Anything you’d like to know about rebels and their talent? I’ve studied them across a wide range of contexts, so I may have an answer for you.
Q: What led you to research rebels?
For many years, I studied rule-breaking in the moral sphere: people who cheat, steal, and lie. I explored why this happens and what can be done to prevent it. In time, I began to notice a different side of rule-breaking—nonconformists who drive positive change. These people didn’t lie or cheat; instead, their genuine spirit of rebellion encouraged creative ideas and innovation.
I have a vivid memory of where and when constructive rule-breaking became my next writing project. I was browsing the shelves at a Cambridge bookstore when I saw a book that was larger than usual, with a cover merlot in color. The title? “Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef.” Being Italian, I was intrigued. As I flipped through the pages, it became clear that this was not your typical recipe book. There were pictures of beautiful dishes—who could resist The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna?—but they did not resemble any of the traditional meals I had grown up with.
“Never Trust” told the story of Chef Massimo Bottura, a master of traditional recipes whose even greater talent involved transforming these dishes into something new. His 3-Michelin-star restaurant was considered one of the best in the world. What may have appeared a risky move, rebelling against beloved recipes shared across generations, had made him a star.
Q: What is the book about?
We think about rebels the wrong way. The book is about rule-breaking as a constructive rather than destructive force. Rebels challenge the status quo in ways that drive positive change.
The world is becoming more uncertain, our problems more complex. The rebel, undaunted by novel situations and ideas, adapts to change as a matter of course.
Q: What value do rebels bring to teams and organizations?
We seem to have a fixed idea of rebels in the business world. People like Apple visionary Steve Jobs come to mind. These rebels, the stories go, are creative, but also difficult to work with—control freaks who create chaos, people you’d rather not have as a boss or an employee.
We need to shift our thinking. To be a rebel does not mean to be an outcast or a troublemaker. Effective rebels are people who break rules in ways that are positive and productive.
When Greg Dyke arrived at the BBC in early 2000, he found a troubled organization that needed reform. To signal the type of change he wanted to see, the new general director distributed yellow cards resembling the penalty cards soccer referees hold up when they’re warning a player. If a staff member saw someone trying to block a good idea, he or she should wave the yellow card in the air and speak up, Dyke told his team. He wanted employees to use the cards to “cut the crap and make it happen.”
Rebels inspire, and teach, through action, and organizations have much to gain by rewarding the example they set. Encouraging the right kind of rule-breaking is what today’s leaders need to do to help their organizations adapt.
Q: Being a rebel is not only important at work, but also outside of work. Why?
We all need more rebelliousness in our lives. When we rebel, we find more enjoyment in work, play, and interactions with others. One problem is that most of us don’t know how to break the rules in productive ways.
I began my study of constructive rebellion by focusing on rule-breaking in the workplace. But breaking the rules, as I discovered, enriches every aspect of our lives. For me, living like a rebel is a matter of trying little things—red sneakers in formal settings, for example—as well as a broader commitment to exploring ways of being in the world that may at first feel wrong, possibly even destructive.
The experience inspired me to create guidelines on how to live like a rebel for a week. (Signup for a free membership below to access.) Most of us are not born rebels. But if you’re like me, after trying the rebel life, you won’t want to go back.
Are you interested in joining the rebel tribe? Signing up is easy and free, and will give you access to extra resources that you may find helpful.
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