33 ways to embrace your inner rebel

It is time to embrace your inner rebel. That is the message of “Rebel Talent: Why it Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life”.

Commodity hell

You are likely operating in commodity hell and are part of the middle. You are probably also part of the 80% whose romantic or close relationship is more often than not, a cause for worry and frustration rather than energy and joy. You might be part of the 68% of workers that do not feel involved in, is not enthusiastic about, and not committed to their jobs. You cost your employer 22 per cent less profit and 21 per cent less productivity.

Want to perform 200% better?

For organisations, the lack of employee engagement negatively affects quality, productivity, customer satisfaction, and financial outcomes. According to a study by Dale Carnegie Training, companies with engaged employees outperform those with employees who report lack of engagement by over 200 per cent.

Stop conforming

You are miserable, and the company you work for is losing buckets of money. One way to help yourself and help your company is to become a rebel. Consciously choosing not to conform. Nonconformity enhances not only our professional lives but your personal life as well. Nonconforming behaviours (such as expressing true preferences in social circles rather than going along with the majority opinion) improves your happiness in your day-to-day interactions. Giving the power back to yourself. Power is typically associated with a lack of constraint, and we think of powerful people as generally having the freedom to behave as they wish.

Say yes

Following the “yes”, instead of the “no”. Breaking the status quo bias, the brules, the beliefs (read “The code of the extraordinary mind”), the rituals, the traditions. Breaking rules will enrich every aspect of your life. Living life like a rebel is energising. In fact, the traditions and rituals you encounter in your organisation and in society often endure out of routine, rather than as the result of thoughtful deliberation. You are doing everyone a favour.

You need to do five things

  1. The first is to seek novelty, seeking out the challenge and the new.
  2. The second is to be curious, the impulse we all had as children to constantly ask “why”?
  3. The third is to widen your perspective. Rebels have the ability to constantly broaden their view of the world and see it as others do.
  4. The fourth is to seek diversity, the tendency to challenge predetermined social roles and reach out to those who may appear different.
  5. The fifth is to be authentic, which rebels embrace in all that they do, remaining open and vulnerable in order to connect with others and learn from them.


Create excitement. It will be good for your relationship too. A recent study of one hundred couples found that those who engaged in activities that both members deemed exciting for at least ninety minutes per week for four weeks reported higher levels of happiness and relationship satisfaction. The effect lasted at least four months. Surprisingly, novelty is more important than stability.


Comfort is overrated. Go for exploration rather than exploration. Efficiency version innovation. Exploration, or looking for and identifying new ideas and ways of doing things, involves risk-taking, experimentation, flexibility, play, discovery, and innovation. Exploitation, in contrast, involves improving and refining existing products and processes through efficiency, selection, implementation, and execution.
Exploitation often crowds out exploration.

What do you need to do as a company

  1. Hire writers, poets, and other intellectuals.
  2. Hire what are known as “T-shaped” employees (the depth of knowledge and skill needed and inclination for collaboration across functions, which consists of two aspects: empathy and curiosity).
  3. Encourage curiosity. Curiosity was associated with a greater creative productivity; a one-unit increase in curiosity (e.g., moving from a score of 5 to 6 on a 7-point scale) was associated with a 34 per cent increase in productivity.
  4. Run your company on questions, not answers
  5. Start meetings with Why?” and “What if?
  6. Apply the “go back method,” which asked employees to go back and question the common assumptions we all tend to hold about goals, roles, and the organisation as a whole.
  7. Apply counterfactual thinking.
  8. Promote intellectual humility. Do not forget the experience of being inexperienced.
  9. Have a diverse workforce. A 2009 analysis of data from 506 firms found that those with greater gender or racial diversity had higher sales revenue, a greater number of customers, and higher profits. Adding an outsider actually doubles a group’s chance of solving a mystery correctly, from 29 to 60 per cent.
  10. Allow your people to be authentic. The more inauthentic we feel, the higher our stress, the lower our sense of well-being, and the more prone we are to burnout. Inauthenticity also works as a drag on motivation. Authenticity gives us the courage, energy, and confidence we need to rebound from negative experiences.
  11. Focus on your staff’s strengths rather than their weaknesses. According to Gallup research, people who use their strengths daily are six times more likely to get satisfaction out of their job and report less stress and anxiety. Research by the Corporate Leadership Council found that when managers focus on an employee’s weaknesses, his or her performance declines by 27 per cent, whereas a focus on strengths boosts performance by 36 per cent.
  12. Ensure everyone is truthful and allowed to speak out. Candour is the key to effective collaboration,
  13. Create ideas advocates.
  14. Create devil’s advocates charged with poking holes in the decision-making process.
  15. Look for people that disagree with you.
  16. Allow for creative tension. In the creative process, tension and conflict need to be embraced for good ideas to emerge. A sense of conflict triggers exploration of novel ideas.
  17. Define your purpose when we feel that the work we do matters, our dedication deepens.
  18. Change your organisation structure (read “Reinventing organisations”). Organisations that lack steep hierarchies are sometimes called “flat organisations.” The author prefers “rebel organisations.” A rebel organisation—be it a pirate ship or a restaurant like Osteria Francescana—exemplifies the rebel talent. It avoids the traps of routine and complacency. Read “Breaking bad habits”.

Everyone a rebel!

Embrace novelty, curiosity, perspective, diversity, and authenticity. What is fascinating, though, is what binds all these “talents” together: They are all paths to engagement. When our attention is focused, we reach a state of absorption and time passes quickly. The handwritten notes also likely made a difference. When we receive expressions of gratitude, we are more likely to persist when the road gets tough. As energy and mental resilience increase, we experience vigour. At their core, rebels are engaged. They have abundant energy and mental resilience, they invest in their work and in their personal relationships, and they persist even when the road gets tough. They have an emotional connection with what they do.

Managing rebels has leadership challenges.  Here are the rules

1. Seek out the new
Adriano Olivetti extended lunch breaks so that workers could eat lunch for an hour and then “eat culture” for another hour. Guest speakers included philosophers, writers, intellectuals, and poets from across Italy and the rest of Europe. If workers preferred to read, they could visit the factory library, which was stocked with tens of thousands of books and magazines. Meanwhile, the company prospered.  This embrace of the arts by people in two very different lines of work demonstrates the first principle of rebel leadership: Always look for the new. The rebel is voracious, with interests that are wide-ranging. A new interest does not need a justification, for it might lead to a larger insight down the road.

2. Encourage constructive discontent
One of the most remarkable details about President Kennedy’s management of the Cuban Missile Crisis was what he sought from his advisors: disagreement. First, each member would take the role of a “sceptical generalist,” approaching a given problem in its entirety, rather than focusing only on one department’s perspective (usually their own). Second, to encourage freewheeling conversations, the members would use settings free of any formality, with no specified procedures or formal agenda to follow. Third, the team would be divided into subgroups that would work on different options and then come back together to discuss them.

3. Open conversations, do not close them
The point of plussing is to improve ideas without using judgmental language. You add to, or “plus,” what has been said.

4. Reveal yourself and reflect
Leaders understand the power of showing themselves—and knowing themselves.

5. Learn everything than forget everything
The legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden would open the first practice of every season by having his players practice putting on their socks and lacing their shoes. Master the fundamentals, Wooden figured, and the team would prosper.

6. Find freedom in constraints
When we are faced with constraints, we dedicate our mental energy to acting more resourcefully and doggedly, and surpass expectations—or better. Research examining how people design new products, cook meals and even fix broken toys finds that budget constraints increase resourcefulness and lead to better solutions.

7. Lead from the trenches
The best way to lead is from the trenches. Rebel leaders are comrades, friends, and fellow enthusiasts. Napoleon would not have spent all his time in the executive suite. Chef Bottura is often found sweeping the streets outside his restaurant, unloading deliveries, and cleaning the kitchen. In Navy SEAL teams this hands-on philosophy is ingrained in candidates from the first day of training. Indeed, naval officers are taught to lead by example in everything they do. You’ll find them at the head of the pack during runs and swims.

8. Foster happy accidents
Know the value of happy accidents. They believe in workspaces and teams that cross-pollinate. A mistake may unlock a breakthrough.

9. Do more
What seem like tangents, or doing extra, or helping someone when it seems that there is no time, become paths to a more vibrant life. Doing more gives us more. People who give more time feel more capable, confident, and useful.

Other books

The book combines some of the lessons of “Legacy”, “Fusion” and “The subtle art of not giving a f.ck”. The key message is that you need to unleash the rebel in yourself and your organisation. If you do so, the result can be amazing. I leave you one last thought. There is no such thing a rebel-AI (yet). Being a rebel will make you more future proof and definitely happier.

Embrace the rebel!

sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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