Innovation Interview Nordic Business Forum 2023

Rebellious Change with Francesca Gino

Francesca Gino is an award-winning researcher and bestselling author. In her latest book Rebel Talent: Why it Pays to Break the Rules in Work and Life, she reveals what she has learned through studying rebellious behavior for over a decade.

Francesca believes that organizations need rebels and rule-breakers. Not the criminal types but the people who dare to question the status quo and do things differently. Especially in these turbulent times where the world is rapidly changing, we simply cannot continue to live as we have in the past. We need change, and who better to instigate that change than rebels?

What are some changes you are hoping to see in the world in the next 5-10 years?

Francesca: “I hope to see three changes…

  1. Like many other people, I am hoping for a more equitable society where everyone has equal access to opportunities and resources, regardless of their race, gender, religion, or socioeconomic status. This includes tackling issues such as systemic racism, gender inequality, and poverty.
  2. Technology has the potential to drive significant positive change in the world, from advancing renewable energy sources to improving education and healthcare. I hope to see continued advancements in technology and innovation that benefit humanity as a whole.
  3. Many of the challenges facing our world today require global solutions, such as addressing climate change, responding to pandemics, and promoting peace and security. International cooperation and collaboration will be critical in achieving these goals, so I hope we’ll see more of that.

And I also hope that organizations will focus more on fostering curiosity in their people. We are more adaptable and better able to change when we are curious. It is a critical skill for not only the present but the future as well.”

You say rebels are the masters of innovation. What is your tip for someone who wants to wake up the rebel inside of them and be more innovative?

Francesca: “I have five tips for people who want to awaken the rebel inside them and become more innovative:

  1. Question the status quo: Don’t accept things just because “that’s the way they’ve always been done.” Instead, question assumptions, challenge norms, and look for opportunities to do things differently.
  2. Embrace curiosity: Curiosity is a key driver of innovation. So, be open-minded, ask questions, and explore new ideas and perspectives.
  3. Take risks: Innovation requires taking risks and trying new things, even if they may not succeed. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks and learn from your failures.
  4. Experiment: Test your ideas through experimentation, prototyping, and iteration. This helps you learn quickly and adapt your approach as needed.
  5. Collaborate: Seek out diverse perspectives and collaborate with others who have different backgrounds and experiences. This can lead to new insights and innovative solutions.

By embracing these tips, you can awaken the rebel inside you and become a more innovative thinker and doer.”

Amazing tips for anyone hoping to become a little bit more rebellious—and innovative. What made you interested in studying rebels in the first place? Is there a story behind it?

Francesca: “For many years, I studied rule-breaking in the moral sphere: people who cheat, steal, and lie. I explored why this happens and what can be done to prevent it. In time, I began to notice a different side of rule-breaking—nonconformists who drive positive change. These people didn’t lie or cheat; instead, their genuine spirit of rebellion encouraged creative ideas and innovation. I have a vivid memory of where and when constructive rule-breaking became my next writing project. 

I was browsing the shelves at a Cambridge bookstore when I saw a book that was larger than usual, with a cover merlot in color. The title? “Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef.” Being Italian, I was intrigued. As I flipped through the pages, it became clear that this was not your typical recipe book. There were pictures of beautiful dishes—who could resist The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna?—but they did not resemble any of the traditional meals I had grown up with. “Never Trust” told the story of Chef Massimo Bottura, a master of traditional recipes whose even greater talent involved transforming these dishes into something new. His 3-Michelin-star restaurant was considered one of the best in the world. What may have appeared a risky move, rebelling against beloved recipes shared across generations, had made him a star. 

We think about rebels the wrong way. The book is about rule-breaking as a constructive rather than destructive force. Rebels challenge the status quo in ways that drive positive change. The world is becoming more uncertain, and our problems more complex. The rebel, undaunted by novel situations and ideas, adapts to change as a matter of course.”

It does seem that we need more rebels! But how do you see the role of those of us who are not so rebellious? What is their role in creating change?

“While rebels can play a critical role in driving change, not everyone needs to be a rebel to make a positive difference. There are several ways that non-rebels can contribute to creating change:

  1. Support rebels: Even if you’re not a rebel yourself, you can still support those who are by encouraging and promoting their ideas and actions. This can help create a culture that values innovation and creativity.
  2. Challenge the status quo: You don’t need to be a rebel to question assumptions and challenge the status quo. By asking thoughtful questions and suggesting new approaches, you can help identify opportunities for change.
  3. Embrace change: While rebels may drive change, it’s important for everyone to be open to new ideas and willing to adapt. By embracing change and being willing to learn and grow, you can help create a culture that values innovation and continuous improvement.
  4. Build coalitions: Creating change often requires collaboration and coalition-building. Non-rebels can help build bridges between different groups and stakeholders, working to bring people together around a shared vision or goal.
  5. Take action: Even small actions can make a difference. Non-rebels can take steps to create change within their own spheres of influence, whether that’s within their workplace, community, or personal life.

Ultimately, creating change requires a diversity of perspectives and approaches. While rebels can be important drivers of change, non-rebels can also play a critical role in creating a more innovative, inclusive, and sustainable future.”

Glad to hear those of us who do not possess the rebel spirit can still play a role in creating change! Finally, we have a little bonus question.. How rebellious are you?

Francesca: “I am still learning how to embrace my inner rebel on a daily basis. I am certainly willing to challenge conventional wisdom and think outside the box, qualities that are often associated with rebels. Want to find out which rebel are you? Take the rebel test! You can find it here:”

The theme of Nordic Business Forum 2023 is Be:Change. At the event, Francesca Gino will be giving her keynote speech, “Mastering Innovation and Reinvention.” If you want to see her live, join us and get your tickets now!


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