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Book Review: Rebel Talent by Francesca Gino

Book Review: Rebel Talent by Francesca Gino

Rebel Talent is a book by Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino. Its subtitle Why it Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life already summarises the main message that the book carries: in many situations breaking (or bending) rules can be positive both at work and in life. Of course, it depends on which rules. And the author goes to a great extent into making a case with many concrete examples from different types of organisations. Some are out of our traditional radar, like the Restaurant Osteria Francescanaof Massimo Bottura. This multi-Michelin star winning chef is not the typical chef you would expect. And becomes one of the leading examples in how “breaking the rules” of traditionalism delivers value through agility and creativity.

Who is a Rebel?

Rebels are defined as people who are deviants but positively and constructively. They challenge the established norms and assumptions and do things differently from the crowd. Rebels break the rules, not in a legal sense or to get into trouble. They break the rules of steadiness, the assumptions that keep organisations static. These are people that are fully engaged in their relationships, in their lives, in the work that they are doing. Francesca Gino identifies five Talents that these people cultivate over time. These are not simple skills, and can be based on variegated personality traits, but are expressed consistently in the way that rebels build their cause for change.

  • Novelty
  • Curiosity
  • Perspective
  • Diversity
  • Authenticity

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.

Francesca Gino

Novelty

Novelty is the practice of exploring something new at work every day. Many jobs are designed to act around repetitive tasks. Whereas here, the goal of the individual is to discover something new every day.

When we engage in novel activities and acquire new skills, our sense of who we are expanding as does the number of traits to describe who we are thus increasing our confidence that we can accomplish our goals even when we are outside our comfort zone.

Rebels challenge Routines and Traditions in this case and look for ways to experience something new as much as possible — Wether with travelling, studying, exploring, or trying to do things differently.

Curiosity

Rebels never stop asking why almost holding to childlike curiosity levels. It is this way that helps them fight the need to ask for “authorisation” all of the time. We spoke about this skill already, as I also see it as a critical component for the way we need to work today and even more in the future. 

The key link is between curiosity and engagement, as it triggers new learning invariably. 

Fig.1: Where have all Rebels gone? Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

Perspective

This is one of the most exciting traits pictured by the author. She uses the example of Captain Sully, that lead his flight (hit by a bird strike and with both engines off) into a controlled gliding over the Hudson River in New York City, saving all passengers. 

Captain Sully was a person with Perspective. Despite a long career in the job, he used every chance to learn new things. And he was able to “join the dots” from variegated past experiences (military and civil), bypassing the “rules” of the moment (the checklist available on the plane was useless at that moment), stopping to listen to the advice of who’s not in the situation (the flight control; team who was trying to dins a solution to get the flight on ground) and finding an alternative solution with high focus.

Rebels with Perspective can leverage their curiosity and continuous learning to make decisions when it is needed. They are powered by what Francesca Gino defines as “counterfactual thinking “, and brings down the power of action and execution.

Wisdom means rejecting the feeling of knowing

Francesca Gino, Rebel Talent, page 104

Diversity

Rebels live in a world where Diversity truly adds value. They tend to move away from stereotypes and bias, continually questioning the validity of shared assumptions. We’re not talking here merely of visible Diversity. But instead of Diversity of thinking and mindset. Rebel value conflict and disagreement.

Rebels understand that conflict can lead to growth and that disagreement is a feature rather than a flaw

Francesca Gino, Rebel Talent, page 134

Authenticity

Another skill we have already covered is the ability of Rebels to “stand naked” in front of others. Opening up wins us to trust, even so, when we display weakness. The more inauthentic we feel, the more stress and burn out are behind the corner.

What’s interesting is the analysis that Francesca Gino does, in this chapter, on the role of Performance Reviews. Virtually the entire system is based on the weakness of employees. The concept of “gap” is essentially that, and feedback follows based on this. Yes, we have all learned the idea we should also give some positive note, but de facto the critical message given is often that of trying to find what’s wrong, which is a real killer of authenticity in the work environment. 

At their core rebels are engaged. They have abundant energy and mental resilience, they invest in their work (…) and they persis even when the road gets tough.

Francesca Gino, Rebel Talent, page 175

Leadership for Rebel Talent

The last part of the book covers the question of how to build Rebel Talent. The author brings in a parallel with Pirates. Despite what we might think to know, Pirates practised a revolutionary form of Democracy. Their leadership style was far more inclusive than that of the traditional captains (remember the Bounty?). And their organisation was indeed made up of Rebels in all possible ways.

Rebel Leaders follow eight principles:

  1. Seek out the New
  2. Encourage Constructive Dissent
  3. Open conversations, don’t close them
  4. Reveal Yourself and reflect
  5. Learn everything — then forget everything
  6. Find freedom in constraints
  7. Lead from the Trenches
  8. Foster Happy Accidents

This is another secret of the rebel: What seem like tangents, or doing extra (…) become paths to more vibrant life. Doing more gives us more.

Francesca Gino, Rebel Talent, Page 212

Conclusion

It’s a book that makes you think. And helps you think in terms of connections of a lot of elements that are already present. Just yesterday, I discovered a new word Multipotentialite, which can become another attribute of myself as a Rebel. And also explains the success of the points of view of similar work done, for example by Corporate Rebels that, as we’ve seen, push these concepts of trying to find alternative realities ina different light.

The final question then is, are you a rebel?

Are you a Rebel?

The author has also developed a test that is available online that helps you understand if you are a “Rebel”. There are four “types” that she identifies (The Traveler, The Climber, The Pirate and The Guard). Guess what I’ve discovered to be? A Pirate.

The results of my personal rebel profile. I'm a Pirate
Fig.2: The results of my personal Rebel profile. I’m a Pirate 🙂

And you? Are you a Rebel?

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I am an experienced and innovative HR professional dedicated in improving the way organizations achieve results through their people. Over the years I have worked on many projects in different HR domains, gaining a deep understanding of all key HR processes, from Talent Management to Recruiting, from Organizational Design to Leadership Development, from HR Transformation to HR & Payroll Systems implementation at International level. Working with Fashion Brands, leading retailer as well as, through consulting, international brands in industries like Banking, Manufacturing, Professional Services at both Headquarter and local level. Last but not least I consider myself an eclectic and creative personality, with many interests ranging from technology to arts and poetry.

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