Rebels are assets, not threats!
A vital issue for Modern organisations is their ability to intelligently mobilise the “cognitive” capacities and “knowledge” of everyone. In recent decades, a shared assumption of “smartness” has emerged. Organisations are supposed to be “smart”: to encourage sophisticated thinking, learning and inquiry, in-depth questioning, radical challenge of routines.
But in real life, many organizational practices are far from encouraging “smartness”. They might even completely deviate. Have you noticed how often meetings and so-called group thinking avoid reflection? How people stick to rigid assumptions? How some leaders discourage useful doubting and questioning?
The people who generally refuse this status are often called Rebels. More often than not, Rebels are considered as pains in the brains!
Yet, they can also be great sources of Value and smartness by challenging conventional wisdom and approaches. In an environment that is demanding more and more Innovation and Re-invention, we can learn a lot from them.
This article is inspired by the interview of Francisca GINO, Professor at Harvard Business School, written by Carolyn Drebin and published in Rotman Management Review, Winter 2019
The “Tradition” obstacles
From an early age, we are taught to follow the rules and the pressure to “fit in” increases over time. But when we mindlessly accept norms rather than questioning and constructively rebelling against them, we ultimately end up stuck and unfulfilled. Rebels i.e. those who practice what Francisca Gino calls “positive deviance” at work and in Life, might be harder to manage but they are usually good for the bottom line: their Passion, Drive, Curiosity and Creativity can raise an entire organization to new levels. Encouraging the right kind of rule-breaking is exactly what today’s “leaders” need to do to help their organizations adapt and thrive.
Rebels share 5 characteristics
According to the Harvard Business School Professor, rebels share 5 characteristics
1. Novelty: a desire to seek out challenge and the new
2. Curiosity: the impulse to always ask questions “Why?”
3. Perspective: the ability to constantly broaden their view of the world
4. Diversity: a tendency to challenge pre-determined social roles and reach out those who may appear different
5. Authenticity: embraced in everything Rebels do, remaining open and vulnerable in order to connect with and learn from others
Beware of the Status Quo
The preference for the status quo leads to choose activities we are familiar with and thus to miss opportunities Novelty presents. The more frequently people experience Novelty in their work, the more they feel satisfied with and energized by their job. There are companies which continually challenge the status quo. Pixar is one of them which manages to achieve this by proactively drawing out tensions and conflicts.
When is it appropriate to push the boundaries? And when is it not?
It is a matter of Judgment. And it is important to clearly define when rules can be or can’t be broken. For example, in a Chicago-based Money Management firm, before a letter goes out to a client, three people must review it for clarity. Why? Because the company’s reputation with its clients is so important. Consistency on rules such as this one helps employees know where the boundaries are.
Can Curiosity be actively fostered?
The longer we are in a job, the more our willingness to explore declines.
When people are under pressure to complete their work quickly, they have no time to ask questions about broad processes or overall goals! It takes thought and discipline to start fostering Curiosity. In most organizations, leaders and employees alike receive the implicit message that asking questions is an unwanted challenge to Authority. People are trained to focus on their work without looking closely at the processes or their overall goals. But maintaining a sense of wonder is crucial to Creativity and Innovation. The most effective leaders look for ways to nurture their employees’ Curiosity to fuel Learning and Discovery.
Do enough Leaders value Rebellion today?
Many leaders SAY they value Rebellion and rule-breaking, but don’t encourage it for fear that it will result in chaos. Many leaders, at the end, push for Conformity because of this fear. Fortunately, there are also leaders who have modeled rule-breaking and have encouraged it in their organizations quite successfully. INTUIT for instance has created awards for great innovations that employees have come up with. But there are also awards for great failures: explorations that did not turn out well but have helped the company learn something! The Failure Award even comes with a Failure Party! No punishment for failures.
Can anyone be a Rebel?
Absolutely. The goal is to make it possible for people to become more comfortable being uncomfortable! Breaking rules enriches every aspect of our Lives. Most of us are not born Rebels. But after trying the Rebel Life, no one wants to go back!
The 8 principles of Rebel Leadership
brilliantly summed up by Francisca Gino
- SEEK OUT THE NEW: It is important to break away from routines and find inspiration in unlikely places. For Business Leaders, this could mean introducing employees to things that aren’t obviously related to the organization
- ENCOURAGE CONSTRUCTIVE DISSENT: we often seek out the opinion most likely to match ours. Rebels fight that instinct, finding ways to encourage conflict and disagreement
- OPEN CONVERSATIONS, DON’T CLOSE THEM: Rebels are willing to keep an open mind
- REVEAL YOURSELF AND REFLECT: Rebel Leaders focus on their strengths but are honest about their weaknesses and make an effort to be mindful of both
- LEARN EVERYTHING – THEN FORGET EVERYTHING! Successful Rebels understand the importance of mastering the fundamentals of their Industry, but never become slaves to the rules
- FIND FREEDOM IN CONSTRAINTS: many people think they can’t innovate because the parameters of their job are too rigid. Rebels work through and even find inspirations in constraints
- LEAD FROM THE TRENCHES: Rebel Leaders are willing to get their hands dirty and their employees respect them for that
- FOSTER HAPPY ACCIDENTS: Rebels know the value of a happy accident. They believe in workspaces and teams that cross-pollinate, and realize that a mistake can unlock a breakthrough
Rebelling is slowly becoming the new norm.
It might be wise to adopt it soon!
And as one of our Heroes, Sir john Harvey Jones (Ex CEO of Imperial Chemical) once wrote: “All Together now!”