Home >Opinion >Columns >Opinion | Why the modern office needs more rebel employees

Osteria Francescana is a three-Michelin-star restaurant run by a “rebel" Italian chef Massimo Bottura. One of the most famous dishes at Bottura’s restaurant is “Oops, I Dropped The Lemon Tart". Its origin is quite literal. One evening the chef responsible for desserts accidentally dropped a lemon tart. Instead of screaming at him, Bottura created a new dessert, a smashed lemon tart served on a colourful plate.

Bottura is what Francesca Gino, author of Rebel Talent, calls a positive deviance rebel. During a research, she found stories of people who broke rules in a way that created a net positive change in their organizations and in the world. Unlike the cheats, such rebels tend to share five talents: novelty, curiosity, perspective, diversity and authenticity.

Despite all the talk about diversity and innovation, most organizations make rebels feel unwelcome. A recent survey conducted across a wide range of sectors, industries and seniority levels, shows nearly 50% of the respondents said they regularly feel the pressure to conform. This leads to decreased engagement, dwindled productivity, and suffocating work environment.

The good news is that constructive rebelliousness can be augmented both at a personal and organizational level. Gino’s eight-pronged framework of rebel leadership, organizations can transform the disengaged rebels into engaged contributors. These points are equally relevant for freelancers and solopreneurs.

Novelty inspires innovation

First, seek out the new. It is important to add an element of surprise, disrupt routines and seek inspiration from different fields. Rebels thrive in unfamiliar contexts as the joy of discovery creates a sense of adventure at work. Richard Feynman came up with his Nobel winning Physics insight by watching someone play with plates and dishes at Cornell University’s cafeteria. Novelty inspires innovation.

Second, encourage constructive dissent. We tend to surround ourselves with people like ourselves. Rebels, on the other hand, thrive in healthy conflict and learn those who don’t share their worldview.

Third, open conversations, don’t close them. Both rebels and improv comics have one thing in common: they use the phrase “yes, and" constructively. This allows them to learn from and add value to a wide spectrum of conversations. Given that innovative ideas tend to emerge from combining different strands of thoughts, it is no small wonder that rebels are the epicentre of disruption.

Fourth, reveal yourself and reflect. Trust builds when we share our imperfect selves and reflect on how to serve our stakeholders better.

Fifth, learn everything, then forget everything. Constructive rebels master fundamentals but never become slaves to the rules. Rather than disrespecting traditions and breaking rules simply for the sake of it, effective rebels develop a deep understanding of the basic concepts.

Sixth, find freedom in constraints. Some of the most creative pieces of literature were written by authors while they had day jobs. Harper Lee was an airline ticketing agent, Franz Kafka an insurance clerk and Agatha Christie used to be an assistant pharmacist.

Seventh, lead from the trenches. Rebels enjoy having skin in the game and taking up challenging tasks. They tend to be driven by impact more than procedures.

Lastly, foster happy accidents. Chef Bottura creates happy accidents by hiring people from different nations to give traditional dishes an unconventional flavour.

Being a rebel isn’t binary: all of us fall in a spectrum. It boils down to bringing our true selves to work and feeling free to express unpopular opinions.

Utkarsh Amitabh is founder of Network Capital, a global peer mentoring community and a WEF Global Shaper.

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