Rebels have always suffered from a bad reputation. We think of them as colleagues, friends and family that complicate seemingly simple decisions, creating chaos and disagreeing when everyone else.
But actually, according to Francesca Gino, professor at the Harvard Business School, author of “Rebel talent: why it pays to break the rules at work and in life” (2018, MacMillan), rebels are the people changing the world for the better with their unconventional outlooks. Instead of clinging to what is safe and familiar, and falling back into routine and tradition, rebels challenge the status quo. They are masters of innovation and reinvention and companies are becoming aware of them.
Most companies – Gino explains – “expect you to follow the rules, not to break them. Whether it is standard procedures to perform a specific task, a detailed chain of command or even the dress code in the workplace, there is no organization that does not have its own rules. Ignoring them will cause serious problems, if not total chaos. Rebels are unwillingly tolerated and excluded if they become too annoying”. But things are changing.
During the fifteen years of study she has dedicated to companies, a time spent in the various work environments and in contact with managers, Gino, says “From time to time I have met people who are not afraid to break the rules when they become a hindrance. People capable of also questioning the assumptions and principles in which they firmly believe, as well as the widely accepted standards, to identify more creative and effective strategies through which to achieve excellent results. So I found myself wondering: what could we all learn from these people? What is their secret? "
Neurolinguist Noam Chomsky distinguished between two types of creativity: rule-governed creativity and rule-changing creativity. The first is creativity governed by rules; the second is creativity that changes the rules. The talented rebel is someone who, unable to innovate due to rules that hinder the creation of a company of its creativity, breaks obsolete rules and opens up to change.
Gino explains that “rebels are people who break the rules to explore new ideas and create positive changes. They are people who are doing good in the world”. Every company needs them in order to grow and innovate.
The relationship between innovation and execution, we learn from Francesca Gino’s work, always provides a degree of creativity determined by the context and autonomy of the person acting. It is now increasingly clear to companies that the quality of a performance is linked to “rebel” dynamics of rule-changing creativity.
Living a rebel life is energizing
Although every rebel is unique, they share a series of qualities: novelty, curiosity, perspective, diversity and authenticity. Not suffocating these qualities is crucial for the corporate well being.
We could summarize the vision of a rebel talent along two lines:
Seeking the new. “It is easy to fall into routine and follow it without thinking, day in and day out. What this principle allows us to do, even in situations where routines and traditions exist, is to break with them and find new inspiration”, Gino explains.
Encouraging constructive dissent. “As human beings, we often focus on just one perspective, and it's generally our own.” Rebels escape this instinct, encouraging diversity.
But above all, rebel talents must not hide. Rebel talents focus on their strengths, but are honest about their weaknesses and strive to reflect on both. "They don’t hide who they are, or pretend to know, or to be something they are not," concludes Gino. This basic honesty is the engine of their success.
Certain consolidated habits push us towards everything that is familiar and comfortable. We must learn to break these habits
“One of the most surprising facts that emerged from my research – concludes Gino – was to discover how important and significant the rebellious talent could be in personal life. I became interested in this project with the intention of understanding what it means to break the rules at work. But breaking the rules, as I discovered along the way, enriches every aspect of our existence. Living a rebel life is energizing”.
Gino tries to “always look for all those positive ways of being in the world that at first sight may seem wrong, if not destructive. Certain consolidated habits push us towards everything that is familiar and comfortable. We must learn to break these habits, as if they were so many urns of the Han dynasty. Only then will we be ready to transform them”.