Oh my lord! I am a rebel. Now what?

As a rebel, you have unique qualities that you can use to help your team or organisation. Innovation expert Simone van Neerven lists five. Plus what to do if nobody is listening to you.

Lots of people identify as a rebel, but feel they cannot show it

Companies want to be more innovative but expect their employees not to step out of line too much. Francesca Gino, a Harvard Business School professor, has been researching the subject for years. She discovered that almost half of all employees believe they must adhere to the rules and regulations in place at work. Two thirds feel there is a barrier to asking questions, and more than half claim that no one in their workplace is challenging the status quo.

And this is a big problem. Many people identify as a rebel to a greater or lesser extent, but most of them remain silent. Because rebels are often seen as troublemakers. There are quite a few examples that show how poorly rebels are treated, which is why most of them keep their mouths shut.

What if you are that rebel, though? How can you best handle that? Here are five qualities that make you unique and that you could use to your advantage.

#1: You dare to be different

One of the best basketball players of the moment is Lebron James. If he could put his ego aside, he mightbe even more successful. He scores about 73% on the free throw using the overhand technique. However, research shows that the underhand throw leads to better results. But James, just like almost all basketball players, refuses to use this. They refer to it as the grandma style and think it’s for sissies. Shaquille O’Neal, with a score of just over 50%, once said, “I’d rather shoot 0% than underhand.”

Former NBA player Rick Barry could care less and set aside his ego in the team’s best interest. His underhand throw helped his team win a lot of games in his last seasons when he scored no less than 94%.

#2: You are incredibly curious

You always walk around in great amazement. You constantly wonder why things are the way they are. If you can’t do something, you’ll teach yourself how to do it. If you don’t understand something, you’ll keep asking questions until you have figured it out. Just be aware that not everyone shares this drive of questioning and investigating everything. For them, your questions can be pretty annoying at times.

#3: The status quo makes you uncomfortable

You have a keen eye for bureaucracy and systems that don’t make sense. You quickly identify better, faster, and simpler methods. Once you have the solutions, you can’t let go and you just get to work. You have a deep-rooted desire to make things better, even if doing so might cost you your job. Whereas many people feel most comfortable with little or no change and prefer to leave things as they are, rebels feel uncomfortable with the status quo and will immediately begin improving things.

#4: You see through things quickly and sharply and you have excellent foresight

You can observe sharply and see problems coming from miles away. You pick up on trends and developments that so far have gone unnoticed. Your ability to think deeper is well-developed and you are not afraid to ask challenging questions. You can therefore come up with less obvious solutions, which is critical to solving long-lasting problems and systematic changes. But don’t forget that you are far ahead of others. Be prepared for the fact that people will misinterpret you and dismiss your ideas as ‘weird’ and ‘this will never work’.

At the beginning of 2019, Vueling Airlines’ head of innovation proposed to the board of directors to invest in the then relatively small company ‘Zoom’ as an additional business model. She was looked at as if she had lost her mind. What if they had had the courage to do so at the time?

#5: You have a strong sense of justice

In 2021, Sam Bankman-Fried was featured in the Forbes 30-Under-30 as one of the most esteemed youngbusiness geniuses. A year later he was arrested for fraud. And he’s not the only one. Research shows that the Forbes 30-Under-30 collectively raised about $5.3 billion in funding, while also being detained for more than $18.5 billion in fraud and schemes.

Rebels possess a strong sense of morality. They have an intuitive sense of what is morally right or wrong. Unlike many others who choose to look the other way, they speak up when something is wrong. This a much-needed quality in times with one scandal after the other. Often, long in advance, rebels have signaled that something is not right, but they have either been silenced or they have taken their money’s worth and left.

Don't take things too personally and stay positive

Being ahead of the troops inherently means that you will be faced with a lot of resistance. It is tempting to become cynical and ending up in a downward spiral. But don’t take this opposition too personally. Usually, it is not directed at you as a person. It is an expression of a feeling of discomfort caused by you rubbing against the system that makes them feel so safe.

Additionally, people do not like hearing constant grumbling and sarcastic humor. Negativity repels people, while positivity attracts. So stay positive, be helpful, and always present ideas or a different perspective with a smile.

A world of possibilities

We face so many big challenges that we don’t need egotistical leaders. We need people who love to explore the unknown and who act in the interests of the larger good instead. Who have the ability to come up with solutions that no one else has. Who identify wrongdoings at an early stage and dare to speak out to prevent major fiascos.

Rebels thrive in a setting that encourages originality and creativity. With their great sense of justice, they can help an organization in making moral and strategic choices. A disruption board is a perfect role for a rebel. This board keeps the top management of the organization sharp and comes up with practical solutions and fresh business ideas. Does your organization not have such a board? Then start a lobby to establish it.

The rebel would also be excellent in the role of “friction hunter.” Always on the lookout for bureaucracy and finding innovative ways to get rid of it. This does not necessarily have to be a full-time job, but can also be a role within a team.

Dare to leave if you feel unappreciated

Speaker and trainer Alex den Heijer once said, “If a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower itself.” Are you working somewhere where people are constantly trying to change the flower rather than the environment? Then it would be best to simply leave and find an organisation where you are valued and can thrive.

This article was originally published in Dutch on MT/Sprout, the most popular business and management platform in the Netherlands.

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