Book review: Rebel Talent by Francesca Gino

I am lucky to live in a city with a well-stocked library which also offers the facility to borrow books electronically. This is one of the books I chanced upon and read purely because there is a sheep on the cover and it has a pink body. Also the byline to the book is ‘Why it pays to break the rules at work and in life’. Of course I couldn’t resist – I am always looking for novel perspectives, anything that flips common convention on its head and disrupts predictable outcomes. I’m sure most of you are – after all we spend decades in the workplace watching our lives become locked into the same conversations, practices and processes. It seems ridiculous to assume that any of us will be able to suspend the ache of boredom and later in life, a sense of loss of our meagre time on this planet.

So, what happens in this book. There are case studies which centre around the following paragraph “Whether they are standard procedures on how a job needs to be done, a detailed chain of command, or even the dress code on the job, rules can be found everywhere in organisations. Disregard the rules and it will lead to trouble. Even chaos. Rebels are grudgingly tolerated, or, if they become too annoying, they are shown the door.’ The author goes out in search of ‘People who question their own assumptions and strongest beliefs, as well as the widely accepted norms around them, to identify more creative, effective ways of doing work.”


I would suggest you flick through the book and have a look at the examples (e.g. Bonaparte’s strategies, fast-food chains, consulting firms, movie studios, hotels). The author is a psychologist who has an interest in how people work within organisations. They suggest that their observations/research allude to something they term ‘rebel talent’ And  there are five core elements to this:

  1. novelty – seeking out challenge and the new
  2. curiosity – the impulse we all had as children to ask ‘why?’
  3. perspective – constantly broaden your view of the world
  4. diversity – the tendency to challenge predetermined social roles and reach out to those who are different
  5. authenticity – remaining open and vulnerable in order to connect with others and learn from them.


The essence of the book is about breaking habits, disrupting internalised conventions, reversing the social norms that we learn as we grow up in different societies. In this respect the book is very similar to Little Wins by Paul Lindley. In fact I think many of you could compile a whole list of books that put forward the same theory – unlearn what you have learnt and set your mind free.

I don’t think the book goes far enough – the underlying structures of organisations themselves are not fully explored. The way in which organisations cling to their histories, cultures and norms are also not interrogated. If these remain unchanged then it puts an awful lot of pressure on ‘rebels’ to shake that cage – also will any change be long lasting?

Personally, I think you’d get a lot more out of watching Office Space, both in terms of validation for any of your rebellious impulses and for a push to discover your own calling.




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