What kind of rebel are you? … Rebels have a bad reputation, but some rules just need to broken, and those that break them are more fulfilled.

December 5, 2019

Francesca Gino is a behavioural scientist who I recently met at the Thinkers50 Global Summit in London, the biennial celebration of the best ideas for business leaders, and awards that are dubbed the Oscars of business thinking. She won the “talent” award, for the best idea about people in business, and how to nurture their potential.

She loves to tell anecdotal stories. For example, the one about the coloured milk at home.

Each morning when she wakes up, she pours milk into a cereal bowl and squeezes in a few drops of food colouring. The Harvard Business School professor has tried green, blue, and red, but her favourite colour is yellow.

This ritual began when Gino’s five-year-old son asked her and her husband one morning why they don’t use food colouring in milk (they had recently used it to paint Easter eggs). She was struck by her husband’s response: “We just don’t do that.” This set her thinking. Why shouldn’t the milk be pink, or any colour?

And then, she realized something: her son’s determination to break the breakfast rules was intimately connected to her research on innovation.

Curiosity and insistence on questioning the status quo—why can’t cereal milk change colors?—are among the qualities Gino has discovered separate good leaders from great ones, and the people who can’t wait to get to work from the ones who count the minutes until they can leave. These qualities are part of an instinct to rebel against what feels comfortable. And adopting those qualities may be key to, as Gino puts it, creativity, productivity, and making work suck less

Rebel Talent

Gino’s new book is Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules in Work and in Life.

She has spent much of her career studying non-conformists – specifically, people who break the rules, and end up in trouble. But now, she wonders whether letting go of norms and traditions can lead to the most sublime examples of creative thinking. “I think we really need to shift our thinking,” she says. “Rebels are people who break rules that should be broken. They break rules that hold them and others back, and their way of rule breaking is constructive rather than destructive. It creates positive change.”

Gino also tells the story of the time when she was browsing the shelves at a bookstore when she came across an unusual-looking book in the cooking section: Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef  by Massimo Bottura. The recipes in it were playful, quirky — and improbable. Snails were paired with coffee sauce, veal tongue with charcoal powder. Francesca, who is Italian, says remixing classic recipes like this is a kind of heresy in Italian cooking. “We really cherish the old way,” she says. But this chef, one of the most influential in the world, couldn’t resist circling back to one, big question: Why do we have to follow these rules?

Another story is Gino’s 2013 study on “the red sneakers effect,” which finds that deviating from social norms about dress codes can boost your status in the eyes of strangers.

The psychology of rebels

“Rebels have a bad reputation”, says Gino in the new book.

“We think of them as troublemakers, outcasts, contrarians: those colleagues, friends, and family members who complicate seemingly straightforward decisions, create chaos, and disagree when everyone else is in agreement. But in truth, rebels are also those among us who change the world for the better with their unconventional outlooks. Instead of clinging to what is safe and familiar, and falling back on routines and tradition, rebels defy the status quo. They are masters of innovation and reinvention, and they have a lot to teach us.”

Gino has spent more than a decade studying rebels at organizations around the world, from high-end boutiques in Italy’s fashion capital, to the world’s best restaurant, to a thriving fast food chain, to an award-winning computer animation studio. In her work, she has identified leaders and employees who exemplify “rebel talent,” and whose examples we can all learn to embrace.

She argues that the future belongs to the rebel — and that there’s a rebel in each of us. We live in turbulent times, when competition is fierce, reputations are easily tarnished on social media, and the world is more divided than ever before. In this cutthroat environment, cultivating rebel talent is what allows businesses to evolve and to prosper. And rebellion has an added benefit beyond the workplace: it leads to a more vital, engaged, and fulfilling life.

Whether you want to inspire others to action, build a business, or build more meaningful relationships, Rebel Talent will show you how to succeed by breaking all the rules.

What kind of rebel are you?

Rebels come in many varieties.  They behave in different ways, and need different approaches to develop their talent. To determine which rebel ingredients come most naturally to you, and where you have the most room to grow, you can complete this free assessment. Becoming more aware of your own rebel profile will help you become more comfortable with the uncomfortable. After taking the test, you’ll receive concrete tips based on the habits and strategies rebels rely on regularly.

Take the rebel test … to learn which type of rebel, out of four possibilities, you tend to be. You’ll receive a short explanation of your type and a few tips on how you can further deploy and develop your talents. Call to mind the thoughts and feelings you typically have regarding your job or in your personal life. You will be asked to consider  30 pairs of statements. For each pair, choose whether “A” or “B” is most characteristic of your behavior.