Develop Your Inner Rebel

inner rebel

This post originally appeared on the Blacklight, our new newsletter for professionals. 

As a teenager, your rebellious streak may have landed you in hot water with your parents, the principal, or even the fuzz. Now that you’re an upright citizen and working professional, you might find yourself less willing to rock the boat at the office. Maybe you feel pressure to “get on board” even if you disagree, so no one doubts that you’re a “team player.”

If this sounds familiar, you’re in good company. Our natural tendency is to seek out the known and comfortable. But you know what? Acting like Mr. or Ms. Agreeable all the time is doing your career no favors. There’s no brass ring for maintaining the status quo. If you want greater career success, get back in touch with your inner rebel. In other words, don’t avoid conflicts and tension—embrace them.

Permission to rebel

Rebels aren’t troublemakers or outcasts, explains Dr. Francesca Gino. Sure, they break the rules—but their purpose is constructive, not destructive. Author of the book Rebel Talent, this Harvard Business School professor spent a decade studying renegades of all stripes at organizations around the globe.

Gino believes the most important trait of rebels in the workplace is curiosity. They think and act differently to create positive change in the world. Embrace conflict by bringing in a variety of perspectives, she says. Don’t ask, What should I do? Instead, ask, What can I do?

“I see too many leaders who focus so much on efficiency that curiosity shuts down in people. And that’s too bad, because curiosity leads to all sorts of great results and great outcomes,” Gino says in this NPR interview.

When people disagree and share their ideas and opinions, something transformational happens. Disagreements lead to deeper understanding of the issues at hand. More options or solutions appear. This leads to better outcomes for your team.

“Yes, there may be conflict,” Gino acknowledges, “but it will ultimately be productive.”

Likewise, researchers at INSEAD found that putting people in a “conflictual state of mind” can boost their creativity. Conflict, though uncomfortable, leads to true innovation.

The rebel test

Wondering how much of a rebel you are at heart? According to Gino, there are four distinct rebel personalities (the Traveler, the Climber, the Pirate, the Guard). Use her rebel test to find out what type you tend towards. You may learn something surprising about yourself—and how to further develop your own rebel talents.


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