Point of View

Use “rebel talent” to reshape your post-pandemic ways of working

August 10, 2021

The HFS OneOffice™ Digital Symposium featured several enterprise business and technology leaders, analysts, and service providers sharing their stories about grappling with market uncertainties and persistent business challenges in the pandemic economy. While all had astute advice and perspectives for our audience of over 1,100 professionals, award-winning Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino came to us with an “out of the box” topic about navigating change in our organizations. Francesca’s keynote session, Rebel Talent, based on her recent book with the same title, was a true highlight for Day 2 at the #HFSSymposium.

Francesca’s research team had been hearing through the last 15 months how people were experiencing work—some were truly thriving, but many were starting to feel burnt out and stressed. In fact, thousands of employees across organizations saw their experiences and job satisfaction decline. Francesca believes that one mindset potentially holds the key—the ability to undertake constructive rebelliousness.

Wait, rebels? I thought being rebellious was a bad thing! Do rebels have a place in business?

Francesca argues that while you’d typically be put off by “troublemakers” in a company setting (who wants to work with that jerk?), they can be interesting. Rebels push the boundaries and can set themselves up for success by breaking the rules constructively. These are people who look at crises and see opportunities. During a very painful time in the pandemic, they thought, what could I be learning at this moment that will help me and others in the organization?

Rebels embrace vulnerability. They are happy to admit they don’t know. They don’t jump to decisions even if they feel expert—they keep the broad view. They remain curious and stay engaged. Curiosity turbocharges innovation. Rebels ask the why question, and that’s contagious. They embrace the unknown and accept the lack of comfort of living with ambiguity.

Using rebel talent well will require you to be curious, be humble, and get comfortable with discomfort

Here are Francesca’s top three takeaways for how to channel your and your team’s inner rebel talent for good:

  1. Curiosity and judgment can’t co-exist. Francesca used the concept of “improv”—or improvisational comedy—as the perfect medium for the power of adapting to dynamic change. You can’t turn your brain off and say no to something just because of existing rules or structures. As they say in improv, “just go with it.” Ask questions, and be curious.
  2. Expertise and humility make the perfect match. Focus on what’s left to learn. Francesca used Captain Sully (of the Miracle on the Hudson) as an example of humility. Despite over 30,000 hours in the air, every time Captain Sully entered the cockpit, he would ask himself what he could learn today. This way of thinking allowed him to consider all possible options at the time of crisis and develop an unconventional solution that saved hundreds of lives.
  3. Discomfort is key to change and improvement. Francesca believes pirates were the ultimate rebels that we could learn a lot from because, at the end of the day, they never got complacent. Discomfort was part of the job; pirate captains truly ran tight ships, where the crew elected and could just as easily dismiss the captain.
The Bottom Line: We can all embrace our inner rebel. If we think differently about helping others thrive, we can encourage more curiosity and allow others to broaden their perspective.

We talk a lot about innovation, but Francesca’s talk of rebel talent shows us how to create the capacity for innovation. Being vulnerable and curious are leadership traits that will serve you far beyond expertise and experience. Test how well you are doing by asking yourself, “Am I the captain that my crew would choose as its leader today?”

Watch Francesa’s keynote

You can read other POVs and a comprehensive ebook about the Symposium, plus watch video highlights of the two-day event, here.

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