Spider Monkey Syndrome: Reality or Myth?

Does It Affect Creative Agencies and Careers?

A friend recently suggested an intriguing blog topic: Spider Monkey Syndrome and How It Affects Creative Careers. At first, it sounded like an easy cautionary tale to tell: Greedy Stubborn Monkey Fixates on Sure Thing, Loses Sight of the Big Picture, Is Trapped With Hand in Banana Jar. Sounds like a lot of creative careers. Sounds like a lot of creative agencies. I was prepared to diagram a Risk/Reward Seesaw. It was going to be a really cool post.

There was just one small problem. In researching Spider Monkey Syndrome, there wasn’t a shred of evidence that even spider monkeys suffer from this malaise. I found several articles claiming that the syndrome exists — but they were all rather baseless theories; a bunch of stories relating to business, life and religion (the banana as “Satan’s Bait” was my favorite).

I found photographs in Google images of spider monkey “traps”, presumably shot in South America. They looked like the collaborative effort of Crocodile Dundee and McGyver. I even found a few cartoonish illustrations of monkeys with their hand in a bottle. But I couldn’t find a single documentation of a laboratory experiment or a scientific study — or even an actual picture of a spider monkey in a trap.

Now, it seems fairly obvious: if hunters in South America can trap spider monkeys with these Indiana Jones/McGyver gadgets (What are they doing hunting monkeys anyway? You can’t eat ’em and they make lousy taxidermy — or is this how zoos stock up on animals?) then this must be some kind of grand metaphor for the human race. And a small metaphor for creative agencies and careers. Right?

Unfortunately for this post, I must sadly theorize that this supposed “trapping” of spider monkeys — exploiting their stubborn ignorance, is a pure canard. An old wives’ tale. A very Rural Myth. Jungle boogie.

What may very well be real, however, is “the syndrome”.  I think we do all kinds of things and blame them on monkeys. If my desk is a laboratory, then there is evidence of the syndrome’s existence. It tragically afflicts creative agencies. It infects promising creative careers.

In 21 years of “research”, I’ve presented tens of thousands of creative opportunities to creative people. I would say that would be a valid and reliable sample size. A good percentage of these opportunities were rejected. And a surprising percentage of those rejections resulted in remorseful call backs and emails from candidates; some within weeks, and some after years.

“Why didn’t you make me consider that opportunity more seriously?”

“Why weren’t you more persistent, Palma?”

“… And now look at me. If only…”

Just this week, I found a guy on Facebook that I “discovered” in 1994. He was in NY then, and he’s in NY now. He is a monster talent. I tried to recruit him for Bogusky in Miami and Tausche in Atlanta. Both guys’ shops were poised to take off for growth and committed to attracting top rising talent. He passed on both, dismissing the opportunities as too risky. He was half-right. That’s about the national average. The first thing he wrote when we  reconnected on Facebook was a mention of the Crispin irony. I’m not a soothsayer, I’m a headhunter. But this much I know: Opportunity — true opportunity — only crosses your path a few times in life and only a precious few times in a career with a maximum shelf life of 30 years.

How many creative agencies have had their 15 minutes of fame? The Communication Arts Agency Profile story. The Creativity Magazine Listmaker. The Advertising Age Feature. The One Club Exhibit. Hey, guess what? Creative recognition is ephemeral. Where are those great shops now? Leonard/Monahan. Doyle Advertising & Design. Cole Henderson Drake. Riddell Advertisng. Huey/Paprocki. Casualties all. Victims of The Syndrome. Trapped by their own creative success. Eyes myopically fixated on the prize.

There is no pithy lesson here. Just a few observations from the Observatory.

Next: What Came First? Lou Gehrig Or Lou Gehrig’s Disease?

Fun…remember that?

4 thoughts on “Spider Monkey Syndrome: Reality or Myth?

  1. Pingback: Competition vs Collaboration | LeanOrange

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