We have all heard of them, and some of us have even met one, but nobody really knows how to deal with them. Business rebels are present in most corporations today, yet few companies manage to leverage their full potential. At 2by2, we believe that business rebels can play an instrumental role in your strategy development process. They will not make it easier or smoother, but they will increase the likelihood that you will find a strategy that sets you apart from the rest of the players in the market.
Learn to recognize a business rebel
The key is to learn how to recognize the business rebels in your organization, as a first step towards being able to leverage them, for instance in a strategy process. They are typically set apart from the rest of the crowd through the following characteristics.
Business rebels have the rare ability to think independently. They actually spend quite a lot of time focusing on nothing other than thinking, caring less about existing paradigms, common beliefs, and truths and more about the logic of their own reasoning. They do not seek answers in reports and articles, but in their own minds. Thinking power is what you would want to secure in any strategy process; it is by far the most important key success factor, which means that business rebels could be a great asset when developing your strategy.
Ignorant to hierarchies
Business rebels typically pay little attention to the hierarchy of a corporation, as demonstrated by their lack of focus on making quick progress in the hierarchy of the company. Consequently, business rebels do not judge colleagues based on their status in the organization or their title. Meritocracy is a stronger driver compared to traditional hierarchies.
Integrity is not something that business rebels seek – they are born with it. The direct consequence of this is that they always say what they really mean, not what others want or expect to hear. Business rebels lack the ability, or the interest, to be politically correct; a business rebel will never be perceived as a “smooth operator.”
Not seeking recognition
Many modern corporations have people who like to provoke and are proud to be recognized as people who think differently. They are typically very vocal and get quite some attention in the organization. These are not business rebels, who would never capitalize on their ideas in order to brag. People who do so are typically driven by a deep need for recognition, which is the opposite of what drives the business rebel.
Learn how to leverage business rebels when developing your strategy
Once you have identified the business rebels in your own organization, it is important to think about how to leverage them in your own strategy efforts.
Not to lead
Business rebels should not be put in charge of leading any strategy efforts. They do not have any aspirations to lead a strategy effort and they are poorly equipped to resolve any conflict that might occur in your strategy team. However, they can make a significant contribution to your strategy process, under the right circumstances.
Not to be led
In order to fully leverage the business rebel in your strategy effort, the process in itself must allow room for debate. This means, for instance, not over-structuring the effort with an overly detailed process, but instead allowing for many open-ended discussions and workshops in which everyone is encouraged to express their own opinions, challenge each other, and challenge and question existing business paradigms. The key message here is to focus on content rather than the process.
A business rebel does not hesitate to express his or her frank opinions on key matters to anybody who is willing to listen. However, given their own motivation, they will not necessarily strongly argue about their own standpoint, nor try to force their own opinion upon somebody. The business climate in most corporations today is such that anyone who wants to make their voice heard must raise their voice, lean forward, and repeat their key messages several times – this is not typically how the business rebel works. Consequently, it is essential to listen to a business rebel the first time.
Identify and leverage business rebels in your next strategy effort
We strongly encourage you to look closely at your own organization and try to identify your own business rebels. Approach them quickly, make sure they remain in your company, and engage them with an important role in your next strategy effort – but make sure to give them the right context in which to deliver. Whatever you do, do not try to force them in to your well-thought-through and detailed corporate processes and policies, or you will be sure to lose them soon.
I have encountered many of these folks throughout my career and this article is a good eye-opener of the unpolished treasure that often sits just outside the big office 🙂
Conformists and rebels do not mix. There is apoint for a real business rebel to leave a corporation behind and follow his own path.