I have never stuck to the norm and have always tried to defy the status quo. Moving on from my little village in the Cotswolds and not marrying a young farmer (honestly, no one asked!) – to braving the city and University life in London. Going on to help transform electronics businesses and call Chairmans’ to tell them that I’m the right fit for their roles! Crazy, brash, bold: some of the many words I’ve been labelled. My advise? Seek forgiveness not permission. What’s the worst that can happen!
Throughout my career, I’ve always valued the rebels with a cause. The stars in your organisation who dare to take risks and are not afraid to be out there and seen! As long as you’re being kind, can articulate the organisation’s capabilities and believe in your clients, you should bring your curiosity to the forefront and let your ideas flourish!
As Tanmay Vora’s wonderful graphic (2017) highlights the goal for rebels is very clear: to inspire a rich array of great ideas to make our endeavours that much more successful and engaging for all our stakeholders: internal and external around the venture or organisation.
Being a workplace rebel sounds fun but how is it doable?
1 – Set regular, exciting, out-of-the-box brainstorms! These no fear / ‘nothing is crazy’ sessions encourage great ideas to collide and flourish. This should be a daily practice, and we as leaders should formally own one each week. The aim is to really listen in to these sessions. What does the team and client think, feel and do? Not only does this empower our people and culture. It enriches our leadership presence too! This week, IBM was named in Fast Company’s Top 10 most innovative enterprise companies of 2020. With the IBM Garage, we get to incubate onsite with small startups to transform their businesses and drive innovation together.
2 – Use visuals, graphics and fun multimedia to bring alive the team’s innovation process, and further explore creativity. This stimulates your troops and makes us as leaders an equal and collaborative part of the process. One of my former colleagues, Jeremy Connell-Waite, does this so brilliantly well with his wonderful collages – like this one where he maps his learnings from a few of his favourite leaders!
3 – Create a feedback loop or iterative process that enables fast application of several ideas a session: what worked, why and how, and what’s next? What didn’t, understand why and move on. We must also build on the notion that there is no such thing as a totally new idea – just better execution. Fusion in every sense by giving the new approach a name, a face and a fighting chance of possibility!
Leaning in to innovate NOT renovate
We need to, particularly in large companies, truly lean in to innovate NOT renovate. Just like smaller enterprises or creative professions do! At IBM we treasure the Wild Ducks, who use their creative quirks to transform the organisation in many ways – from design right through to execution. You can tune in to the IBM Wild Ducks podcast here! Nissan’s GT-R key fob is another great example of rebellious innovation. Take a look, it’s simply beautiful! McDonalds is also hungry to innovate its drive-thrus, most recently acquiring startup Apprente to deliver AI based, conversational, human-level customer service experiences!
Rewarding passionate dissent…
Innovation and creativity should always form part of the performance review process. There isn’t an entity around that wouldn’t benefit from this becoming a core cultural element!
Geeta Phogat, an Indian female wrestler is the perfect example of passionate dissent! When talking to Geeta I was stunned at how hard she fought against the women in her life to start her wrestling training and career – not with her father (and coach!). Geeta now coaches and inspires many, espousing the reward from her great victories, massive hard work and discipline! As Geeta says: “We need to trust our coaches. Unless we trust them we can’t get the result.” The triumph of winning, representing her country and finding a hugely supportive life partner proves that one reaps the rewards (eventually) from great talent and passion. This demonstrates that rebels with a cause can be unbelievably successful!
Rebels with a cause!
We cannnot as leaders be glib or in any way be seen to be playing lip service to our teams. Edge and potential conflict are okay. We must express how we want our ‘Bold Ideators’ to act and celebrate them for bringing their whole selves to the table! Being a non-conformist in every form one of my favourite quotes to end on:
“Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of ‘crackpot’ than the stigma of conformity” – Thomas J. Watson.
If you follow these inputs from my mentors at the very minimum, you drive amazing engagement, and at best – extraordinary new ideas and approaches to transform existing business models and create anew!