influence. It’s easy to let it go to your head, and then it’s a short step to the wild duck dark side.
So CEOs, cherish your wild ducks. Protect them — a little. And when one stops being creative and turns aggressive against other innovators, open a window and let him fly away.
In fact, just keep all the windows open and make it easy for wild ducks to come, go, and come back again. That is, in fact, the best, most sustainable ecosystem for innovation you could possibly create.