Rebels have a bad rep. When you think of them, you imagine trouble. However, all rebels really do is take the habits that could hold the rest of us back and break them.
Instead of leaning toward the comfortable and the familiar, rebels ask questions and look at problems from unexpected perspectives. They aren’t afraid to question assumptions, stick their necks out, make themselves vulnerable in front of others, or experiment and fail.
Harvard social scientist Francesca Gino’s Rebel Talent: Why it Pays to Break the Rules in Work and in Life (2018) aims to explain the merits of breaking the rules and showing how to see challenges from new perspectives.
When we challenge ourselves to move beyond what we know and can do well, we rebel against the comfortable cocoon of the status quo, improving ourselves and positioning ourselves to contribute more to our partners, coworkers, and organizations.
The anecdotes and case studies that Gino pulls together to illuminate her “rebel talent” narrative are hardly convincing. In fact, they’re no more than examples of creative—perhaps unconventional—thinking. To take a prominent example Gino cites in the book, Captain Sully Sullenberger (of the US Airways Flight 1549 incident) did nothing rebellious. With 40 years of flying experience and situational awareness, he made lightning-quick decisions to land in the Hudson and not return to a nearby airport.
Recommendation: Read the introduction of Francesca Gino’s Rebel Talent, and skim the rest. The book’s introduction has a few useful concepts that merit an article, but the book lacks the rigor and utility to be expected from a Harvard Business School professor. The key takeaways (codified as the “eight principles of rebel leadership”) are relatively clear-cut: be curious and open-minded, never be satisfied, embrace discomfort, think unconventionally, and break established norms.