Reflecting on Rebels

Last week at work, we had Francesca Gino, professor at Harvard Business School, come and give us a talk about her study of rebels. Her book, Rebel Talent: Why it Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life, is probably now on everyone’s reading list. (It’s certainly on mine.)

The word rebel is not always something viewed positively. At school, rebels were probably the people most often called to the Principal’s office, in trouble for something. To be called a “rebel” might mean people see you as a pain in the bum, a jerk, or just plain annoying.

But Francesca told us it doesn’t have to mean any of those things. In fact, being a rebel can be a positive thing. Thinking creatively on the spot, breaking the rules that hold you or others back, and focussing on what needs to be done and not the how; these are all rebel characteristics.

And to demonstrate, she took us through some exercises that led to 200 people dancing wildly in what is normally a very staid and proper meeting room. While this might have felt uncomfortable at first, at the end, people were enjoying themselves. And here’s the first lesson.

It’s OK to feel uncomfortable. If you make yourself vulnerable, you build connection and trust with people. Like Mo Cheeks, a football coach, seen in this clip helping someone out. You might think that anyone would step in like this, but would they? Be your authentic self: own your mistakes and weaknesses, and play to your strengths. You can’t be a rebel by being something you’re not.

Rebels are problem solvers – because they don’t only see problems, they see opportunities to learn, to change things, to do things better. Try looking at problems from different perspectives: change the question, change your way of thinking.

We all tend to gravitate to people who hold similar views to us, who look like us – it’s human programming to gravitate towards what we already know, to rely on pre-existing judgements and beliefs. But it’s also good to challenge ourselves, to mix with a range of people, to not rely on stereotypes. Embrace diversity: allow yourself to learn from others. Let people be themselves, not your perception of them. Diversity makes us stronger.

Don’t be afraid of the unfamiliar. How many times have you got some new piece of technology and in your attempt to get it to work, thought “This is too hard, I wish I still had my old one.” What if you change that thought to “I have this new thing, and I can’t wait to learn all about it.” Approach new things with an open mind. Embrace novelty. And never feel you’re too old for something new.

Ask questions. Not just “What” but “Why” and “How” questions. Be curious. Think about children and their forever questions like “Why is the sky blue?” and “How do planes fly?” Bring back some of that childish curiosity into your life. Disrupt established though patterns or processes and get to the heart of the matter by questioning like a five year old, “But why? But why?”

There are two types of pressures to rebel against: (1) external, which is the need to conform to others’ opinions and expectations (think about those rebels from school, challenging the school’s expectations of what was suitable behaviour); and (2) internal, the desire to stay with familiar beliefs and practices, not challenging ourselves with new thoughts and ideas.

The key lessons of the talk were:

  1. Embrace novelty and the unfamiliar
  2. Remain curious
  3. Be authentic
  4. Hold multiple perspectives
  5. Embrace diversity – leverage differences

But do this with respect and humility – don’t be a jerk.

Do you think you’re a rebel? Do the rebel test to find out what kind of rebel you are:

(P.S. I’m a Traveller)






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s