Rebel Talent explains that while every rebel is unique, they tend to share the same five core strengths: novelty, curiosity, perspective, diversity, and authenticity.
Harvard Business School Working Knowledge recently sat down with Gino to discuss the steps leaders can take to engender rebel talent in their workforces—and in themselves. She calls these “The Eight Principles of Rebel Leadership.
1. Seek out the new: “It’s very easy for us all to fall back into routines and mindlessly follow them, day after day,” Gino says. “What this principle allows us to do, even in situations where routines and traditions exist, is to break away from them and find inspiration.”
For business leaders, this could mean introducing employees to things that aren’t obviously related to the organization. Consider Chef Bottura’s dishes, which are often inspired by music and visual arts. (“Tribute to Thelonious Monk,” for example: black cod served with white daikon radish and green onion on a bed of squid ink, meant to represent the jazz musician’s keyboard.) Bottura aims to inspire his staff by playing music in the kitchen during meal prep and hanging paintings throughout the restaurant. “Even in the staff bathroom you have prints of different pieces of art,” Gino says. “And the reason that the art is there is that when you look at it, you start asking questions.”
2.Encourage constructive dissent: “As humans, we often focus on just one perspective, and generally it’s our own,” Gino says. “Whether it’s in conversations or in meetings, we often seek out the opinions of people who have something similar to offer. What rebels do is fight that instinct. They find ways to steer some conflict or encourage disagreement.”
Gino cites Rachael Chong, CEO of the New York-based nonprofit organization Catchafire, who seeks out dissenting opinions from her workforce from the get-go, including when she interviews job candidates. “When she hires new people, she basically looks for people who disagree with her,” Gino says.
3.Open conversations, don’t close them: “Rebels are willing to keep their minds open,” says Gino, who recommends that business leaders take a cue from the world of improvisational comedy.
A cardinal rule in improv is that one person must always accept the premise of whatever another person says, and then expand upon the thought, such as saying, “yes, and…” rather than “yes, but….” At Pixar, this technique is called “plussing.” Gino explains how it works in Rebel Talent: “The point of plussing is to improve ideas without using judgmental language. You add to, or ‘plus,’ what has been said. Instead of criticizing a sketch, the director will build on a starting point by using the expression, ‘I like Woody’s eyes, and what if we…’ This encourages a collaborative attitude. Someone else might jump in and add her own plus.”
4.Reveal yourself—and reflect: Rebel leaders focus on their strengths, but are honest about their weaknesses and make an effort to reflect on both. “They don’t hide who they are, or pretend to know, or be something that they are not,” Gino writes.
She cites Patricia Fili-Krushel, whose jobs have included chair of NBCUniversal News Group, president of ABC Television Network, and CEO of WebMD. “As the leader of WebMD, Fili-Krushel met a group of engineers in Silicon Valley, all men,” Gino writes. “When they asked her, right off the bat, what she knew about engineering, she made a zero with her fingers. ‘This is how much I know about engineering,’ she told them. ‘However, I do know how to run businesses and I’m hoping you can teach me what I need to know about your world.’”
“You reveal yourself, and, in the process, you’re gaining respect and status in the eyes of others,” Gino says.